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 is 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 and you would need to use a torch, especially in the evenings.
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 at all – 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 (topoguides) 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, on our Maps and Guides page, plus a description of how we plan our own walks.
Something that would be very useful when planning a walk is an interactive map that shows all the GRs and GRPs. This is surprisingly difficult to find on the web. However, there is such a map (which we are very proud of) and you can see it on our Maps and Guides page – it can be slow to load but definitely worth the wait. Alternatively, a hardcopy map with a scale of 1:960,000, which is about 1 cm = 10 km, can be bought from the IGN Boutique.
Are there any accommodation guides for walkers?
A set of accommodation guides that many people use 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 including the main pilgrimages, the Stevenson Trail and the Régordane.
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 many 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.
What are the dates of French public holidays?
It is important to be aware of when French public holidays occur, as the country closes down on these days, and food is almost unobtainable. For non-Christians, the holidays that can really catch you out are Ascension, Pentecost and Assumption.
This is the full list of French public holidays.
Can you suggest an area where we can base ourselves and do day walks?
We don’t normally do day walks, so we can’t really advise you from direct experience. However, Burgundy, Dordogne and Provence are good walking areas. The local village Offices of Tourism usually have a list of day walks in their area.
Also, the FFRP publishes topoguides of day walks, called Promenades et Randonnées (PRs). Each topoguide contains all the PRs for a particular area and can be purchased online at the FFRP boutique.
Although we have little knowledge of day walks, there is one village that we can recommend from personal experience – Bléré. It is on the beautiful Cher river, upstream from Tours. There is a railway station at la Croix-en-Touraine, about a 600 m walk from Bléré, so it is easy to get to. We stayed there for three nights in 2017 and loved it. We also stayed there for one night in both 2005 and 2011
The camping ground is close to the centre of the village and it has a hotel, which looks pleasant, plus several cafés and restaurants. The Office of Tourism has a list of enjoyable day walks and the magnificent Château de Chenonceau is about 4 km upstream. Just walking along the Cher in either direction from Bléré is delightful.
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, the villages are not far apart and there is an SNCF train station at each end of the walk. You can break it up into short stages if you want (that’s what we did, but it was 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?
For walks of any length, it depends on what sort of country you prefer – rugged mountains, gentle lowlands or something in between. A good start would be to look at our Photo Albums, which give a general idea of the scenery on each walk.
Here are some specific suggestions for walks of different durations:
(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.
Another interesting possibility would be to do a Grande Randonnée du Pays (GRP) – a track that loops around through a particular area. Go to our Maps and Guides page which has an interactive map that shows all the GRs and GRPs – it can be slow to load but definitely worth the wait.
(b) A couple of weeks. Two very interesting walks are the the Way of Geneva, which normally takes about 16 days and is part of the GR65, going from Geneva to le Puy; and the The Régordane, about a 10-day walk from le Puy to Saint-Gilles on the Mediterranean Coast. They are both pilgrimages, but only a few pilgrims walk them. Obviously they could also be walked sequentially to make a very fine month’s walk.
Another interesting walk, which could be used as an alternative to the Régordane in this longer walk, is the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, which also starts in le Puy and takes about 8 days.
(c) A month. Have a look at our Diaries and try and find something that takes your fancy. For these longer walks the daily rhythm of walking becomes a pleasure in itself, together with the food of course.
I want to walk on the Way of Le Puy (the main pilgrimage), 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 day’s walk into the pilgrimage. From Aumont-Aubrac you go across the high plateau of the Auvergne for a day or two, then you plunge down into the valley of the Lot and follow 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 freedom 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.
One thing to be aware of is that this pilgrimage is very crowded on Holy Years. They occur in years in which 25 July, the Feast of Saint James, falls on a Sunday.
When camping, is it safe to leave our equipment unguarded?
We have camped in France every year since 2002 and have never had a security problem. We work on the assumption that nobody would want to steal our camping equipment, and certainly not our clothes. Therefore, when we leave our tent, we take our valuables – money, passports and cameras – and the rest we just leave. This has always been sufficient. However, we have heard of cyclists having their bikes stolen, and once we met a walker who had had everything taken, including their tent. (Admittedly that was in a big town 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 absolute 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.
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 year’s diary contains a link to that year’s spreadsheet.