Hiking in France is wonderful and the area around Lou Messugo, in particular, is a walker’s paradise. There are so many different types of walk to choose from: coastal paths, urban walks, mountain hikes in pristine national parks, hill walks, alongside rivers and country trails right from the door. You can walk in all seasons, using snowshoes on higher ground in winter. In summer it can be scorching hot in the backcountry which makes the coastal path an attractive choice, stopping off for a refreshing dip along the way. Or go into the mountains to find cooler temperatures at higher altitudes and enjoy the stunning alpine scenery. We really are spoilt for choice. Here are some tips for making the most of hiking in France.
Signage for Hikes
Long distance footpaths in France are organised by numbers with the letters GR in front. This stands for Grande Randonnée meaning “big hike” and they tend to be from A to B not circular. There are over 60,000 km of signed paths, some of them reaching hundreds of kilometres long. Possibly the most well known, certainly the oldest and amongst the longest at 1600 kms is the pilgrimage route, the St Jacques de Compostelle Way, GR65. GR paths are all signed with a horizontal paint mark in red and white. These marks are painted onto trees or rocks every 50 or so metres, sometimes more frequently and certainly wherever there is a choice of direction in which case they indicate whether to turn left or right.
Lesser footpaths that aren’t on the GR network tend to be tagged with a yellow mark. I find these marks (balise in French) are great for motivating reticent young children who are less than enthusiastic about hiking. By sending them ahead to find the next one and check you’re on the right path it becomes a kind of treasure hunt that keeps motivation levels up.
As well as the painted tags most footpaths have wooden signs at the beginning, end and important junctions showing the name of the walk or the next village etc. These are numbered and the numbers correspond with numbers on IGN maps of 1:25,000 scale.
Maps for Hiking in France
Large-scale maps are produced by the Institut Géographique National (IGN) and are available in good bookshops such as FNAC or online. We have all the local ones available to borrow at Lou Messugo.
It’s worth knowing that nearly all villages and towns in France have public drinking fountains some of which are beautiful elaborate affairs dating from when there was no mains water, others little more than a tap. They are often, but not always, near the church. The water is drinkable unless there’s a notice saying “non potable”.and you can fill your water bottle at them.
Safety when Hiking in France
Lastly a note on safety. During the hunting season (roughly September to February with local variations) if you’re walking in forest it’s a good idea to wear something bright and talk reasonably loudly as French hunters shoot anything that moves! If you see a sign like the one below “battu en cours” which means “hunt in progress” it’s best to avoid the area completely. When walking in mountains it’s important to check the weather forecast as it can change rapidly and dramatically at altitude. The national forecast office is Météo France. Here are some useful numbers to call in case of an emergency: Ambulance (SAMU) 15, Firefighters/Paramedics 18, CODIS 06 (local fire & disaster emergency) 04 93 22 76 90, Mountain Rescue 04 97 22 22 22.
To find more posts on walks in the area local near Lou Messugo click here.
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Useful info about the drinking water fountains, good to know.