Walking vacations in France travel tips

Walking in France travel tips


TIPS FROM OUR FRIENDS IN FRANCE

Packing & training


Chloe Knott is a Mont Blanc and all round alpine expert at Exodus, our leading supplier in the area. She gives great walking vacations in France travel tips, especially when it comes to the big treks. See our Mont Blanc travel guide for more details: “Always read the trip notes that accompany your trip, as they will give good guidance on how fit you need to be. Wear boots with ankle support and, if you have bad knees, take walking poles. A CamelBak water pouch is great, as you can top up at natural springs or at mountain huts.”
Liz Lord, co-founder of our supplier, Space Between:
“Remember that even in the South of France the weather can be changeable – pack a brolly!”

Refuge trekking


Robert Mason, from our supplier Mountainbug:
“Refuge trekking along the high Pyrenees and Alps is a great way to explore some paths that are completely wild. Between points you stay in refuges. From mid-July, you can do high-level refuge trekking trips that can last for up to 40 days and travel right the way across the mountains. That’s a perfect time to come because the snow has melted and you can access high areas without crampons, ice axes and all the specialist gear. People worry that summer is too hot to trek in, but it’s not, for every 100m you travel up, you lose a degree in heat, so August is comfortable too – say you’re in the Pyrenees at 1,300m, while it’s 30 degrees down in Toulouse, you’ll be walking in the far more temperate 20’s”.

Type of walking vacation


Benoit Couvreur, co-founder of our supplier, The Frogs’ House, shares his walking vacations in France travel tips:
“Make sure to you chose the appropriate area, according to your taste and what you are looking for: high mountains, gentle hills, coastal walks, strenuous and challenging or relaxing walks. Or perhaps only nature or also cultural, type of weather. France is so diverse so you need to ask yourself the question : do you want a guide or do you prefer a self-guided walk ? Choose the right moment of the year. You are interested in flowers ? Better chose May or June (depending on the area). You want to make sure to have great weather? Choose July or August. You want to be alone in the nature with beautiful colours? Rather choose October…”
Peter Roche, co-founder of our supplier, Le Moulin du Chemin:
“There are a number of compelling reasons to opt for a centre based walking vacation, although caution should be exercised in selecting which vacation. Be sure that a good selection of varied and interesting walking routes is proposed for you to choose from. For walking vacations, meandering and undulating paths and lanes are more interesting than straight flat paths and France has several hilly regions where such paths can be found. Use Google maps and Google earth to get an idea of the terrain.”
Umberto di Venosa, Managing Director of our supplier One Foot Abroad:
“People need to first pick an area or region. No matter how fit you are, France offers so many possibilities that it is better to spend a week exploring a region or trail well rather than traveling too much around. You can always come back! Second, know that trails are marked well and with various categories: GR = long trails, PR = small trails.

Lastly, the better the planning, the better the experience. France is very touristic and you will always get information and maps locally. A tour operator will help you select the route and do all the work for you”.
Liz Lord, co-founder of our supplier, Space Between:

“Don’t plan too much if you haven’t been to Europe before – France is a big country. We have had several Americans thinking that they could drive down from Paris to Nice in a couple of hours!”

Food advice


Peter Roche, co-founder of our supplier, Le Moulin du Chemin:


“A walking vacation in France is not just about walking in gorgeous countryside with lovely weather and meeting members of the good natured local population. It is also very much about the wonderful things there are to eat and drink in France. France is the home of gastronomy, where chefs have always paid great heed to the provenance and quality of ingredients. Vegetarian food in France is no longer a contradiction in terms. Today it is possible to choose walking vacation destinations in France with fine vegetarian cuisine, based on wholesome, locally sourced and organic ingredients.”

Health & safety


TRAVEL SAFELY ON A WALKING HOLIDAY IN FRANCE

Health


Treat altitude with respect, especially around Mont Blanc, although most hikes on the Tour de Mont Blanc are not affected. But if you doing the ascent, experts recommend three nights spent at an altitude above 2,500/3,000m beforehand. See our Mont Blanc travel guide for more details.

Stay warm in the mountains. The temperatures can dip very quickly, so be prepared.

Stay protected from the sun on all walking vacations, in the mountains or by the Med.

Generally, France is a picture of health: the tap water is safe to drink, and there are no nasty diseases lurking about. You don’t need vaccinations to visit, although the WHO does recommend that all travelers to every destination be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio.

The French healthcare system is one of the best in the world though all services, including doctors’ consultations, prescribed medicines, hospital stays and ambulance call-outs, incur a charge which you have to pay upfront. The standard rate for a consultation is between £19.50 - £31.50.

Comprehensive travel insurance to cover medical problems is highly recommended, but some policies exclude ‘dangerous’ activities such as high level trekking, so make sure you read the small print.

If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, holding a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will ensure reduced-cost state-provided healthcare cover for any medical treatment that you may need in France, but each family member will need a separate card. You can download an application form here.

Make sure you stay hydrated. Particularly if you are on a family walking vacation, as it is hard to get kids to drink water sometimes, but they won’t realise how much they need it when walking. Even if the sun isn’t shining. Consider hydration backpacks, such as CamelBak, so that they have water on them at all times.

Be wary of touching animals while hiking, especially wild cats and dogs, as rabies still exists, although rare in France. Although generally there is no risk, there is a low risk in the Loire and Rhone-Alpes.

Be wary of ticks when hiking in France as they carry Lyme disease. Make sure you carry tweezers so that you can remove them and be sure to inspect your bodies carefully at the end of the day. Always apply a deterrent (a natural one is best for children such as lemon eucalyptus) and then sun cream.

Safety


Be prepared with maps, compass, rain gear, pocketknife, matches and a whistle. You can buy mini emergency kits on eBay for a tenner.
 
Write down the local emergency numbers before you set out, including mountain rescue, if relevant. And always tell someone where you are going. Make sure your mobile phone is charged too.
 
Be wary of lightning storms and, if they do occur, get below the treeline and stay away from summits or isolated trees. Stay as low as you can.
 
If you are on a self-guided walking vacation, always get a detailed weather forecast before you set out and if you are in the mountains, turn back if the weather turns bad. Or take shelter if in doubt. The World Meteorological Organisation is excellent.
 
Hiking in extreme heat can be dangerous and deaths do, tragically, occur. In warm regions, walk early in the morning and late in the afternoon, cover up and drink lots. Consider adding rehydration powders to your water. Many walking companies don’t offer trips in the height of summer anyway, for health and safety reasons.
 
If you are hiking in the Mont Blanc area, the Office de Haute Montagne in Chamonix is an invaluable source of information on conditions, weather, current risks and issues and generally how to stay safe in the mountains.
 
Don’t hike in the mountains immediately after a storm, as this is often when avalanches occur. Always check the avalanche forecast. There can be avalanches even as late as May, so you need to be switched on. There might not be snow where you are walking but, if there is a big melt higher up, it can travel down the valley.
 
If you see signage saying ‘chasseurs’, or ‘chasse gardee’, wander right back to where you came from – this indicates a hunting area and 25 French hunters die each year after being shot by other hunters.
 
When possible, go trekking or climbing with the help of a guide, and in the high mountains, an International Mountain Leader (IML).
 
The emergency number in Europe is 112.
 
For further information on health and safety in France, please visit the FCO or the CDC websites.

Tips from our travelers


Recommendations from those who have been there

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful walking vacations in France travel tips that our travelers have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your walking vacation in France.
Make sure you are fit and take a t shirt just in case there are some hot days. Can recommend the natural spa in Toulouse to revive the muscles - John Knapper on our snowshoeing vacation in Chamonix
 
We decided to have two rest days, one in Courmayeur and one in Champex. It was a very good decision. There is lots to do in Courmayeur and Champex is a very charming little town. Although three of us hiked to La Cabane d'Orny on the extra day in Champex, but most were happy to have a bit of a rest, treat their blisters and sore muscles. Unless you belong to the very young, I would recommend some rest in between in order to do the whole tour in comfort.Elizabeth Kirchhoff on our Mont Blanc self-guided walking vacation

Do what preparation you can but don't worry as there are so many walks requiring so many different levels of fitness that you will love it regardless if you want a short walk of a strenuous hike. If particular fauna or flora are important to you then check when they will be around but even in November we saw butterflies and praying mantis as well as chamois charging through the snowy forests and fox tracks in the snowAnne Webb
“Do some hilly walks in preparation; take clothes for cool and wet, or hot and humid, or in-between weather; then just go for it, and enjoy the experience” – HM Gill

“You need to be quite fit to fully appreciate walking in high Alpine scenery - but with that proviso, go there! It is far less crowded than most Alpine areas; consequently there are higher chances to observe nature. The walking itineraries are well constructed but adaptable in response to group preferences, capabilities, the weather, etc. Each walk is well-led by a knowledgeable, informative guide” – Richard Gregory, Mercantour National Park
Photo credits: [Hiking poles:Kitty Terwolbeck] [Refuge trekking: Dom Walster] [Coastal trek: Just Another Caulkhead] [GR Route sign:Börkur Sigurbjörnsson] [French cuisine:Jacques Lameloise] [Butterfly spotting:Daniel Jolivet] [Backpacking:Andrew Hitchcock]
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