When thoughts turn to France for a holiday, they turn to fine wine, beautiful cities, amazing art, and stunning architecture. Essentially, all things are characterised by indulgence yet one of the most interesting ways to really explore this amazing country is by strapping on your walking shoes and heading out on some of the best hikes in France.
Like the UK, there’s so much natural beauty in France that would otherwise be missed out without taking the time to travel slowly as you would on these hikes.
It doesn’t have to be strenuous either. You can traipse through the many vineyards of wine country, scale absolutely stunning mountains in the Alps or just leisurely amble through pretty villages and towns in the Dordogne Valley – the point is, just get out there!
To help you on your merry way (and oh, do be sure to stop for wines, cheeses and many-a-pastry), here are 12 of the best hikes in France worth experiencing on your next trip!
1.) Le Chemin des Rognes
This is one of the best hikes in France’s – Tour de Mont Blanc trails. It is a strenuous trail that begins in Bellevue and ends in Baraque des Rognes. It has some of the most spectacular views of the Chamonix Valley and Mont Blanc itself – the highest peak in all of western Europe.
The hike typically takes anywhere from three and a half to five hours to complete and along the trail, it is not unusual to spot an ibex or two.
Be sure to pay attention to the impending weather before embarking upon your journey – some areas on the trail are extremely exposed and could be hazardous in thunderstorms or snow squalls.
The challenging hike is sure to make you work up an appetite, so make a point to visit Le Piano Gourmand for an interesting twist on French/Mediterranean fusion and a rather worthy reward for taking on one of the best hikes in France.
2.) Lac Blanc
This is an infamous hike in the Aiguilles Rouges region that you will not want to miss! The journey begins with a cable car ride which is pretty spectacular in and of itself, thanks to the stunning scenery on display.
After disembarking, follow the trail which ascends steeply upwards. Once you arrive at the summit, you’ll get a sense of why this hike is worth your while once you set your sights on the ethereally beautiful duo of lakes.
The entire walk takes about three to four hours if you keep up a moderate pace, however, if you want to linger along the lakeshore, there is a small shelter available for overnight stays.
It is worth noting though that Lac Blanc’s popularity means that space in this shelter is very limited. Be sure to call ahead and book a spot if you have your heart set on an overnight excursion. For those who do elect to stay here, it is a cosy, clean spot to bond with fellow travellers before beginning the descent in the morning.
3.) D-Day Beaches, Normandy
While certainly not as strenuous as any of the other choices, this hike is one of the most important and one of the best hikes in France due to its important historical significance. If you are a history buff or simply interested in the events that have shaped this area, this is a trail that may very well move you to tears.
This is where one of the most intense fights in World War Two took place when Allied forces invaded France against the Germans. Tremendous casualties occurred on both sides, leaving the day known as Doomsday when the fighting was finally over. It was the beginning of the end of the Axis’s claim to power in Western Europe (the Axis were the nations that fought in World War II against the Allied forces).
It is indeed possible to simply walk the 80-km-plus span of coastline; however, it is far more advisable to go on a guided hike. This ensures that you are able to glean as much history as possible along your hike, such as the Pegasus Bridge on Sword Beach or the sombre field of white crosses that keep watch over Omaha Beach.
4.) GR 20
If you are looking for a long, completely immersive hike, the GR 20 is your dream come true.
It runs north to south down the middle of Corsica and takes anywhere from eleven to fifteen days to complete. There are huts available at various points throughout the trail for overnight stays or shelter from bad weather.
The northern section of the hike is steep, rocky and hazardous but the views are absolutely breathtaking. The summit is an absolutely spectacular place to soak in the rewards of all the hard work getting to the top, as you can enjoy some rather panoramic views of the mountain tops that are pretty out of this world!
The southern section is much less strenuous but aside from some impressive meadows, it is also generally considered to be less appealing scenery-wise. The choice of which route you take it totally up to you and dependent on your ability and motivation for going on the hike in the first place.
The north and south sections meet in Vizzavona – here, you can find a well-deserved break from the trails by visiting Le Vizzavona.
This is a hotel and restaurant that welcomes hikers with fantastic food choices that change with the seasons and rooms for you to kick off those weary boots and relax.
5.) Mare a Mare Sud
This is one of the best hikes in France for hikers who are more experienced with (or perhaps just really enjoy) long-distance trips as it spans approximately 77 kilometres, and takes an average of five days to complete.
Far less demanding than other Corsican long-distance trails, the Mare a Mare Sud trail is a perfect choice for anyone who wants to experience the area via hiking but is not ready to commit to one of the longer, more expert-level trails.
The trail ends in Propriano, by the way. Propriano is a marina town that is a welcome sight to those completing the hike.
A whole host of hotels are available here and offer a nice warm bed to rest up – the top two recommendations here are either Bartaccia Hotel or the Miramar Boutique Hotel; while local restaurants supply some of the freshest seafood and finest wine the country has to offer.
For a true treat, go for the tasting menu at Terra Cotta, where the tasting menu is one of the best ways to indulge in some amazing post-hike deliciousness.
6.) Western Front Battlefields
Like the Normandy Beaches, this hike is also pretty important due to its history. The Western Front is a term referring to the nearly 650-km area of land spanning across the borders of Switzerland and Belgium and this area in France was the main area of fighting during World War One.
Today, there remains a variety of memorials, as well as remnants of battlegrounds that show scars from shells. There are a wide variety of guided hikes available for exploring the Western Front which add poignancy and somberness to an already eerie experience by educating you on the historical impact of what took place in the area over one hundred years ago.
7.) The Pilgrim’s Trail, Mont St. Michel
This is a rather fun day hike to one of the most beautiful places to visit in France. The 6.5km walk begins at Bec d’Andaine and crosses directly across the sands of the Bay of Mont St. Michel.
It goes without saying that this hike can only be attempted during low tide, as this particular bay is infamous for having the highest tides in all of Europe. Most people prefer to participate in a guided walk, as misjudging the tide’s cycles can prove fatal if you are unlucky enough to get caught in the open.
The walk across the bay takes approximately two hours and brings you right to the doorstep of the island of Mont St. Michel. With less than forty-five permanent residents, the landscape is dominated by the infamous Abbey. This is the same historical route that religious pilgrims have walked since the Middle Ages making it one of the oldest, most scenic and best hikes in France.
8.) Grand Traversee des Alpes/GR 5
This is not a hike for those who are short on time. At over 615 kilometres, the trail can take anywhere from twenty-five to thirty days to complete! It is, however, full of rewards for those who can commit their time to it.
The hike is particularly famous for its panoramic, gorgeous views of the French Alps. It begins at the picturesque Lake Geneva and ends in the popular town of Nice.
There are also a number of refuge locations along the trail for you to rest your road-weary legs. These shelters not only offer refreshment in the form of pretty good food (and an impressive selection of beers and wine), it also provides an arena for meeting fellow hikers and trading stories.
9.) Alpage de Blaitiere
This hike typically takes between two and a half to three hours to complete. Beginning at the Grepon parking lot, the 1.5km walk offers brilliant views of emerald green meadows and rugged mountainous terrain.
At the end of the trail, however, is the true treat – the Alpage (in other words – the Alpine pastures).
Here, you are greeted by cows, goats and other animals before being warmly welcomed with a meal made from the ingredients available around the Alpage (totally worth making a booking in advance) – oh and be sure to get some locally made cheeses before heading back.
A hike here is a pretty wonderful combination of sightseeing, a healthy dose of exercise and traditional French hospitality, all rolled into one!
10.) Robert Louis Stevenson Trail
This is an absolute must-do for literary fans! The path follows in the footsteps of the famous author, whose 1878 journey here inspired his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. Many great literary works followed this breakthrough novel, including the more popular Treasure Island and Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The walk begins in Le Monastier and ends in St. Jean du Gard and although it takes approximately two weeks to complete, the trail is relatively easy to walk, with a few moderate sections towards the end.
There are a number of excellent options for food and rest along the way and remember, you don’t have to do it all, you can just pick a section of the hike and do that instead.
If you do decide to do it all, a stop at the Hotel Restaurant les Sources in Chasserades is a good halfway point, where you can sleep in a nice bed and indulge in simple French cuisine before getting back on the trail in the morning.
11.) Verdon Gorge
There are lots of different hiking options available in the Verdon Gorge, making it one of the most versatile and best hikes in France for its suitability to a wide range of hikers.
A moderate day hike will bring you along the lower path of the spectacular gorge.
If, however, you enjoy longer, more strenuous hikes, a five-day trek might be right up your street, offering some unforgettable views as you walk along the rim of the gorge itself.
12.) Cirque de Gavarnie
Beautifully situated in the Pyrenees Mountains, this is an easy day hike that is accessible to families with small children as well as individuals with mobility limitations.
The incline is minimal, yet the scenery is impressive – ergo it’s one of the best hikes in France to traverse through in a day. Crystalline waterfalls and large granite rock walls make for quite an unforgettable visual experience when you’re here.
If you’re looking to do something outdoorsy yet more chilled than one of the best hikes in France above, you should totally head out to one of these amazing national parks in France.