France's varied and beautiful terrain makes it hard to pick only a handful of hikes to highlight. From the sun-soaked French Riviera and the rugged French Alps to the rolling hills and meadows of the central provinces and the sheer, white-chalk cliffs of Normandy, the opportunity for exploration is practically endless. Add the country's history, […]
France's varied and beautiful terrain makes it hard to pick only a handful of hikes to highlight. From the sun-soaked French Riviera and the rugged French Alps to the rolling hills and meadows of the central provinces and the sheer, white-chalk cliffs of Normandy, the opportunity for exploration is practically endless. Add the country's history, art, food, wine and culture to that, and you’re in for the vacation of a lifetime. Though the hikes below are some of our favorites, be sure to head over to REI's Hiking Project for even more information to help you plan your trip. Or let REI Adventures take care of the logistics for you.
Mont Saint-Michel, a medieval monastery perched high on an island just off the coast, is one of France’s most famous tourist destinations. It’s also the perfect place for visitors wanting an easy, coastal stroll accompanied by some old-world charm (despite the crowds). You can take the iconic walkway out to the fairy-tale isle, but if you’re looking for something a little different, consider heading (at low tide) to the sandy delta of the Couesnon River where Mont Saint-Michel makes a picture-perfect backdrop as you explore tide pools. The path is the northern end of the GR39, a nearly 230-mile-long pilgrimage route that traverses the French countryside, meaning you'll follow in the footsteps of millions of visitors who made the journey in ages long passed.
A stone's throw south of the commune of Saint-Remy-de-Provence, you’ll find this 4.4-mile loop in the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles, which takes you to the "rock with two holes"—a formation. The circular holes were worn by erosion and now frame views of the forested slopes of the Alpilles mountains and the Mediterranean—a landscape made famous by the paintings of Van Gogh. Finish off your hike by exploring a local lavender field or stopping to see the ruins and sacred spring of the ancient Gallic city of Glanum.
On this popular day hike, you’ll see three natural arches carved from the famed, white-chalk cliffs of Etretat, a coastal resort town in Upper Normandy. You’ll start with a short stroll along a boardwalk to a white pebble beach where you can spot the first two arches—Falaise Amont to the northeast and Falaise Aval to the southwest. Then you’ll follow the wide path to the top of Falaise Aval for a view of Aiguille, a 70-meter chalk spire jutting from the water, before continuing to Manneporte, a large natural arch perhaps best known from the paintings of Claude Monet. You can turn around here or continue on to Pointe de la Courtine, which extends into the Atlantic Ocean, for fantastic views of the towering white cliffs behind you.
Bring a headlamp and your sense of adventure for this trek through the Grand Canyon of Europe: the Verdon Gorge. The Blanc-Martel Trail plunges deep into the heart of the impressive limestone canyon following the Verdon River. Hiking alongside the clear, turquoise water means navigating narrow trail, long bridges, dark tunnels and rocky beaches. Keep an eye open for wildflowers and birds, especially the colony of griffon vultures who were reintroduced to the gorge more than three decades ago.
This stunning hike is one of the best ways to explore the limestone cliffs and beaches of Calanques National Park. The overlooks along the start of the route would be worth the trek all on their own, but the true highlight is Calanque d'En Vau, a small, rocky beach tucked between the surrounding cliffs. The cove feels like an old-world paradise hidden in the heart of the French Riviera. Be sure to pack a swimsuit for a dip in the clear, refreshing waters of the Mediterranean.
Though the mountains surrounding Annecy, a charming lakeside town on the western edge of the French Alps, might not boast quite the same presence as Mont Blanc, they’re still well worth a visit. Trails lead right from town into the forested slopes around the blue waters of its namesake lake, and you can snag two of the best viewpoints, Mont Veyrier and Mont Baron, in a single hike along this loop. Look for the looming shoulders of Mont Semnoz to the west, the snow-capped Alps to the east and, on clear days, paragliders enjoying the breeze high above the water.
No visit to France would be complete without stopping by the Alps to soak in the splendor of Mont Blanc. At 15,781 feet tall, the peak is a prominent presence above the Chamonix Valley, and while there are plenty of trails that wind through the region (and even reach the summit), the best known is the epic Tour de Mont Blanc. On this 100-mile loop, you'll hike through alpine scenery filled with wildflower meadows, mountain lakes, glaciers and snow-capped peaks. You’ll even take a brief trip into Italy and Switzerland. There are plenty of superb huts and refugios for overnight stays, and don't forget to stop off at the mountain villages scattered along the route to savor some of the best food and wine France has to offer.
Those looking to tackle the toughest long-distance trail in Europe should head to the GR 20 on the island of Corsica. Don't be intimidated by the route's reputation. Though it's challenging with over 40,000 feet of elevation gain along its route, this 117.7-mile trek is also one of the most beautiful in France thanks to dense forests, rugged peaks, and alpine and ocean vistas. Backpacking the full route typically takes between 10 to 15 days, but you can break it into shorter sections as well. Be sure to book travel to the island and your accommodations for the hike in advance.
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