4 great one-day walks in France: top tips and short-cuts
Walks! France has an amazing network of walking paths. They are all very well balisé, with an easy-to-understand system of arrows and waymarkers.
Any maison de la presse or newsagent will have a range of topo-guides with detailed maps and descriptions of walks wherever you are.
Another good place for walkers to start is in the Office de Tourisme. You’ll be able to pick up maps of all the local balades and you will usually be able to select one based on the number of kilometres or how long it takes.
Unfortunately, few tourists have the luxury of time. Most can only snatch two or three weeks each year. And France has such a lot to offer that the competition to see the thousands of attractions which vaut la visite is considerable.
However, help is at hand for walkers looking for a shortcut.
Walks in the southwest of France
Here are four great walks in France with some tips on how to do them in a day—or a couple of days if you have the time.
Always remember that all the usual precautions for mountain walking apply!
- You’ll need good maps
- suitable apparel,
- make sure to check the weather and
- local advice before you start.
Walks in France for those in a rush – les marcheurs un peu pressés !
1. La Breche du Roland
A gash in the jaw of cliffs that separate France from Spain, at Gavarnie is where this rugged mountain pass crosses the Pyrenees.
Victor Hugo was gobsmacked:
Quoi que vous ayez pu voir, ce que vous apercevez maintenant ne ressemble à rien de ce que vous avez rencontré ailleurs.
- In the summer, an aller-retour is quite practical in a day—especially if you take the shortcut and park at the Col de Tentes.
- If you have more time to spare, you can spend the night at the Sarradets refuge just below the Brèche.
- For the less intrepid, there are several wonderful walks in the Gavarnie National Park, all offer dramatic mountain views in this special part of the French Pyrénées.
2. Collioure to Port Vendres
The Côte Vermeille landscapes feature in dozens of Post-Impressionist and Fauve landscapes. Today, it offers a wonderful opportunity to walk between some of the prettiest ports on the Mediterranean coastline near Spain.
- Take the ‘Park and Ride’ shuttle into Collioure from the stop near the exit of the RN 114.
- Start at the Tourist Office and walk south following suburban streets and lanes, and then along the cliffs and pebbly, isolated beaches to Port-Vendres or Banyules sur Mer.
- The railway line follows the coastline, so you can take a train back to Collioure at the end of your adventure.
3. The Route Napoleon to the top of The Pyrenees.
The famous St Jacques Pilgrim’s Route needs little introduction. It consists of four ancient walking tracks across France.
- Pilgrims from Arles usually go over the mountains at Somport.
- The others start at Paris, Vézelay and Le Puy and converge at St Jean Pied de Port before crossing the Pyrenees. This section, known as the Route Napoleon, was taken by Bonaparte’s army to cross into Spain. It’s twenty-five kilometres long and uphill for the first twenty. Despite what seems a daunting undertaking, it’s easily achievable in a day—provided you’re well prepared.
- Take a taxi to Orisson to cut the distance by eight kilometres. The views are nothing less than spectacular.
- After exploring medieval Roncesvalles, you can take a taxi back to St Jean Pied de Port.
For helpful maps and advice, visit the Pilgrim’s Office before you start.
4. Chemin de la Mature
This is a stunning, vertiginous—but quite safe—day walk on a mountain trail cut into the cliff face on the side of a canyon. It’s like walking in a 1.2 kilometre long stone tunnel with one side missing. An amazing eighteenth-century engineering feat originally constructed to convey ship masts cut from Pyrenean Mountain forests to the shipyards of Bordeaux.
- Take the N 134 from Pau towards Somport.
- There’s a car park just south of Etsaut at Pont de Cebers.
- The track leads up past the Fort du Portalet, where Vichy’s Marshal Petain stayed at government expense for several years after being convicted of collaboration with the Nazis.
The views are unbelievable, and this short trek is easily done in half a day.
For the more adventurous, you can make it a day walk and go on to see fantastic views of the Col d’Arras.
Finally, there’s a wealth of information on these walks and many other walks in France on the internet.
Whichever one you choose, “Bonne Promenade”.
Do you have a preferred walk in France? Have you tried any of our suggested routes? Let us know in the comments below!