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HIKING

Nine French hiking destinations that are perfect for Spring

Snow is receding across the French mountains as we move into Spring and towards the Summer. Here is our pick of some of the best hiking destinations to visit at this time of year.

Nine French hiking destinations that are perfect for Spring
It's the perfect season for hiking. Photo by JOSE TORRES / AFP

France has a stunning array of natural landscapes, from mountains, to forests, via lakes, rivers and beaches. 

The Spring can be a great time to visit the country for a walking holiday. There are fewer tourists than during the Summer and warmer weather melts snow from the mountains.

Here is our pick of the best hiking trails to visit this Spring.  

Corsica 

If you want a physical challenge, then the GR20 hiking trail is the one for you, running north to south across the entire island of Corsica for some 200 km.

It generally takes more than two weeks to complete so if you don’t have time on your hands, it is probably worth picking out a section. There are lots of places, including mountain huts, to stay along the way. 

The journey traverses the island’s granite mountain tops, rugged hillsides and canyons. 

The advantages of tackling this route in the Spring is that you won’t have the summer heat bearing down on you – although it is worth packing the suncream nonetheless as you will reach more than 2000m in altitude and be exposed to the elements. 

There are plenty of easier hiking routes in Corsica if you want the Mediterranean climate without the gruelling exertion. 

The GR20 trail in Corsica is not for the faint-hearted.

The GR20 trail in Corsica is not for the faint-hearted. (Photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP)

Caroux (Occitanie) 

Situated in the Hérault département of Southeast France, there are plenty of beautiful hikes to be done around Mont Caroux

The area is rich in volcanic rock which reflects the light is a very distinctive way – so much so that the mountain is sometimes referred to as montagne de lumière (mountain of light). 

Easy routes include Palombières to Saint Pons de Thomières which takes about two hours and offers magnificent views of the Jaur valley and Saint Pons itself. 

A medium-difficulty trail runs between Les Marbrières to Félines Minervois and takes about four and a half hours. You will pass through a number of flowering meadows, marble quarries and the ruins of an old castle in Ventajou. 

Hardcore hikers could look at tackling the route between the Roc du Caroux to Rieu Tor. The journey takes about ten hours and is physically demanding. You will spend at least two hours scrambling up steep paths and will need upper body strength to manage some of the semi-climbing sections. You will pass very few other hikers and will potentially have some vertigo-inducing moments.

Because this hike is at high altitude, be sure to check the weather conditions beforehand. 

Somme (Hauts-de-France)

History buffs will enjoy a hiking route in the Somme, known as the Remembrance Circuit, which runs between a number of WW1 battlefields. 

In late Spring the red poppies, which have become emblematic of WW1 remembrance, bloom across the area. 

Overall, the trail is 92km with 48 different paths so it is worth doing some research about which part you want to do before setting off. 

There are also a number of guides who offer tours of the battlefields themselves.

The Remembrance Circuit is not far from the Baie de Somme which is a beautiful coastal area and a nice place for more casual walking. 

Verdon Gorge (Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur)

The Verdon Gorge is a large river canyon in the southeast of France. 

One of the most famous hikes in the area runs along the Sentier Blanc-Martel (the Blanc-Martel trail) and is 16km one way. It takes about six hours to complete for physically fit hikers. 

Along the way, you will get breathtaking views of the limestone valley, pass through tunnels and encounter a number of swimming spots. 

The Verdon Gorge is an excellent hiking spot.

The Verdon Gorge is an excellent hiking spot. (Photo by FRANCK PENNANT / AFP)

There is a shuttle bus that can take you to the starting point or pick you up at the end. 

Make sure to bring proper hiking shoes, water and a torch.  

Eze (Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur) 

The medieval hilltop village of Eze marks the beginning of a hike known as the Nietzsche Path, named after the German philosopher who once walked along it. 

This is a fairly challenging hike shaded by trees and with some stunning coastal panoramas – on a clear day, you can see all the way to Italy and Corsica. 

A long portion of the walk follows a steep stone stairway and in total, it takes about one and a half hours, finishing at Eze-sur-Mer – a seaside town with great swimming spots, restaurants and hotels. 

Eze can be easily reached from Nice, which is less than 20 km away. 

If you are in the area, it would also be worth checking out the Route Napoléon, which forms part of the old pilgrim route known as the Camino de Santiago

Starting in the Basque town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, this 25 km hike is not for the faint-hearted and ends in the ancient Spanish village of Roncesvalles. 

Arcachon (Nouvelle-Aquitaine)

Birdwatchers will love Arcachon and particularly the marshland nature reserve known as the Réserve Naturelle des Prés Salés, where you will see up to 170 different species including the Kentish plover.

A 12 km loop trail runs through the area and is a gentle journey suitable for families and youngsters too.

You can also visit the Dune du Pilat – a surreal sandbank that never looks the same because of the constantly changing winds and tide.   

The Dune du Pilat is Europe's tallest sand dune.

The Dune du Pilat is Europe’s tallest sand dune. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

Another bonus of visiting Arcachon is that the area has a number of great fishing, paragliding, sailing and surfing spots. 

Luberon (Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur)

Nestled in the sub-alpine mountains of southern France, Luberon is an area of stunning natural beauty with options for hikers of all abilities. 

One route from Gordes to Roussillon runs for 10km along scenic hilltop roads before finishing at a village perched on the edge of an earthy cliff. 

An all-day hike can also be done from Roussillon to Lourmarin, which is often considered one of the most beautiful spots in the country. It runs for 25km but is relatively accessible and sheltered by olive trees and orchards. Loumarin also hosts regular farmers markets where you can sample authentic Provençal produce.

Luberon is a good area for nature lovers and has a rich biodiversity including more than 1,500 plant species and at least two kinds of eagle. 

Alsace 

If you struggle with the heat, the forested area of eastern France known as Alsace could be a good option for you. 

You can try the 8km leisurely hike between Bergheim and Riquewihr. Both medieval towns are completely charming and surrounded by some of the country’s finest vineyards. As you stroll between them, passing small hamlets along the way, you will feel as if you are a character in a Disney film. 

The sun rises over a vineyard near Bergheim, eastern France.

The sun rises over a vineyard near Bergheim, eastern France. (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP)

This part of the country falls within a UNESCO site known as the Parc Naturel Régional des Vosges du Nord, which contains striking rock formations and the remains of 12th century castle called the Château de Schœneck

Cirque de Gavarnie (Occitanie)

The Cirque de Gavarnie offers some of the best hiking in the whole of the Pyrenees – and the snow melt in mid to late spring makes it a popular spot.

The area is composed of a ring of mountains – once described by Victor Hugo as “the Colosseum of nature” – with a lush green area in the middle and the highest waterfall in Europe (the Gavarnie falls). It is the product of more than 50 million years of glacial erosion

The Cirque de Gavarnie is a UNESCO heritage site. 

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DISCOVER FRANCE

11 ways to make the most of autumn in France

From festivals to tasting new wines, mushroom-foraging to learning a new skill - here are some of the ways to make the most of the fall in France.

11 ways to make the most of autumn in France

Make a rentrée resolution – September in France marks la rentrée, when kids begin the new school years and adults return to work after the holidays.

But it’s also a bit of a cultural moment of restarting and re-setting, probably a bigger deal than New Year in France. And in the spirit of starting afresh plenty of people make resolutions to learn a new skill and get fit – which means there are lots of new classes starting at this time of year.

Help with la vendange – late summer and early autumn is when vineyards across France harvest their grapes and begin to make new wines. Most vineyards are huge, professional organisations which increasingly rely on migrant labour for the harvest period, but there are still plenty of small, family-operated vineyards that are looking for help with the grape-picking.

It’s pretty hard work though, so maybe read this before signing up. 

Enjoy the wine sales – if you would rather drink wine than get involved in making it, autumn is also a good time for you, as there are plenty of wine sales at this time of year. Most supermarkets, wine caves and wine-selling websites run an early autumn sale called the Foire aux vins – this is essentially a stock-clearing exercise so it’s a great opportunity to get a bargain on a few special bottles.

There’s also Beaujolais Nouveau Day, held in November, to celebrate the first primeurs (wines that only mature for a short time) of the season.

Go to Cordes-sur-Ciel – this beautiful medieval hilltop town in south west France is well worth a visit at any time of the year, but in autumn a particular phenomenon happens, which is how the town got its name.

The town is perched on top of a steep hill and on autumn mornings, when mist and fog covers the valley floor, it appears to be floating above the clouds – which is why it is named Cordes ‘on the sky’.

If you don’t see the fog, there’s also a chocolate museum where they are generous with free samples.

Go mushroom-foraging – if you’re in French woodland at this time of year you will see lots of families toting baskets and slightly furtive expressions. The baskets are for mushrooms and the furtive expressions are not because mushroom-picking is illegal – unless you are on private land – it’s because many families have a ‘secret’ spot where the best mushrooms grow, that they like to keep to themselves.

Be safe though, if you’re at all unsure about what type of mushrooms you have picked, French pharmacies offer a mushroom-checking service.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know for safe and enjoyable mushroom foraging in France

View the changing leaves – autumn leaves are a beautiful sight, and France has plenty of stunning locations in which to really appreciate them, from the volcanic landscape of the Auvergne to the Alps or the natural park of Morvan, in eastern France

Carve pumpkins – If you are looking to recreate an American-style Halloween by carving some pumpkins, you are in luck. Pumpkins (or citrouille in French) are grown across central France. For carving and cooking purposes, you should be able to find them at your local grocery store during the fall.

Though, if you are looking for a more authentic pumpkin-patch experience, you can search “cueillette citrouille” or “champ de citrouille” with your city to see what is nearby. For those living in Paris, “les fermes de gally” – which is about an hour outside the city on public transport – host a pumpkin picking event every year.

Go on a bike ride – hiking or cycling is the perfect way to appreciate the French landscape and now that the summer is over there is less risk of dehydration or sunburn.

France has a great variety of both on-road and off-road cycle routes, including the voie verte network which covers large parts of the country – find out more HERE.

Take a train ride – if you’re looking for a less strenuous way to appreciate the view, then why not enjoy it through the window of a train? Now that the peak season of summer is over, trains are a lot less crowded and make for a relaxing and scenic travel experience.

VIDEO 12 of the most beautiful train journeys in France

Eat hot melted cheese – as the temperatures fall out come the classic winter dishes – hearty soups, warming stews and hot desserts. But the best of these are those made with melted cheese – primarily fondue or raclette – which traditionally should only be eaten in the cooler months of the year

Festivals – France has a busy year-round calendar of festivals and autumn is no exception, with events celebrating music, film, chocolate, spicy peppers and staying up all night, to name but a few.

Fall festivals: What’s on around France in autumn 2022

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