Practical Advice on Walking in France

If you are thinking of planning your own walk in France here are a few tips based on my own experience.

Planning Your Trip

Maps and Guides

You can either use a walk from a guide book, in French or in English, or you can start from scratch using French maps.

I used a number of guide books in French published by the French Walker's Federation (Fédération Française de Randonnée Pédestre) and also by Rando Editions and these are listed in each section on my walk. I also referred to guides published by Cicero, the most authoritative series in English covering many of the best walks in France. I bought the FFRP's Topoguides direct from their web site – Guide books in France can be bought from the web sites of a number of major French booksellers. I have used Mollat (Bordeaux) for Rando Editions –; Decitre in Lyon (; and FNAC

IGN (Institut Géographique National) publish the best sheet maps and of course these days you can buy downloadable versions for your GPS, although I never did this myself.

I suggest you start by selecting a region which appeals to you and buying the relevant map in the 1:100,000 series (TOP 100). This will give you a good idea of the best areas to visit and major trails (Grandes Randonnées) are marked on this series. Then you will need to purchase the 1:25.000 maps covering your route (TOP 25). These are well worth the investment. They show you official footpaths as well as other local tracks which you can use.

You should be aware that these maps are not updated every year and therefore sometimes the local authorities or walkers' groups have re-routed sections of a footpath. There are a multitude of other tracks shown on these maps, many of which are passable but some of which go across private land and cannot be used. You can only find out by trial and error. Generally speaking there are no customary rights of way over private land in France, only permissive paths which can be closed by the landowner. There are however lots of tracks through forests (30% of France's land area) and plenty of quiet country lanes and tracks which are used as footpaths.

All the 1:25.000 maps are marked up with the coordinates you will need to establish your position with a GPS.

The cheapest way to buy these French sheet maps is to order online from IGN. You will pay about 35% less than from an English supplier. Postage costs are modest. but you have to persevere with the French navigation system. In the UK Stanfords in Long Acre Covent Garden have the best selection

I have also found the following 1;1,000,000 maps useful – les Chemins vers Saint-Jacques de Compostelle and Grandes Randonnées de France.


There are three main types of footpath in France, with some local variations:-

  • Grandes Randonnées GR marked with two parallel flashes, one white and one red
  • Grandes Randonnées du Pays GRP marked with two parallel flashes, one yellow and one red
  • PR local footpaths marked with a single yellow flash.

A cross means you are going in the wrong direction. A curve left or right means precisely what it says!

Accommodation for Walking in France

I have stayed in a variety of types of accommodation- bed and breakfast (chambres d'hôtes), walker's hostels (gites d'étape), hotels, refuges (mainly in the mountains). Some of these are listed in guide books but I have found most of them by searching the internet.

For chambres d'hotes; for gites d'étape and refuges; for hotels I have used Logis de France and Ibis You can also find all three on where you can now search by commune, the lowest level of local government. I have also had a lot of help from local offices de tourisme. Do a search on Google for office de tourisme and the name of the place and you will often find a web site with a list of accommodation.

I have booked some accommodation by email, some by fax and some on the telephone. Occasionally a deposit is asked for and the owner will not accept a credit card. Bank transfers are too expensive. I pop a euro note in the post in a double envelope and it usually gets there! It is always worth calling the day before to re-confirm if you have booked some time ago. I have found that booking ahead is essential in busy holiday periods – Easter, May when there are four public holidays (May Day, VE Day, Ascension and Whitsun (not the same day as in England); July 14th and the school holidays until early September.


I have used airlines and trains depending on the starting point. You can now book train tickets direct via the SNCF web site . If you need a local bus service the office de tourisme should be able to help. They will respond to emails if you prefer not to phone. Occasionally when I am leading a group of people I use a taxi to send on the bags. You can usually find a local taxi on under “taxis artisans” but beware. French taxis are expensive and they will often charge you to come out as well as for the journey itself.

On the Walk in France

  • Don't forget the climate in France is different from the UK! It will be considerably hotter walking in the summer so a good hat and sun cream are always advisable.
  • On several occasions I encountered heavy rain and was glad I had an effective rain shell and warm layers underneath.
  • I also learnt early on to provide effective protection against the wet for the clothes in my rucksack!
  • Even in the summer there can be late snow on the higher passes in the Alps and the Pyrenees so it is always worth checking the situation before you move.
  • You can ring Meteo France from your mobile 3250 and get a local forecast including for mountain areas.
  • I did walk on my own in the mountains but always carried a compass, GPS, a survival bag and whistle for attracting attention and a mobile.
  • Check out the number of the mountain gendarmerie locally for emergencies. The national emergency number is 18.
  • It is a good idea to tell the staff at a mountain refuge your route for the day.
  • When you are doing a strenuous walk remember to eat enough calories. On one or two occasions in a cold snap in the Autumn I felt weak in the afternoon because I had eaten too little for lunch. Energy bars, Kendal mint cake or chocolate are always a good stand by.
  • Even in the plains do not assume there is a village store or café in every settlement. Ask in advance.
  • Always take plenty of water with you wherever you are. The writer got caught out once in a remote area where there were no streams-never again. Take water purification tablets.
  • Everyone will have their own list of items for an emergency but a blister kit (padding, Compeeds) and insect repellent have been invaluable in my experience.