Which months of the year would you recommend for walking in France?
The weather in France in March/April can be very cold (and accommodation more limited than later in the season). On the other hand, sometimes France enjoys beautiful spring weather, so you might be lucky.
We always walk in June/July because, as campers, we need the long hours of daylight. At this time of year there is a risk of excessive heat, such as in July 2013, when temperatures approached 40°C all over France and we were forced to abandon our walk. However, conditions can vary wildly – in that same year, a couple of weeks earlier, it was bitterly cold, with maximum temperatures of around 11°C in the Cévennes.
August is the peak holiday season in France, but the small villages where most walkers go are hardly affected by tourism. In autumn the weather is usually stable, but after September most camping grounds and gîtes are closed, as well as many hotels. Another problem for campers is that the days are getting shorter.
I don’t speak French. Will that be a problem?
In small villages English is not spoken very much, but with standard phrases you can get by, especially if you practice your pronunciation which is very different to English. Of course, the better your French, the greater your enjoyment of being in France. On the pilgrimages, there is usually someone around to help you out. We do sometimes see people with no French language skills – definitely not ideal, but they seem to blunder through.
Where can I get maps and guides to help me plan my walking route?
Maps suitable for walkers are produced by the Institut Géographique National (IGN), and walking guides are published by the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre (FFRP). Both maps and guides can be bought online from the IGN website. There is a link to this site, and other useful links, in our Maps and Guides page, plus a description of how we plan our own walks.
Are there any accommodation guides for walkers?
A good set of accommodation guides is the strangely named “Miam-miam Dodo” (French baby talk for Eat-Sleep), which lists all the eating and sleeping possibilities along selected walking routes, for example the main pilgrimages, the Stevenson Trail and the Régordane. Information about these guides can be found here.
Is it safe for a lone woman to walk in France?
In our experience, yes. When we walked the Way of Le Puy we saw a number of women walking by themselves, seemingly without problems. We have also met lone female walkers on other walks.
Can I arrange to have my luggage transported each day?
We really don’t know anything about baggage transport but there are companies that do it on several of the main walking routes – you will need to do a search on the web. Alternatively, you could organise a taxi to do the transporting each day.
Can you suggest an area where we can base ourselves and do day walks?
We don’t do day walks, so we can’t really advise you from experience. However, Burgundy, Dordogne and Provence are good walking areas. The local Office of Tourism usually has a list of day walks in their area.
What short walk would you recommend for a first timer?
An ideal introduction to walking in France is the first section of the Canal du Nivernais walk from Auxerre to Clamecy. The path is flat, the scenery is beautiful and the villages are not far apart. You can break it up into short stages if you want (that’s what we did because of the heat).
I want to walk in France for (a) a few days, (b) a couple of weeks, (c) a month. Can you recommend a route?
(a) A few days. Have a look at the Short Walks section of this website which has walks from three to ten days duration. Also, if you want to keep away from hills, there are some good flat walks in the Canals section.
(b) A couple of weeks. Two very interesting walks are the Regordane, about a 10 day walk from le Puy to Saint-Gilles on the Mediterranean Coast; and the Way of Geneva, which normally takes about 16 days. It is part of the GR65 and goes from Geneva to le Puy. They are both pilgrimages, but only a few pilgrims walk them.
(c) A month. Have a look at our Diaries and try and find something that takes your fancy. For these longer walks it doesn’t really matter where you go – the daily rhythm of walking becomes the main pleasure.
I want to walk on the Way of Le Puy, but only for a week or two. Which part would you recommend?
A good place to start is Aumont-Aubrac (which has a railway station). This is about four days’ walk into the pilgrimage. From Aumont you go across the high plateau of the Auvergne for a day or two, then plunge down into the valley of the Lot river. The next section follows the river, past a succession of unbelievably beautiful villages, to Figeac. After Figeac there is a variant route (which we took) down the Célé river, rejoining the main route at Cahors. Both Figeac and Cahors have railway stations.
Is accommodation difficult to find on the Way of Le Puy?
The Pilgrimage starting from le Puy is the most popular walk in France, with thousands of walkers doing it every year, so it is often difficult to find somewhere to stay. In our case we seldom have any trouble because our first choice is always to camp, but for reasons we don’t understand, most people who walk this route never camp. This can’t be because of the weight – all our camping equipment only adds 2 kgs to our total pack weight of 7 kgs, which is less than what most non-campers carry.
For anyone not camping, it has become increasingly necessary to book accommodation in advance. The downside of that is that you really must get to your destination, rain, hail or blisters, and this detracts from the feeling of independence that is part of the enjoyment of walking.
If you don’t have your next night’s accommodation booked, you can ask the manager of the place where you are staying to ring ahead and try to arrange something for you. Also, the local Office of Tourism can help you find accommodation. Even if you are not carrying camping equipment, there are often cabins for hire at camping grounds.
Is there a statistical summary of each of your walks – distances, costs, etc?
Yes. There are spreadsheets for all years except 2002. From 2003 to 2006 they list our daily distances, durations, ascents and descents, and after that they also include costs. The front page of each years’s diary contains a link to that year’s spreadsheet.
When camping, is it safe to leave our equipment to go and have a meal in the village?
We work on the assumption that nobody would want to steal our camping equipment or clothes. Therefore, when we leave our tent, we always take our valuables – money, passports and cameras – and the rest we just leave. This has always been sufficient. In the 15 years we have walked in France we have never had a security problem. However, we have heard of bike riders having their bicycles stolen, and once we met a walker who had had everything stolen. However, that was in a big town (Bergerac) and the suspicion was that it was local yobbos with nothing better to do. So our suggestion is – guard your valuables and don’t worry about the rest.
Can I wild camp in France?
Wild camping, “camping sauvage” as it is known in France, is definitely the exception rather than the norm in France, and in most places it is technically illegal although seldom enforced. It is our absolutely last choice when all else fails. We have only done it four times, and not since 2005. For us, a hot shower and a restaurant meal win every time over camping sauvage.