The French countryside is filled with lush greenery and grandiose hills that are ideal for a day of trekking. The land is crisscrossed by thousands of miles of well-marked and maintained trails. Markings are called "blazes" and you'll see the colored stripes painted on trees or on asphalt roads.
You can walk just about anywhere in France on a path. Here are the three trail types you'll find there:
- The long paths of France are called sentiers de grande randonnee (GR followed by a number, i.e. GR 7) These can connect to international paths at the border of France, and usually traverse long distances over the entire country, border to border.
- Regional paths (GRP). There are roughly 25,000 miles of these in France. They cover regions and are marked with yellow over red blazes.
- Local paths (PR). Paths that leave from the outskirts of towns to another town or historic site, marked with a single blaze.
The best maps for walking are provided by The Institut Géographic National (IGN), France's national survey agency.
IGN green maps (scale - 1;100,000) can be useful for planning, but you'll want to buy the very detailed the IGN 1:25,000 blue series for serious walking.
IGN maps aren't commonly available in the US. They are easily purchased in newsstands and tobacco stores in France, however. In places like Tournon-sur-Rhone, the IGN blue map called Carte de Randonnee Tournon-sur-Rhone can typically be found for around 8 Euro. This map is detailed enough to show all structures and trails you are likely to take, and also showed some of the names of the vineyards.
For casual walkers, just grab an IGN Blue series map in the village you're in and take off for the countryside.
If you prefer to get a map in advance and plot out an itinerary, it is possible to order one from the IGN web site.
Before heading out on the trail, make note of these key pieces of guidance
Don't attempt to hit the hills wearing loafers, thongs or other non-supportive shoes. Running shoes or sneakers may be fine for a light hike, but for anything, more strenuous bring along a broken-in pair of hiking boots.
Even in the summer, the temperature can drop as hikers go into higher elevation. Bring along layers of clothing that can be added or discarded as needed.
While it stays light longer during the summer and spring months, many hikers have underestimated the length of time it takes to return from a hike and ended up walking in the dark. Bring along a flashlight or headlamp as a precaution.
Service may be spotty in some parts, but overall cellular reception covers most of France. As a back-up, bring a spare battery pack for your phone and let someone know your itinerary and your expected time of return.
Stay on the Paths
The lure of exploration can be tempting while on the trail but keep to the marked paths. You don't want to wander onto private property—it is not the best way to meet the locals.