14 August 2014 by Jessica Boston
A Guide to Walking Holidays – Explore France from the Footpath
France is a big and beautiful country perfect for exploring on foot. There are plenty of easy, flat routes, well maintained and signposted for the casual walker. Of course, for those in search of a challenge, there are also mountains and coastal treks to walk, with breathtaking scenery every step of the way.
You can tie in sightseeing with your route and get a unique perspective on the most picturesque villages and historical buildings in your chosen region. Purposeful walking in cities or towns can also be a special way to see the sites at a pace that allows you to notice more detail, and discover hidden gems that would fly by a car window un-noticed.
Walking holidays in France also have the added bonus of allowing you to fully enjoy the gastronomic pleasures the country has to offer without a shred of guilt! Whatever your age or ability a walking holiday can prove most rewarding; be fit and healthy, enjoying the great outdoors and sharing quality time with friends or family – what could be better? We’ve put together some ideas for areas to visit on a walking holiday, but there will be suitable excursions to make wherever you go in France, just ask the Tourist Office or search online for guided or independent walking routes that are recommended in your chosen area.
Walking in the Dordogne
The Dordogne is a perfect destination for a French walking holiday. The varied landscape includes rivers, hills and forests and the whole region is peppered with historic sites dating back as far as Paleolithic times! Travel on foot on over 6000 kms of footpaths that connect the majestic old towns, chateaux and picturesque villages. Discover local flora and fauna and see vineyards and agriculture including the famous truffle plantations of Sorges, the ‘truffle capital’ of the Perigord.
One of the most beautiful villages to walk to is St Jean de Cole with its quaint cobbled streets and pretty stone cottages. The village can be reached on the ‘Voie Verte’ or ‘Green Way’ which is a network of footpaths following old railways or towpaths that is being developed all over France to provide easy walking or cycling routes throughout the countryside. St Leon sur Vézère is another village commended as one of the prettiest in France; if you pay a visit take the time to climb the Cote de Jor and enjoy panoramic views of the village from above.
You can plan a pleasant week’s walking route along the Dordogne river that takes in six villages with “Plus Beaux Villages de France” status; Turenne, Collonges La Rouge, Curemonte, Autoire, Loubressac and Carennac.
If history is your thing you’ll be spoilt for choice in the Dordogne! Choose a walk that visits pre-historic caves like the grottes of Saconnat, the ancient caves and quarry at Gorge d’Enfer (Hell’s Gorge) or the famous painted caves at Lascaux. Another idea is to follow part of the pilgrimage trail of St Jacques de Compostelle; it passes through the village of St Paul La Roche where you can see an original house of the infamous Knight’s Templar order. There are numerous chateaux here that make an interesting destination for a picnic or guided tour; Chateau de Commargue (the ‘Forgotten Fortress’), Chateau de Losse and Chateau de Castelnaud are all good choices for a hiking trip.
Walking in Bordeaux
What better way to immerse yourself in wine country than walking? No need to worry about designating a driver, you can explore the vineyards, learn about how grapes are grown and wines are made, and enjoy a wine-tasting before continuing on your way! There are lots of guided walking tours to choose from taking in world-class wine producers, or make up your own route to visit your favourite winery from the region. Bordeaux has a rich landscape of rivers, woodlands and vineyards that is dotted with historic villages and makes a beautiful backdrop for a walking holiday.
Our pick of the walking destinations in Bordeaux centres on some of the most famous wine producers there. The Saint-Emilion vineyards are a great choice; you’ll be walking among vines that are grown to be made into some of the best wines in the world including the renowned Petrus. These vineyards are the first non-architectural site to have been awarded UNESCO heritage status; the organic vineyards are particularly beautiful and add to the biodiversity of the area – be sure to keep an eye out for wild orchids. Entre-deux-Mers is another popular destination for walkers. The area includes riverside walks along the Dordogne and Garonne rivers and medieval chateaux both whole and ruined are visible along your route. For more inspiration why not research footpaths around Bergerac or Sauternes; both are magical places to visit and ideal for a holiday combining wine-tasting and walking.
Walking in Brittany
Brittany is another area of France that’s full of exciting opportunities for walking holidays. The coast path stretches for over 1200 kms and inland the canals offer easy walking routes on the towpaths. Brittany has really embraced the ‘Voies Vertes’ initiative and there are many hundreds of miles to choose from that are suitable terrain for relaxing exercise whatever your age or fitness level.
The Nantes-Brest canal offers 365 kms of pathways following this 19th century waterway which is all the more interesting for being largely based on rivers rather than man-made canals. The marshes, hills and countryside you’ll pass through are full of wildlife from otters and coypu to kingfishers and other water birds. The route is flat and easy to follow with plenty to see on the way making this a walking holiday suitable for all the family.
The most dramatic scenery will require a little more effort as you take to the coastal paths bordering the Atlantic that run all the way from Mont Saint-Michel to the Loire. The route runs through a wild landscape that has cliffs, headlands, dunes and coves that are home to a huge variety of birds, animals and plant life. The volcanic rock formations on the Crozon peninsula and breathtaking views of the Pink Granite coast are a photographer’s dream!
Top tips for a walking holiday in France:
- Plan your route. It may seem more free-spirited and exciting to just strike out into the wild yonder, but planning your route is essential for all but the hardiest wild walkers.
- Stay at a central base. If you choose a gite or cottage in the centre of the area you want to explore you can plan several circuits that begin and end at your accommodation so you can travel light with just a picnic lunch on your back. Ask the property owner or contact the local Tourist Office for advice on local routes.
- Prepare for the weather. Depending on the time of year and the region you choose you could encounter extremes of hot, wet or cold weather. Be prepared with hats, sunscreen and water, thermals or waterproofs to avoid being left uncomfortable.
- Picnic, picnic and picnic some more! Visit a market and stock up with fresh bread and pastries, pate, meats, cheeses and delicious ripe fruit. French picnics are the easiest to assemble and most delicious to eat – especially after working up an appetite on your walk.
- Take a camera. The scenery, historic sites and wildlife are well worth a picture, it’s the ideal time to hone your photography skills.
- Take your friends… Walking time is talking time, catch up with old friends or spend quality time with your family away from screens, technology and the media intrusion of modern life.
- …Or go alone. Walking holidays can be a great way to give yourself some time off, away from stresses and responsibilities. If you do decide to hike alone make sure someone knows your route and schedule in case of any mishaps.