When most people think of France, they picture quaint cafes and the rest of Paris, but there is a lot more to this country than just city life – such as the beautiful countryside.
Roaming the countryside in France is not as difficult as one might think. There is a lot of hilly, unspoiled countryside throughout this European country, and there are many organized groups and tours that can lead you to the best places for your hike. If you enjoy the challenging terrain and climbing skills needed to get up on top of tall mountains, the area of France surrounding the Alps may be perfect for you. If you enjoy the beauty of a vineyard and the smell of herbs and wildflowers, hiking and camping near Alsace in the south of France might be your best choice.
Out of all the European countries, most of which enjoy outdoor pursuits and activities, it is said that France has the best network of hiking and bicycling trails. There are three types of trails that are designated in France, the term for trail in French being "randonnie". The first type of trail is known as the grand randonnie, and it is abbreviated GR. These trails are long-distance trails, and they are marked on the trail with white and red paint. One step down are the regional trails, the randonnies de pays. These are marked with red and yellow paint. Finally, the smallest trails are known simply as randonnies or promenades, and they are marked with yellow paint.
Some of the European countries surrounding France have also taken up this, or a similar method of marking and numbering their trails. For instance, there is a grand randonnie, known as GR-5, which runs for 2,200 kilometres. It crosses through not only France, but also Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Italy. Most of these large hiking trails are not the sort of trail you would see in the United States – they are very well paved, easy to walk and do not climb through wilderness or over hard terrain.
For real hiking and camping in France, you will need to head to the mountainous regions, which can be found off of large trails like the GR-5, GR-10 and GR-21. These trails head to the Alps, the Pyrenees and Corsica respectively. Around here, smaller trails can take you into climbing territory. If you prefer a more historic and easily walked path, the trail GR-5 also heads south to Alsace, where you can explore the history of wine country.
While most people don't think of France and immediately think of hiking, it is important to remember that hiking did originate in Europe. The many paths, maps and guides available on these subjects make a trip hiking in France a very interesting vacation.