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

''Villa Phobe is a perfect, sunny oasis for couples and family's, incl cleaning

''Villa Phobe is a perfect, sunny oasis for couples and groups of friends just wanting to get away from it all. It's large, flower-abundant and very private garden is fully enclosed also making the villa ideal for families with children of all age...

Luxury Villa Private Pool Outstanding Views Cote d'Azur 7 mns walk to village

A charming 150 year old villa, totally refurbished in a modern elegant style. Spacious accommodation for 10 people and facilities to match. Located within a ten minute walk of an unspoilt medieval village. It has an ample sized shaded outside eat...

Beautiful Apartment 20 Metres From Beach, In Heart Of Beautiful Medieval Village

This beautiful spacious 2 bedroom apartment, newly renovated while still retaining its charming character, is on the first floor of a 200 year old fisherman's house. Superb location - 20 steps to famous Boramor Beach; Free WIFI at Cafe Sola & Cafe...

The Heart of the Alps, apartment in a chalet on the slopes of Valmorel

All the comforts of a cottage on the slopes in a pedestrian village with views over the mountains, bathed in light and spacious apartment. Sauna, solarium, fireplace, games, DVDs, sleds available.

Cottage, Centre Ville, Honfleur Port

Situated right in the heart of the charming Normandy port of Honfleur, within a private, gated complex of traditional style fisherman's cottages. Built from plan in 2004 with solid block work, soft pastel render and finished with double glazed win...

Luxury in vineyards, panoramic StTropez valley views. Shops/sandy beaches close

Villa Tropez is a true French Riviera experience. Nestled amongst rolling hills of vineyards, olive & oak trees, Villa Tropez’s elevated aspect offers secluded luxury, enjoying panoramic views of the valley of St. Tropez. The property has been use...

La Grange - Converted Alpine Barn At The Heart Of The Chartreuse Nature Park

La Grange is a converted barn (built in 1830) situated in a small and authentic Alpine hamlet just south of Chambery and right at the heart of the Chartreuse National Nature Park, France. The surrounding pre-alps top out at 6500 ft and provide stu...

Newly Refurbished Villa In Stunning Location, 8 Mins From Mirepoix

Les Oliviers is a 3 bedroom single storey villa with 2 bathrooms. The property has a separate apartment containing a double bedroom, ensuite shower and separate toilet. The apartment also has its own private patio area complete with patio furnit...

Country Cottage / Gite - BADEN

(Text automatically translated) Eco-house (www.lafermh-baden.fr) in the heart of the Morbihan Gulf, 300 m from the sea, 800 m from the beach and a sailing club. Do not hesitate to contact us for availability because it is difficult to "indicate th...

Two-bedroomed ski apartment in Argentiere, Mont Blanc massif

The apartment has lovely views of Mont Blanc and the balcony enjoys long hours of sunshine. Located close to the centre of Argentiere in the Chamonix valley, 100 yards from the Grands Montets cable car and chair lift, the apartment has two bedroom...

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