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Top walking and cycling locations in France

PUBLISHED: 14:51 05 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:55 08 February 2019

One of the many balcony paths above Chamonix. Pic: Hilary Sharpe

One of the many balcony paths above Chamonix. Pic: Hilary Sharpe

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With such varied landscape, both at the coast and in the countryside, you’ll never be stuck for a walking or cycling holiday destination in France. Cicerone’s guidebooks are the perfect travel companion

For someone making a trip to France for the first time, or even for the tenth time, the French countryside is so incredibly diverse that there is too much choice. At one extreme there are the Alps and the Pyrénées; there are wonderful hilly regions such as in Provence; there are rivers and canals to follow, and coastlines to explore. All these options promise wonderful days in the fresh air while you walk or cycle at your own pace.

For the Alpine visitor, Chamonix is perhaps the most iconic destination, nestling as it does at the foot of the Mont Blanc range. Here you will find accessible walking trails both in the valley and also on airy ‘balcony’ routes accessed by cable cars, where breathtaking views open up in all directions. The Cicerone guidebook Mont Blanc Walks by Hilary Sharpe would certainly make an excellent companion, with fifty day walks described covering the entire area.

If this all sounds a little too energetic, then there are plenty of other wonderful walks in France. The Auvergne for example is an unique hilly area in central France. Far quieter than busy Chamonix, this is an exceptionally beautiful area of ancient volcanoes.

Puy Mary's northeast face as viewed from Puy de la Tourte. Pic: Rachel CrollaPuy Mary's northeast face as viewed from Puy de la Tourte. Pic: Rachel Crolla

According to Cicerone’s Walking in the Auvergne by Rachel Crolla and Carl McKeating, it is a walker’s delight. ‘The Auvergne’s charming historic villages, castles and churches are interspersed with picturesque hamlets, pastoral valleys and lofty cattle pastures. Unspoilt volcanic lakes nestle within pine forests and languid rivers trace their sinuous courses through beech copses.’

For those who seek historic interest in their walks, there are two regions in particular which offer superb interest and scenery. The banks of the deep valley of the Dordogne are lined with picturesque medieval towns and castles, while cave paintings by early man can be found nearby. In the far south, the Cathar region lies in the foothills of the Pyrénées, with craggy hilltops studded by Cathar castle strongholds dating from the 11th and 12th centuries.

If walking is not your thing, cycling is another great way to explore France. Often there are dedicated cycle lanes next to the road, or else canal and riverside tracks serve well for traffic-free cycling. A great option for the leisure cyclist is to follow the course of the Canal du Midi, a 240km route along a World Heritage trail between Toulouse and the Mediterranean. For longer or more challenging cycling, there are a number of tours following some of the great rivers of France; the Rhône, Moselle, and Loire rivers being some of the favourite cycle routes.

The majestic Puilaurens castle in Aude. Pic: Alan MarringlyThe majestic Puilaurens castle in Aude. Pic: Alan Marringly

To find out more about Cicerone’s guidebooks and to buy your own, visit their site: cicerone.co.uk/france

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