Walking in France – Discover the best areas with our expert guide
Did you know France is the world’s first tourism destination? Quite a feat! And it’s a fantastic country for walking too. France boasts so many beautiful and tranquil rural regions perfect for walking, it’s hard to know where to start when you want to explore this varied country …
And with a 110,000 miles long trail system, ranging from circular walking routes to long distance national walking paths, France offers walking opportunities for everyone’s abilities too!
It’s estimated that around 8% of France’s total population is regularly going outdoors for activities such as hiking, cycling, skiing, and water sports. The country’s diverse landscapes and natural beauty make it a popular destination for tourists from around the world, and the government has invested heavily in promoting outdoor tourism. In recent years, France has developed many new cycling routes, hiking trails, and other outdoor activities, and these have become increasingly popular among locals and visitors alike. Outdoor tourism is an important industry in France, contributing billions of euros to the country’s economy each year.
In this our guide to walking in France we’ll share in depth info on the countries’ popular walking regions with lots of pretty pictures to inspire and help you plan your next perfect walking holiday to France.
If you like the idea of being hosted by small-scale local companies and accommodations that can give you a unique experience, also have a look at our overview of walking holidays in France.
Also see: Walking Holidays in France
by small-scale local businesses & hosts for a unique & personal holiday experience
The 5 Most Popular Areas for
Walking in France
These well-known areas are some of France’s hiking & walking tourism hotspots because they boast some of France’s finest scenery. These areas offer very well developed infrastructure for walks and hikes and tourism in general, but will also be more busy because of their popularity. Let’s explore what they are!
The French Alps
High peaks, deep valleys and glacial lakes ...
« Tap circle for more info on the French Alps ...
France's countryside dream with castles and historic villages ...
« Tap circle for more info on the Dordogne ...
A spectacular, mountaineous region with ancient trails and paths ...
« Tap circle for more info on the Cevennes ...
The French Pyrenees
Rugged and rocky mountains in the South of France ...
« Tap circle for more info on the Pyrenees ...
Iconic area with vineyards, olive groves, and charming villages ...
« Tap circle for more info on the Bordeaux region ...
The French Alps
The French Alps are located in the southeastern part of France, near Switzerland and Italy. It’s a typical alpine landscape with high peaks, deep valleys and glacial lakes. The highest mountain in the region is located exactly at the border with Italy – the Mont Blanc is an impressive 4,807 meters high and is Western Europe’s tallest mountain. Ownership of the exact summit has been disputed between France and Italy from the French Revolution onwards, but this is luckily not interfering with anyone who’d like to climb this mountain; on average 20,000 people climb the Mont Blanc every year, but it’s not an easy hike! It’s described as an technically easy but arduous ascent for someone well-trained and used to the altitude.
Rest assured that you don’t need to be an experience mountaineer to go hiking and walking in the French Alps! The lower mountains and valleys offers some fantastic and varied walking too, next to the higher altitude and more challenging walking that is also available.
View of Mont Blanc from Col du Voza, Les Houches in the French Alps.
the popular hiking areas
The most touristy regions of the French Alps are those that are very popular for skiing and winter sports. The Three Valleys area (Les Trois Vallées) is the largest ski area in the world, next to popular resorts such as Chamonix, Val d’ Isère, Courchevel and Megève. When the snow has melted here, these areas open their doors for hikers and walkers to enjoy the beautiful alpine meadows, trails and paths.
Walking near the Mont Blanc in the Chamonix region
More quiet regions
There are also plenty of much quieter regions in the French Alps that are more off the beaten track for more tranquil walking and hiking.
These include Vanoise and Ecrins National Park, and the Belledonne Massif for more remote and challenging hiking, and the Bauges Massif that is known for it’s idyllic countryside and scenic Alpine villages.
Spectacular walking scenery in Vanoise National Park – French Alps
Did you know ...
The French Alps region is known for its cheese-making traditions, and some of the most famous cheeses in the world are produced here, such as Beaufort, Comté, and Reblochon. These cheeses are made using traditional methods, with milk from local cows that graze on the alpine pastures during the summer months. The unique combination of fresh mountain air, rich soil, and diverse flora creates a distinct and delicious flavor in the cheese, which has made it a favorite of food lovers around the world. Visitors to the French Alps can explore many cheese-making facilities and taste the different varieties of cheese produced in the region.
The heart of the area is the Dordogne department with the capital Perigeux, but most of the tourists focus on the region known as the Périgord noir, with famous villages such as Domme, Larogue Gageac, plenty of caves including at Lascaux with world famous cave paintings, and impressive limestone cliffs.
View on Dordogne River from the village Domme.
This does not mean that the other parts of the Dordogne have less to offer, in fact most of the area offers stunning and idyllic countryside, ideal for walking holidays and some really quiet and tranquil trails can be enjoyed off the beaten track away from the more obvious places that have made the region famous.
The Périgord Limousin Regional Nature Park
The 700 square miles (1800 square km) of countryside forming the Périgord-Limousin Regional Natural Park offers beautiful walking in the North of the Dordogne area.
This area has over 400 km of marked trails leading you through scenic landscapes where you can encounter rare species that love the wet habitats the rivers and streams offer, such as the Otter and Black Stork.
Wetland habitats along the Dordogne river, Périgord.
Walks & trails for all abilities
The elevation levels in the Dordogne region range from 30 meters above sea level in the river valleys to about 500 meters above sea levels on the hills and plateaus, offering generally relaxed walking for all abilities, including families.
Overall, the Dordogne River and its surrounding landscapes are considered to be one of the most beautiful and scenic regions in France, attracting walkers & hikers from all over the world with a range of trails and paths suitable for all levels of walkers.
Medieval hilltop village Castelnaud-la-Chapelle in the Dordogne region.
Did you know ...
The Dordogne region is home to the oldest and most important prehistoric cave paintings in the world. The Lascaux Cave, discovered in 1940, contains some of the finest examples of prehistoric art ever found, dating back to around 15,000 BCE. The cave features stunning paintings of animals such as horses, bulls, and deer, created with great skill and artistry using natural pigments and techniques that are still not fully understood. Today, the original cave is closed to the public to preserve the fragile artwork, but visitors can explore a replica cave at the nearby Lascaux IV museum, which offers an immersive and educational experience of this incredible site.
Imagine a landscape of rough forested hills with deep river gorges that gives you that feeling of wilderness, and scattered hamlets and villages where time has stood still and the inhabitants have preserved the traditional architecture and way of life…
Gorges du Tarn in the Cevennes region in France.
Cevennes villages where time has stood still
Examples of picturesque villages include La Garde-Guérin, a well preserved fortified village, and Sainte-Enimie on the banks of the Tarn river. The Cevennes National Park is located in the Cevennes and has an area of about 1500 km2 ( 585 square miles, comparable in size to Exmoor National Park in England. It is a vast territory of wild countryside with torrents, rivers and streams.
The famous Gorges du Tarn is a beautiful canyon and must-see area in the Southern Part of the National Park, with towering limestone cliffs and scenic views on the river. Another well known attraction in the region is the Stevenson Trail, named after Scoottisch writer Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote a book about his walks in the area: Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.
You’ll encounter plenty of historic villages in the Cevennes.
Elevation & climate in the Cevennes
The average elevation is around 1000 meters with several peaks over 1400 meters, including the highest point, Mont Lozere at about 1700 meters. Because of it’s proximity to the Mediterranean, the area has hot dry summers and mild and wet winters, but because of it’s altitude the local conditions can differ quite considerably.
The area as a whole is influenced by the presence of both the Central Massif mountain range and the Mediterranean Sea, resulting in unique conditions and also a unique flora and fauna. A great time of the year for walking is spring, when the whole landscape is in bloom and temperatures are still mild, while autumn can also offer some great walking weather and scenic autumn colours.
Higher mountains in the Cevennes; view from the Causse Mejean plateaux.
characteristic cEVENNES WILDLIFE
Some of the wildlife you can encounter on your walks include the Cevennes Woodpecker, the Alpine Ibex and various types of orchids (the regions diverse microclimates create ideal conditions for these delicate species).
The Sweet Chestnut is a tree you will see regularly during your walks in the Cevennes, it has been cultivated for centuries in the area and is an important ingredient in traditional dishes in the region, while the trees provide shelter and food for birds and insects.
Clear waters of the Tarn river in the Cevennes.
Did you know ...
The Cevennes is home to the highest and one of the most impressive bridges in France, the Pont de Millau. The bridge spans the Tarn River valley and is an incredible 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) long and 343 meters (1,125 feet) high at its highest point, making it one of the tallest bridges in the world. The bridge was completed in 2004 and has become a popular tourist attraction, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape and the nearby town of Millau.
The French Pyrenees
The Pyrenees are often compared to the Alps, because they both offer breathtaking scenery and opportunities for outdoor recreation. But the highest peak of the Pyrenees, the Aneto is about 1400 meters lower than the highest peak in the Alps, so even though both are high mountain areas, the Pyrenees are significantly lower and this creates milder weather conditions.
Scenery near the Col Du Tourmalet pass in the High French Pyrenees.
French Pyrenees as a walking destination
There are fewer glaciers and more forests in the Pyrenees, and the Pyrenees are more rugged and rocky than the Alps. The Pyrenees are more geared to summer tourism (especially hiking and walking) compared to the Alps, where winter sports are very important and reliable due to the higher elevations and colder weather.
All in all, the Pyrenees are a wonderful destination for a unique walking holiday. The area can be divided into three distinct regions, and all three of these areas offer exciting experiences, landscapes and trails for those looking for a varied and spectacular walking holiday.
Waterfalls and great walking near the village of Gavarnie in the French Pyrenees.
The High Pyrenees
The Central or High Pyrenees, is where you’ll find the highest mountains of the region with the highest peak Aneto located near the border with Spain and about 3400 meters tall. The landscape of the high pyrenees is comparable to that of the Alps, with rugged peaks, glaciers, deep valleys and beautiful alpine meadows.
These are the foothills of the Pyrenees with the average elevation around 1000 meters above sea level that forms a transition zone between the high mountains and the flat plains of the mediterranean. It’s a landscape of rolling hills, deep gorges and river valleys with fertile farmland where you’ll find vineyards and orchards with scattered picturesque villages.
The valley around the French town Luz-Saint-Sauveur in the High Pyrenees.
The Basque Pyrenees
The west part of the Pyrenees offers both rural and rugged mountaineous landscapes to explore, and is known as the Basque Pyrenees.
The proximity of the Atlantic Ocean gives the region a maritime climate making this a green and lush area. You’ll find plenty of oak and beech forests here, and have the chance to experience Basque cuisine and culture, like the whitewashed houses with red or green shutters that are typical for this region.
Because of it’s variation in climates and elevations the Pyrenees offers attractive options for walking in spring, autumn and summer!
Rural landscape in the Basque Pyrenees.
Did you know ...
During World War II, the Pyrenees served as an escape route for thousands of people fleeing from Nazi-occupied France to neutral Spain. The route, known as the “Freedom Trail,” was a perilous journey across the mountains, often undertaken at night and in harsh weather conditions, with the constant risk of capture by German soldiers or Spanish border guards. Many brave locals helped to guide and shelter refugees on their journey, and the trail remains a testament to the courage and resilience of those who sought freedom and safety during one of the darkest periods in modern history.
The Provence, an area slightly smaller than Belgium, is a mesmerizing region that boasts breathtaking landscapes comprising of vibrant lavender fields, picturesque vineyards, flourishing olive groves, and charming villages.
This iconic area is also dotted with ancient ruins, medieval towns, and lively cities that are perfect for exploration, making it one of France’s most coveted destinations for an invigorating walking holiday.
The area is located in the southeast of France, stretching into the foothills of the French Alps in the North and bordering the Mediterranean in the South.
Fragrant lavender fields in the Provence.
Walking in the Provence
Elevation levels are generally moderate. The Luberon mountain range, located in the heart of the Provence, offers relaxed walking in a landscape typically between 200 – 800 meters above sea level, with the highest peak, Mourre Nègre, at about 1100 meter. The Luberon Regional Nature Park offers both easier and more challenging walks.
In the East of the Provence, the Verdon Gorge is a spectacular canyon to explore on foot. The river running through the gorge is famous for its crystal clear turquoise water with a backdrop of towering limestone cliffs. The highest mountain of the Provence is Mont Ventoux in the North of the Provence, it’s summit is +/- 1900 meter high and is often part of a Tour de France itinerary for cyclists.
The impressive Verdon Gorge in the East of the Provence.
The weather in the provence
The Provence has a mild Mediterranean climate with sunny, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Summers can be too hot for walking, especially nearer to the coast and in lower lying areas. Both spring and autumn offer milder weather ideal for walking.
In spring temperatures are around 15-20⁰C during the day and the meadows and fruit trees will be in bloom. In autumn you can enjoy the changing colours with pleasant temperatures of about 20-25⁰C during the day.
Roussillon village in the Luberon valley.
Picturesque places not to miss:
- The Gordes hilltop village with the surrounding lavender fields of the Plateau de Sault, the village offers magnificent views over the surrounding countryside;
- Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, a beautiful village near the Vernon Gorge at the foot of a steep cliff and surrounded by lavender fields and olive groves;
- Les-Baux-de-Provence is a medieval village famous for its impressive castle ruins and views over the picturesque countryside, it’s located in the Alpilles Mountain range.
- Roussillon is a beautiful village known for it’s red and yellow cliffs. Here you can walk the Sentier des Ocres, a trail that winds its way through the surrounding countryside.
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, near the Vernon Gorge.
Did you know ...
The Provence is known for its unique rosé wine, which accounts for more than 80% of its total wine production, making it the largest rosé wine-producing region in the world!
Walking in France in a nutshell
The different parts of the country, France’s climate, and walking in France
Walking in the west and north of France
The west of France is fairly flat and has a landscape that consists of plains and plateaux. Even though there are no high mountains here, the landscape is still very varied. You’ll find very pretty countryside from the lush river plains of the Seine and Loire rivers, to the coastal plains in Flanders along the coast. If you enjoy walking through easier going terrain, this area of France is a good choice.
In the North of France, the French Ardennes are a heavily forested region with rolling hills and ridges. The Ardennes is an ancient massif worn down by a long period of erosion. The range towers high over the river Meuse, and plunges down towards it in a succession of cliffs. For walking in lower mountains and hills this area of France is very good.
In France you’ll find great walking routes along the Normandy and Brittany coast
In the lower western area of France, there are higher areas of rolling hills in Normandy and Brittany. Here you’ll find pastures, orchards, and especially in Brittany a deeply indented coastline with many beautiful harbours and beaches. Limestone cliffs occur in Normandy, and in Brittany a very rare type of rock forms pink granite cliffs. Coastal paths offer excellent walking opportunities in both areas.
Walking in the South of France
The South of France has many beautiful regions for walking. And with little rain and lots of sunshine the climate is almost perfect for walking here. Particularly good areas are the Dordogne, the Bordeaux and the Provence. In these areas you’ll find some France’s prettiest rivers and picturesque, rolling rural landscapes.
For more information about walking in the South of France see our page about walking holidays Dordogne.
The Eastern and central mountain ranges
The Vosges in France’s far north-east is a low mountain range. It’s connected to the Massif Central through the rolling vineyard landscapes of Burgundy and it’s good walking in this part of France.
The Jura is a small mountain range to the north of the Alps. The name Jura means “forested mountains”, and oak and beech forests dominate here. Higher in the Jura Mountains, fir trees take over from broadleaved forest. And ultimately the firs make way for alpine grasslands. The limestone landscape is dramatic with alternating mountains and valleys and breathtakingly high peaks.
Both the Vosges and the Massif Central have a landscape of rounded peaks with steep-sided valleys, where you can find some very picturesque walks. There are also many extinct volcanoes in the central massif, such as the Cantal and the Puy de Dome. The French Alps and the Massif Central are separated by the valley and delta of the Rhône. With its source in Switzerland, the Rhône River weaves through central and southern France to the Mediterranean. It’s the second longest river in France and forms Western Europe’s largest estuary, with the famous Camargue wetlands, a haven for wildlife where more than 400 bird species occur.
All these things make the eastern and central mountain ranges a beautiful area for walking in France.
A little more about The French Alps
West of the Alps, lies a large area of subalpine mountain ranges. These include various mountains in the Provence, such as the Bochaine and Luberon mountains. In the French Alps you’ll find beautiful mountain scenery and walks for all tastes. The French Alps start at the coast, where they are called the Maritime Alps. Peaks rise to 3000 metres here, and there are many attractive villages. Close to the Mediterranean, the Maures and the Estérel have impressive scenery with ravines carved out by downpours of Mediterranean rain.
Stunning mountain scenery in the French Alps. You don’t have to go climbing here. There are walks for all tastes in this part of France.
The Alps were formed as a result of the collision of the African and European tectonic plates. This happened over a long period, roughly 35 to 5 million years ago. The French Alps were subsequently sculpted by glaciers, and it’s here that you’ll find the highest summit of the Alps: the Mont Blanc reaching to almost 5000 metres. This part of France is superb for walking. With stunning views, pleasant summer weather, meadows with wildflowers, and many interesting towns and villages, there is something for everyone’s walking tastes here.
more about The French Pyrenees
The French Pyrenees are older than the Alps. They were formed roughly about 40 million years ago when France and Spain collided. The massive and unworn character of the Pyrenees comes from its abundance of granite, which is particularly resistant to erosion. Gletsjers and the ice ages also have not had such a strong influence on these mountains at France’s southern border.
Other typical features of the Pyrenees are the large amount of mountain torrents that form many stunning waterfalls and the absence of big lakes. The rarity and high elevation of mountain passes makes the Pyrenees a formidable natural barrier in Europe’s landscape. The lower parts of the Pyrenees in the extreme west have many forests and woodlands. But eastwards the extent of forest declines. In the east the Pyrenees are very wild and open with a more Mediterranean flora. The mountainous landscape of the Pyrenees is perfect for mountain walking and observing wildlife.
If you consider walking in France, it’s useful to know that France has a very varied climate. This is a result of France’s diverse topography and the influence of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The north and north-west of France, have a temperate-maritime climate, somewhat similar to Britain’s. This is great for walking in summer. France’s south-east, including areas like the Provence, has a Mediterranean climate. This part of France is warmer and offers very pleasant walking in spring and autumn. In the central France the climate becomes more continental. Summers here are hot and winters cold. There is also less rainfall here. The high mountain regions of the French Alps and the French Pyrenees have an alpine climate with long snow cover.
France’s environment and wildlife
France was one of the first countries to form a ministry of environment, in 1971. There are 9 national parks in France and an additional 50 regional nature parks. These include some very special habitats and landscapes, such as the Ecrins National Park, Mercantour National Park and Vanoise National Park in the French Alps as well as the Pyrenees National Park. So if you go walking in France you can expect to see a lot of beautiful nature and special wildlife.
With an extensive walking network, France is a perfect country for walking
Summarizing – Walking in France
France has a 110,000 miles long trail system for walking. The French walking network consists of long distance national paths, regional paths and local paths.
The national walking paths cover long distances, for example from the Ardennes in the north of France to the Mediterranean in the south.
The regional paths normally form circular walking routes within a region. And the local walking paths branch out from many towns and villages. These walking routes are established and maintained by the French Long Distance Walking Association.
The small-scale walking holiday providers on Walkingholidayinfo.com make full use of France’s extensive system of walking trails. They have handpicked the very best walking routes and viewpoints for you to enjoy during your walking holiday in France.
Add France’s varied landscapes, its many historic villages and vibrant culture, the beautiful French wines and cuisine and you have a wonderful walking holiday destination in Europe.
Area: 260,558 sq. miles, a good 3 times bigger than Britain
Population: 66 million
Walking in France
Going walking in France can be a wonderful experience as the country is home to many scenic and diverse landscapes, from the rugged mountains of the Alps to the rolling hills of the Loire Valley.
France has an extensive network of hiking trails, with many passing through stunning natural scenery, charming villages, and historic landmarks.
Also, in general, the trails in France are well-marked and well-maintained, making it easy to navigate and enjoy the surrounding environment.
Overall, walking in France can be a top experience, with many opportunities to enjoy breathtaking scenery, explore local culture, and stay active in nature.
For more general information on France, also see France on WikiPedia