Can I tell you a secret?
For travelers, France feels like a club, one you sometimes have to put your foot in the door to gain entry. And being neither French nor a French-speaker, I’m not just on the outside looking in; I’m blindfolded, wearing earmuffs and spinning around like I’m about to attack a piñata.
So, for the uninitiated, France’s best-kept secret is surely its extensive trail network. We all know and love French cuisine, people, art, fashion, cheese and propensity for redundant bureaucracy. However, France doesn’t promote its hiking trails much to English-speaking audiences. It’s all “out there” — maps, walking guides, well-marked trails — but we’ve gotta wedge our foot in the door to discover its sheer size and scope.
🇪🇺 Every week, I send a free newsletter about European travel with articles like this one. Subscribe today and receive two free Paris books.
Subscribe here for FREE! 🇪🇺
Hikers can walk almost anywhere in France on over 112,000 miles (180,000+ km) of trail. The network comprises local day-walking paths, regional multi-day trails and the granddaddy of them all: long-distance, multi-week “GR®” footpaths. GRs form some 22,000 miles (35,000+ km), the long-distance glue of France’s trail network. That means GR trails alone are the rough equivalent of 11 Appalachian Trails crisscrossing a country the size of Texas.
And there’s no sleeping rough in France. Villages founded and laid out during days of foot travel mean every region and micro-region hosts villages about a day’s walk or less from one another.
To recap: You can grab a warm baguette and walk almost anywhere in France on clearly marked footpaths. Medieval village to medieval village, through meandering oak forests, sweeping vineyards and rolling hills.
Anywhere in France. On foot.
Now that I think about it, can you keep a secret? Because maybe we should keep this one between us.