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A short guide to treks for experienced walkers

What you need to know about more challenging routes

A walking holiday through the French countryside has its own very special appeal. With Belle France, you’ll experience the majesty of France’s idyllic landscape, staying in charming, comfortable hotels with real personality and outstanding cuisine.

But you can also experience another kind of walking holiday. At Belle France we call these ‘treks’ – often part of a long distance trail, we break them down into convenient stages, often taking you through more slightly challenging terrain and with a slightly different appeal.


How did these trails come to exist?

Many of the long distance trails are centuries old and born out of historical, religious or traditional necessity.

Cathar Castles
Cathar Castles

The Camino de Santiago leads to Compostela, where St James was buried, and has been trodden by pilgrims since the 10th century. There are many routes, all with one destination, the most popular route being the Camino Frances which is 780 km from St Jean-Pied-de-Port near Biarritz to Santiago. Today pilgrims still walk the route (often in sections), while those simply on vacation with Belle France take a slightly more leisurely approach, though still enjoying a flavour of the pilgrim experience.

In 1878 Robert Louis Stevenson, together with his donkey Modestine, hiked through the Cévennes, forging a route which can still be followed today (as the Grande Randonnée GR70). In many ways his resulting book was the world’s first to promote hiking and camping as leisure activities, unwittingly helping to create an interest in the great outdoors as a place of beauty and recreation, rather than as something to be simply tamed. He later went on to find fame as the author of ‘Treasure Island’.

The Cathar Trail, dating back eight centuries, links ancient castles perched on craggy cliffs, the bloody history of the Cathar heretics and suitably epic scenery. It also entwines legends of the Holy Grail, handed down through the generations (and latterly via the ‘The Da Vinci Code’ blockbuster).


What is the appeal?

Even bearing in mind the vastness and majesty of the French landscape, these treks lead through stunning regions of hidden hamlets, ancient churches, soaring mountains and vast horizons.

Compostela
Compostela

Depending on the route, hikers are rewarded with sweeping vistas over every ridge of the Cévennes, along with lush woodlands, plunging valleys and boulder-strewn plains. The wild, rolling hills of the Auvergne are exhilarating, leading on to the rich scenery of d’Artagnan country. While the craggy peaks of the Pyrenees, following the well trodden footsteps of pilgrims through the centuries and leading down through the vineyards of south west France, offer insight in to a unique history.

While the notion of a pilgrimage today might seem quaint, true pilgrims enjoy the physical exercise and being ‘off-grid’, should they so wish. For the average holiday pilgrim or ‘leisure hiker’ it’s more the appeal of glorious scenery, a sense of modest purpose (for a week or so) and the notion of following the footsteps of countless previous generations.

These treks are often popular with small groups, offering a sense of common purpose and camaraderie which is hard to resist.


What is an ‘experienced walker’?

These treks require a certain level of fitness. Not a supreme athleticisim, more an ability to cover around 15 km or so per day through variable terrain ranging from straightforward paths to hillside climbs with loose surfaces. Detailed directions are provided, and most trails are clearly marked but a competence with a simple map is useful, along with a common sense approach to basic necessities (drinking water, sun protection, medical etc).

Key features 

  • These treks follow routes and paths that have been followed for centuries, by pilgrims, shepherds and travellers.
  • Often slightly longer distances each day.
  • The terrain can be uneven in places and can be more arduous than other itineraries.  
  • Accommodation on our treks is typically more basic: quite simply there are fewer hotels in many areas.
  • In some cases meals are shared ‘en famille’ with other guests and you are very much welcomed personally by the hoteliers.

Top Tips

  • Take a good pair of walking boots – well fitting and broken in.
  • Moisture-wicking socks help keep feet dry – and that means less friction, so less chance of blisters.
  • Be prepared – take a blister kit, including some tape.
  • Sun cream and water are your friends.

Finally, this is, after all, a holiday! Take your time – enjoy the walk and savour the memories.

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