There are 120,000 miles (180,000 km) of hiking trails in France so what are you waiting for? Strap on those walking boots and let’s go.
Possibly the greatest challenge you’ll face is where to go. France has many different types of landscape from coastal to the heights of Mont Blanc, from the softness of Provence to the peaks of the Cantal Volcano, Europe’s largest dormant volcano.
You also need to decide what type of hiker you are. Do you want to set out for days in the wilderness, or settle in a lovely village and explore the surrounding area on gentle day walks? Do you want to do an inn to inn walk, heading from village to village knowing that at the end of the day there’s a hot shower and a comfortable bed awaiting you?
Some of your options are:
Stevenson Trail France
This is the longest and takes around 12 days and nights to complete all the way from Le Puy to St Jean du Gard through the Cevennes National Park. The total distance is 140 miles (225 km). Just north of Montpellier in the south of France, the Cevennes is hills and valleys, bare volcanic uplands and shady valleys with clear running streams. The writer Robert Louis Stevenson trekked this path to mend a broken heart—he ended up marrying her.
Sunny and dotted with lovely villages, Provence is a walker’s dream. You can choose between the vineyards and valleys of The Garrigue, or the coastal river delta of The Camargue with its salt lagoons and abundant birdlife. Then there are the dramatically beautiful Les Calanques, cliffs and narrow inlets stretching for 12 miles (20km) along the coastline. If you prefer mountains there is the challenging Mount Ventoux at 6263 ft (1909 m), north of Aix-en-Provence.
The hills, villages and Maritime Alps in behind Nice are wonderful to explore on foot. Local Tourist Offices have good maps of walking trails and day routes you can follow, graded by difficulty, including the excellent Les Guides Randoxygène published by the Conseil Général des Alpes-Maritimes, which cover coastal, inland and higher hill walks. In the Maritime Alps there are six primary hiking trails marked and mapped. A short but steep walk undertaken daily by philosopher Nietzsche was from Eze sur Mer village up to pretty Eze which has spectacular views along the coast.
In northern France the Nord-Pas du Calais tourism organization is developing a series of hiking and cycling trails around the important sites of the First World War. It’s a new way to bring insight and pay tribute. Learn more here: http://www.remembrancetrails-northernfrance.com/discoverpath.html
The Ariege Midi Pyrenees mountains are just one hour south of Toulouse and are a hiking paradise with gentle short valley and lakeside walks to more challenging mountain walks (rising to 10,000 ft/3,000 m) of several days. There is abundant flora and fauna and even a castle or two dotting the historic cultural landscape, the ruins of the fortresses known as the Cathar castles. In the middle of the Pyrenees is the small, independent nation of Andorra (180 sq miles), well worth a visit.
The French Hiking and Walking Federation (Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pedestre – FFRP) oversees all marked and maintained walking routes in France. It provides information and guide-books (mostly in French). All nationally recognised trails are marked by signs and blazes and categorised as follows:
- GR (Grand Randonnée): Registered hiking trails that often run across the entire country.
- GRP (Sentiers de Grande Randonnée de Pays): Registered regional trails that will take you around a particular region for several days.
- PR (Sentiers de Promenade): Walking and hiking trails for short circuits, lasting several hours.