5 easy walks in France with spectacular views
- Credit: BERTHIER Emmanuel
Always wanted to experience France’s breathtaking natural landscapes on foot but not sure where to start? Here is a list of 5 easy walks to do in France
Côte de Granit Rose, Brittany
Level: easy walking
There’s something about Brittany that could squeeze lyrics from a stone. The light, the seascape, the bays bitten out of rock and cliff; the tiny villages squatting on gritty beaches and their fishing fleets bobbing on the edge of the Atlantic.
The northern blip of Brittany, between the Côte d’Émeraude and the Baie de Lannion, is known as the Côte de Granit Rose. The colours of sea, sky and land are compulsive, addictive. Forget rose-tinted spectacles – everything that is solid here is pink. Rocks, beaches, houses and streets are all made from a rare pink granite said to exist in only three other places in the world: Corsica, Canada and China. This extraordinary stone, married to an iridescent sea and light so sharp that you could cut yourself, creates an atmosphere which is soothing and exhilarating at the same time.
Linking these treasures is the Sentier des Douaniers, the footpath that clings to the coast where customs officials used to lie in wait for smugglers. This path is just a step on the long-distance Grande Randonnée GR34, which hugs the Atlantic for 1,000 kilometres. But you needn’t go that far: five days of easy, mostly level walking, covering 70 kilometres with the market town of Lannion as the start and finish, provides the perfect promenade in this pretty pink paradise.
A day’s hike From Plage de Trestraou, take a boat trip to the Sept Îles, then return to walk the Sentier des Douaniers (5km, level) to Plage Saint-Guirec, past Ploumanac’h lighthouse.
A walking holiday World Walks has a five-night, self-guided walk along the Côte de Granit Rose for £525pp, half board with luggage transfers, route notes and maps
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The Route du Vin, Alsace
Level: easy walking
Alsace – a wooded wedge of France tucked tightly against Germany and Switzerland – is a magnet for lovers of food and wine. Alsace has more Michelin recommended restaurants than any other region in France; it is one of the republic’s most prized wine-growing areas, producing around 150 million bottles a year; and it is dotted with villages comprised almost entirely of ancient, half-timbered houses. All these attributes, of course, also make it immensely appealing to walkers.
The Route du Vin sprawls for 170 kilometres through more than 70 villages; for walkers, a more practical version soaks up seven days through the heartland. This linear route flows through the vineyards and villages below the Vosges mountains, with ample opportunities to stop and sample...but the hedonism isn’t just by mouth.eudal castles, damp forests, medieval fortified villages with towers and twisting, cobbled alleys are so thick on the ground that you quickly take them for granted. Less expected are the random artworks, the Hunawihtork and Otter centre (not forgetting the region’s fabulous Grand Hamster) and Europe’s oldest portcullis with drawbridge, in a 13th-century entrance gate (at Riquewihr, since you ask).
Oh, and did I mention the wine and food? Honestly, you need to tackle this route on foot, if only to justify another slice of kugelhopf and glass of chilled Riesling at the end of each glorious, gourmet-inspired day.
A day’s hike Wander from Riquewihr to Bergheim via the Stork and Otter Reintroduction Centre and Ribeauvillé with its three ruined castles. The ten-kilometre walk combines diverse footpaths, beautiful scenery and exquisite villages.
A walking holiday Headwater Holidays organises an eight-night Alsace Wine Trail (May-September) with self-guided, easy-grade walking along the central part of the Route du Vin. Prices from £878pp based on two sharing. Meanwhile, The Wayfarers offers a six-night guided, group walk for approx £2,800pp.
Menton to Nice, Alpes Maritimes
Level: easy walking
Explore the Riviera by foot along its sea-splashed paths and it quickly becomes apparent that the superyachts, villas and private beach clubs are no more than a glossy veneer. The real gems are the fragrant, natural landscapes and cultural footprints left by previous visitors, ranging from Roman emperors to rock stars and artists.
In Menton you can indulge passions for old buildings and modern art in equal measure before you set off. The Musée Jean Cocteau – Collection Séverin Wunderman is the perfect place to see the works of the artist who loved this coastline so much. In Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, just half an hour’s walk from Monaco, the simple holiday home of the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier is a world away from the billionaire pieds-à-terre of Monte Carlo. At Monaco, climb up the hill and back into France for a detour to La Turbie, with its honey-hued medieval village and the imposing Roman monument Trophée d’Auguste. Enter the bougainvillea-clad seaside town of Beaulieu-sur-Mer and refresh your feet with a paddle at the Baie des Fourmis beach.
You can also indulge in some posh-property spotting around town: see the Villa Nellcôte, where the Rolling Stones spent a summer in 1971 recording their album Exile on Main St. Rounding Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is Villefranche-sur-Mer. This fishing harbour was a favourite of Jean Cocteau, whose legacy is the tiny quayside Chapelle de Saint-Pierre, which was decorated by the artist as a gift to the town. From there enter Nice by the old port and immerse yourself back into city life with a glass of rosé.
A day’s hike A detour from Menton to the ancient village of Sainte-Agnès is easily achieved by bus, but take the footpath instead and you’ll go through rosemary-scented landscapes where delicate sweetpeas and fluttering dog roses stubbornly thrive in the dry maquis. Along the way, stop at Castellar to refill your water supplies in the village spring, eventually pushing on to the perched Plus Beau Village of Sainte-Agnès which overlooks the glittering Mediterranean below.
A walking holiday Footprint Holidays has a six-night self-guided Balcons d’Azur walk from Menton to Nice. Prices from £550pp, which includes six nights’ hotel accommodation with breakfast, some dinners, baggage transfer, walking maps and notes.
Chemin de St Jacques, Le Puy-en-Vellay to Cahors
Level: easy/intermediate walking
Setting out on foot from the medieval cathedral at Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne for Santiago de Compostela and the tomb of Saint James the Apostle in northern Spain is to follow on a 1,600-kilometre path that has been beaten out by a millennia of footsore pilgrims.
Of the many Ways of Saint James that funnel pilgrims across France and Europe towards Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the foothills of the Pyrénées the version that starts in Le Puy is the original and most evocative. The route pioneered by Godescalc, a 10th-century bishop of Le Puy, is UNESCO listed and whether you are a pilgrim or a secular walker following the GR65 (the same route) it is difficult to ignore the daily frisson derived from encounters with the medieval pilgrims.
A tiny chapel perched high above the River Allier at Monistrol has since the 12th century offered a moment of rest and contemplation before the steep descent into the valley. On the high empty Gévaudan and Margeride plateaux, where pilgrims feared attack from wolves and bandits, the isolated Domaine du Sauvage continues to offer refuge, simple meals and a warm seat by the blackened fireplace. More than 700 years after it was built, the sense of awe at crossing the River Lot on the fortified Pont Valentre to reach Cahors is undiminished. No matter what your motivation, walking the Way of Saint James always has a higher purpose.
A day’s hike A number of circular routes explore the Gévaudan plateau in the Lozère département, taking in significant locations in the hunt for a huge killer wolf known as the beast of Gévaudan that terrorised the area in the 1760s.
A walking holiday The two most popular sections, which will take around eight to 12 days to complete, are Le Puy to Conques and Conques to Cahors. Sherpa Expeditions has a self-guided trip for the former for £960pp, while Macs Adventure offer the latter from £555pp. The walking is not difficult and the route is well signposted, but those embarking on their own should pick up The Way of Saint James guidebook by Alison Raju.
Chaîne des Puys, Auvergne
Level: easy/intermediate walking
The cluster of 80 cinder cone volcanoes that form the Chaîne des Puys in northern Auvergne is among the most distinctive landscapes in Europe. Here you do not climb a mountain to reach its summit but to descend into its deep crater.
Stretching from south of Clermont-Ferrand to Volvic in the north, the volcanic range is best explored on foot by tackling the GR441 over six days. The trail is a 110-kilometre circular route that starts and finishes in Volvic. At first, it follows a ridge connecting the summits and craters of the Puy de la Coquille and the Puy Chopine, and then tackles the Puy de Dôme, at 1,465 metres the highest in the range. The views stretch over more smooth green cones and the temptation is to climb them all and discover what lurks at the bottom of each crater.
The double-coned Puy de Côme and the nearby Puy Pariou look to have been conceived in a geometry class, so regular are their gentle slopes. In geological time these are young volcanoes and the route crosses lava flows that look uncannily fresh despite having been spewed out 8,500 years ago. The home leg crosses peat bogs teeming with colour and wildlife. A fresh eruption is unlikely but it should always be borne in mind that this area is still volcanically active.
A day’s hike Ascend to the top of the Puy de Dôme on the Panoramique des Dômes railway and then descend to the north on the newly constructed boardwalk and steps that lead across to the Puy Pariou.
A walking holiday Despite the splendour of the landscape this is a relatively unknown corner of France. High Point Holidays is among the few to offer walking holidays in the region. Self-guided five-night breaks cost from £495pp.
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