Tips and tricks for walking and trekking in France
Lesley Williams of Cicerone shares her tips for making the most of a walking, hiking, or trekking holiday in France
What is your best tip for a first-timer on a walking holiday in France?
Wear shoes that you have tried out and know are comfortable, and go on some walks before your holiday so that you know your ability and limitations.
How can people make the most of walking and trekking?
Prepare well – focus on planning and fitness, pack light, invest in good kit.
What is the best time of year to walk in France?
It depends on which part of France you are going to, but generally spring and autumn are ideal for walking in most areas. The south of France can be very hot for walking in the height of summer, but is great if you can only get away in the winter months. Alpine walking is best between late June and the end of September when snow has cleared from paths and passes.
What is a good length of time for a walking holiday in France?
It depends! If it’s your first walking holiday, or if time is limited, then getting away for just a few days will make all the difference to your wellbeing and enjoyment. If you have more time available, then consider a two-week holiday, which will allow you to really explore an area, or to take on a long-distance route.
What essential items should people take with them on walking day trip?
For a walking day trip in summer you will need a map and probably a guidebook, water, sunscreen (at least factor 30), sunglasses, a sunhat, some food and snacks, and a small first-aid kit (plasters, insect cream, blister plasters, antiseptic wipes). If you are walking in the mountains or if weather is unsettled you will also need a warmer top, light waterproofs and possibly a hat and gloves if going to a high altitude. Shorts are fine in the mountains on a hot summer day, but otherwise consider lightweight trousers, or trousers that convert to shorts.
What equipment should you think about packing for a one-week walking holiday?
For a one-week walking holiday you need the equipment and clothing outlined above, but in addition, for day-walking you will need: a small rucksack, a change of (walking) clothes, personal toiletry items, and if you are staying in the same place, some clothes for evenings. If you will be long-distance walking, then you will need a rucksack that’s a little bigger – around 30-35 litres – a change of shoes, and for mountain huts you will need a pack towel and a sleeping bag liner.
Would you recommend people book accommodation along the route ahead of time?
If you are trekking at the height of the season, or in a group of more than three or four, then booking ahead is often essential on busy, popular routes, especially at ‘pinch points’ where there are few or no alternatives, or on Friday and Saturday nights. Create a schedule for each stage, names and contact details of the accommodation booked, and dates, so you can easily refer to the schedule and make changes if necessary. If you are trekking in a shoulder season (neither high or low season) or on a less popular route then booking ahead isn’t generally necessary, unless accommodation is known to be in short supply.
Do you have any advice for those who want to get out and about in the colder winter months?
If you are walking or trekking in winter always check with the local tourist office who will advise you on snow conditions and accessible areas for walking. Take boots rather than shoes, plenty of warm clothes that you can add in layers, trekking poles for stability, and ‘microspikes’ or something similar for icy conditions.
How many walking guidebooks do you have based in France?
There are over 25 Cicerone walking and trekking guidebooks for France, many covering the Alps.
Are all your walking guidebooks aimed at people of the same ability?
Cicerone guides cover a range of walks and treks that can appeal to people with a range of abilities. Many walking routes in our books are graded, and the route descriptions will always help you to judge what lies ahead and to make the right choices according to your fitness and experience.
Where is a good route to challenge experienced walkers in France?
If you’re an experienced walker there are plenty of options for trekking. For long-distance challenges, there is little to beat either the GR5 through the French Alps, or the GR10 across the French side of the Pyrenees. For more technically challenging routes, the GR54 in the Ecrins or the GR20 in Corsica are still considered the toughest routes in western Europe. There are always ways to explore and make up challenging routes for yourself, once you have the experience.
Is there a big difference in the hiking experience in the north and the south of France?
The main difference in the hiking experience is the latitude, and resulting climate and weather you will experience. Hiking in the south of France in summer will be unpleasantly hot unless you are high in the mountains.
What is your favourite walking route in France?
My personal favourite trek in France is the GR5 – a journey of nearly four weeks through the Alps, passing Mont Blanc, the Vanois, Queyras and Mercantour national parks to the Mediterranean. It surpassed all my expectations.
Finally I believe it is a special occasion for Cicerone? Happy Anniversary! How are you celebrating?
Cicerone is 50 this year! We’ve marked the occasion by publishing a celebration of Cicerone over the years, together with stories from our authors around the world – Cicerone: Fifty Years of Adventure 1969 | 2019 is available through the Cicerone website. We are also undertaking to raise more than £20,000 in support of two charities closely related to Cicerone and the outdoors, and will be donating £1 for every book sold on the Cicerone website during the year.
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