Hiking in France: Exploring Provence on foot
Crisscrossing France and much of Europe are public hiking or randonée trails, an inexpensive leisure activity that is reasonably accessible to most of the population.
Modern conveniences such as the car and public transportation have replaced the necessity to walk from place to place. Many footpaths and trade routes were carved long ago by the passage of time and feet. Now many of these trails form part of the Grande Randonée (GR) system. There are over 60,000km of paths in France alone.
My husband and I both love hiking, and were thrilled to start our season in January, with the International Hiking Group of Provence. Each Tuesday hike was unique, the scenery beautiful and the weather often unpredictable. Some of our favourite trails are highlighted below:
Forêt des Cèdres
A rambling walk through a cedar forest in the Petit Luberon. The trees were first planted in 1861. Today, the cedar forest stretches for 250 hectares.
Colorado de Provence
A hike that should not be missed. However, a current, detailed map or knowledgeable guide is recommended as it is quite easy to get lost. The hike starts just outside the town of Roussillon and offers a magical combination of pigmented rock formations along the way.
Col de Sormiou
The trailhead is located on the outskirts of Marseille. This hike was described as challenging as the first section involves steep, rocky scrambles. A gradual descent in a limestone-walled valley ends at a tiny bay. The return route to the cars follows the cliffs along the Mediterranean – stunning!
Le Tour du Mont Puget
The trailhead for this hike is at L’École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Marseille. The walk starts from the faculty buildings on broad walking trails. There are a few steep sections, but the views of the Mediterranean are unquestionably worth the effort!
Saintes-Maries de la Mer (nature reserve)
This is an easy trail, suitable for all levels and can be done in 3-4 hours. The walk follows the marshes of the Camargue. These brackish waters are home to thousands of birds including herons, seagulls and pink flamingos.
Maussane, Les Baux de Provence
An easy 3.5-hour walk, through the back roads of Maussane. The hike highlights include views of the golf course, some spectacular private properties and glorious gardens.
Murs, La Combe de Vaumale
A loop hike that starts and ends in the small village of Murs in the Luberon. The village sits atop a small hill, surrounded by beautiful stone walls. After a lengthy descent, the trail follows a dry, narrow gorge where the path heads steadily uphill. There are several points that require scrambling over rocks, and a few areas where hikers must use fixed ladders and chains. The hike is certainly an achievement for those with vertigo or a lack of climbing experience.
Do you have a favourite randonée trail? Tell us in the comments below!All images © Carolyne Kauser-Abbott.