Walking holidays in France

A walking tour of France's sites, trails – and gnomes!

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Russ Sanchez

Russ Sanchez
HomeAway travel expert

Gnomes!I will be so bold as to say that it's been established, at this point, that France's beaches are among the crème de la crème of European holiday destinations. But France in fact caters for more than just the sun and sand set: from Provence's jaunty purple fields of spicy lavender, to the lush vineyards of the Loire valley, to the majesty of the Alps, France is a country of endless geographical variety. And as such, it offers a veritable cornucopia of walking trails, vistas, and points of interest both cultural and natural to the active vacationer.

Even better, learning to speak French Walking Trail is relatively simple, as France's official trails are helpfully classified according to length and shape. Long-distance walking trails are called Grandes Randonnées (GRs), and symbolized by a red and white stripe. Those that loop through a given area are called Grandes Randonnées du Pays (GRPs), and are marked by a red and yellow stripe. The shortest trails are called Promenades et Randonnées (PRs), and marked with just a yellow stripe.

This said, paper trail guides are always recommended – you know the one time you have GPS directions alone to rely on, you'll drop your phone down a well (or have it stolen by gnomes, or something – and yes, France categorically does have gnomes, or les lutins, dwelling amidst the countryside and peering upon walking paths). Many walkers recommend guides by the Fédération Française de Randonnée Pédestre, but those published by Cicero, although not available for as many trails, are perhaps the best written in English.


Walking holidays in France: everything you need to know


Walking holidays in France: Provence Walking holidays in France: Provence

The beauty of Provence is too widely acclaimed to need reiterating here. And ribboning through its beauties are a number of trails appropriate for walkers and hikers of all experience levels. The stunning Ardeche gorge offers kayaking and hiking opportunities besides gentler trails. Alternately, take a trip to the Medieval hilltop village of Biot, overlooking the river Brague, and from there trek through the Valbonne forest, an enchanting woodland of pine, ash and hazel, with several small waterfalls along its trail. Beware, though: the gnomes here can be very sassy, so do not tempt them to mischief by flashing your pains au chocolat and attracting attention to yourself.  

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Walking holidays in France: the Alps Walking holidays in France: the Alps

Although best known for the wintertime activities that send thrill-seekers criss-crossing down its slopes, the French Alps also provide much in the way of excellent walking and hiking opportunities. The Vanoise National Park, in fact, the largest such park in Western Europe, offers breathtakingly beautiful trails catered for every difficulty level, making it an ideal outdoor spot for – just about anyone, really: beginners, families, advanced walkers and mixed-level activity groups. The gnomes here can often be found wearing luxurious furs – but they're a conscientious bunch, and chances are the furs are all faux, so don't worry.

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Walking holidays in France: Languedoc-Roussillon Walking holidays in France: Languedoc-Roussillon

A 'garrigue' is a low scrubland of resinous, aromatic plants. Lavender, rosemary, thyme – all the favourites. And it's the characteristic landscape of both Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. More rugged and less immediately enchanting than some of France's other terrains, the French garrigues, with their openness to the warm Mediterranean sun, nonetheless exert a certain undeniable charm. They present an excellent opportunity to trek about under the wide sky, past towering stands of sunflowers – and perhaps over an ancient Roman road! The gnomes here are recognizable for wearing garlands of herbs, and, though generally friendly, absolutely sneer at gluten-free diets (they bake lovely breads themselves).

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Walking holidays in France: the Regordane Walking holidays in France: the Regordane

No discussion of French trails can leave out the Regordane Way. Historically one of the most important pilgrimages in early Christendom, the long and varied Regordane is a trail connecting Paris with lower Languedoc. Traversing France, it was once used by Crusaders to reach the port of St. Giles, gateway to the Holy Land. It crosses through Medieval villages, sites of religious importance, castles, the Chassezac gorge – and, along the GR 700, a contentious make-over of the Regordane that diverges from the historical trail at some points, accommodations and restaurants as well. Any gnomes you encounter here will have very strong opinions regarding religion and politics, so do mind your small talk.

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Walking holidays in France: Normandy Walking holidays in France: Normandy

Boasting miles of well-maintained infrastructure snaking through one of the most name-checked corners of France, Normandy is a can't-miss walking holiday destination. Its trails are numerous, and both seaside and inland. But for tipplers like myself, it's all about the Route du Cidre, or Cider Trail, a tour of 20 of the region's celebrated apple orchards. Depending on the season, you can participate in apple picking or honey harvesting at several of the orchards. Lovelier still, you'll also be able to learn about the making of apple ciders, and world-renowned, local apple brandy, Calvados – and sample some, too! Normandy gnomes are inveterate gossips, and like to spy on passing humans, who are mercilessly parodied on any of several popular gnome gossip blogs ('O, the Humanity', etc.).

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Walking Holiday Accommodation in France

Lovingly restored country house in a fantastic location. Very large private pool

The house 'Laudinie' is beautiful situated on a hill. The views of green hills and valleys is unique. A dirt road leads about 100 meters from a side road off to the old farmhouse. This is free-standing, with a lot of private land and a large garde...

Idyllic 14th Century village cottage

Traditional 3 storey stone house with wooden beams throughout and loads of character. The house is said to have been built in the 14th/15th century during the hundred years wars along with the church opposite. However like so many old places it h...

Wonderful Villa In Sperone, Bonifacio, Corsica, Near A Golf Course

The Villa la Crique Magique is fully designed in red cedar and is organized around three levels offering from the living room to the top floor a 180 ° view over the sea, the Lavezzi islands and Sardinia. The living room, combining contemporary fu...

Roomy 1st Floor/One Bedroom Apartment Sleeps 2 Balcony Overlooks Old Town Square

With Beziers Airport only 10 minutes from Agde - this holiday house is ideally located for flying from the UK. Ryanair fly from 4 major cities (Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester and London Luton) and Flybe fly from Southampton. This 1st floor apartm...

Pretty refurbished apartment with pool in the heart of St Tropez

The apartment is situated on the second floor (lift available) of a charming development which has delightful communal gardens and a fantastic pool. The apartment is bright and airy and has recently been refurbished. It has a well equipped kitchen...

Superb central location. Charming Provencal house; large balcony, wifi & UK TV.

This mid 19th-century, terraced house is a comfortable home-from-home with all the facilities you will need. There are lovely original beams and ceiling fans in every main room. On the ground floor is an open-plan lounge with kitchen area at the ...

Charming Apartment In The Heart Of Paris

I am offering you to have an unique experience; by renting my flat, you will feel yourself as a real Parisian. My flat located in a chic and quite district. It is in front of the museum “Arts et Metiers” and just 3 minutes far away by walking fro...

Artist Workshop In Montmartre, 6th Floor, Elevator, AC, perfect for 4 people

This beautiful and atypical 45 square meters , Air conditioned, 1 Bedroom apartment + a mezzanine with 2 single beds in the living room, is located on rue Francoeur in the 18th arrondissement, on the 6th French floor ( with elevator) of a 20th ce...

Large and beautiful Provence villa, A/C, private pool, perfect for 8 people

Very large, sparkling clean, Provence villa (250 m2) on a 2600 m2 garden, ceramic floors, all bedrooms with air conditionning. Spacious covered terrace ( 50 m2) with large table, barbecue. Ground floor: Large living-room with chimney , open spa...

Provençal villa with garden, historic village, near beach, Nice

Le Petit Prince is a charming little Provençal villa with a separate guest house, only a few steps across a beautifully stoned terrace and garden. It is situated in the historic village of Haut-de-Cagnes, only five minutes from all the restaurant...

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