France is a paradise for walkers, with about
Long distance walking tracks across France are called Grandes Randonnées (GRs), whereas tracks that loop around through a particular area are called Grandes Randonnées du Pays (GRPs), and shorter tracks are Promenades et Randonnées (PRs).
There are colour-coded markings for these – a red and white stripe for GRs, red and yellow for GRPs and yellow for PRs – and there are three symbols: “straight ahead”, “turn” and “go back”. Various other colours are used for local walks.
On the whole they are well marked, but it takes practice not to miss some of the markings, which can be in rather obscure places, such as on tree trunks (often behind a clump of foliage), on fence posts or on the sides of barns. Some are even on the ground.
A good website for general information about most GRs and GRPs is
The association of French walking clubs, the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre (FFRP), publishes very useful guides (topo-guides) for many of the tracks.
They all follow the same format – on the left page is a map and on the right page is a description of the track, with information about the services available in each of the villages that the track passes through. The scale of the maps is 1:50,000, i.e.
They are in French but are quite easy to follow, even for non-French speakers. However, they do get out of date rather quickly and some new editions of older guides don’t seem to have any fresh information in them.
For example, we used the GR7 topo-guide “Traversée du Haut-Languedoc” in June 2004. Our copy, the ninth edition, was published in July 2003, only a few months earlier, and was hopelessly out-of-date! We now try to use only very recently published first editions. All topo-guides can be bought online from the
However, not all GRs and GRPs have a topo-guide. In this case you might find it useful to peruse a map of all GRs and GRPs to help plan your walk. It is surprisingly difficult to find such a map on the web.
The only such map that we know of can be downloaded from the
Alternatively, a hardcopy map with a scale of 1:960,000, which is about
If there is no topo-guide for your chosen walk, you can use TOP 100 maps, also published by the IGN. The scale of these maps is 1:100,000, which is
Since 2010, a revised series of
The best maps of all are the IGN
In the provinces, the village newsagency (presse) usually has a selection of
Alternatively, if you prefer electronic maps, there are apps available that display
We used to carry
This has proved so successful that we would never go back to using commercial maps again.
As an example, a Géoportail map showing our 2017 route can be seen here.
We set off with about 100 double-sided A4 pages of these maps. This sounds a lot, but it is only the weight of six
People who don’t want to carry paper maps can access their maps on their phone if they have a paid subscription to the IGN Outdoors App.
A full description of how we make our home-made maps can be seen here.
Another tool that we have found useful is Google Street View. Using this you can take a virtual drive on certain roads, and this allows you to see the state of possible walking tracks as they cross the road. It can also help in villages, to check for bars, restaurants, hotels and camping grounds.
In addition to this system of GRs, the four main pilgrimage routes (the Ways of Le Puy, Vézelay, Tours and Arles) have another set of markings altogether, and follow slightly different paths to the GRs.
The signs are blue and yellow, with a stylised cockleshell and a broad arrow labelled ‘Compostelle’. Sometimes this is reduced to the broad arrow only. These routes are managed by the Association des Amis de Saint-Jacques.
They often coincide with the GR, but seem to have a more determined attitude towards the goal of getting to Compostela.
They do not hesitate to use minor roads between villages rather than thrash about on circuitous tracks just to keep off the bitumen, as the GRs do.
Most walkers cut corners on the GR for this reason, especially in wet weather, when the GR is often a muddy trench.
These pilgrim routes have a whole set of maps and guides of their own. The maps are on separate laminated pages in a folder and make up a block with the size and weight of a paving stone.
We find it best to refer to other people’s copies (for instance at night in a gîte), and write down a list of place names that the track passes through, which can be found on the
This ensures that you are not led astray, as we have been, following pilgrim signs without knowing where they are heading.