Top 10 walking vacations in France

It’s hard to resist breaking out the superlatives when talking about our best walking vacations in France. They explore Mont Blanc – the highest mountain in the Alps – and stroll the prettiest valleys and most charming villages. There’s nothing surface-deep about these walks, though. Breaks might include pausing for wine tasting in the Dordogne or perusing the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy. The places you rest your weary feet are key too, ranging from family-friendly chambres d’hôtes to high mountain chalets serving up alpine feasts for breakfast.

Read on to discover our top hiking vacations in France.

1. Tour du Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc (4,809m) is the highest peak in Western Europe, shared between France, Switzerland and Italy. The summit is covered in snow and ice all year round, so when people talk about ‘doing Mont Blanc’, they usually mean hiking the lower regions of it. The most famous route is the Tour du Mont Blanc, a 170km circuit through all three countries, nearly always starting and ending around Chamonix in France. Although the climb to the summit is iconic and achievable, you need more climbing experience than the circuit.

When to go: May to October
Our top trip: Tour du Mont Blanc walking vacation
See all our trips: Mont Blanc walking vacations
Read more: Mont Blanc travel guide

2. Beyond the lavender, Provence

The Provencal cliché: wafting lavender; stone villages; smiling people sipping wine. It exists, and it is wonderful, but the region is actually very diverse. There are mountainous hikes across the limestone escarpments of the Luberon, Mont Saint Victoire and Les Alpilles, but plenty of time for wine tasting in between treks - with fine Provencal produce at every turn.

When to go: May-June and September-October
Our top trip: Hiking in Provence vacation
See all our trips: Provence vacations
Read more: Upper Provence walking guide

3. Snowshoeing, French Alps

Walking in France isn’t just spring to autumn, nor does it always mean lacing up a pair of hiking boots. Easy to get the hang of, guided snowshoeing in the pristine wintery wilderness of Ecrins National Park sees you traversing valley floors, forest trails and snowy plains, and around frozen lakes. Ibex, chamois, wild boar and golden eagles are among the wildlife on display.

When to go: January to March
Our top trip: Snowshoeing in the French Alps
See all our trips: French Alps vacations
Read more: French Alps travel guide and Snowshoeing travel guide

4. Self guided strolls, Poitou-Charentes

The historical region of Poitou-Charentes is officially part of Aquitaine-Nouveau, in the west of France. A stubbornly independent spirit remains, though, all wrapped up in orchid-swept woods, 16th-century market towns, canal-striped wetlands and impossibly starry skies. Poitou-Charentes doesn’t see many hikers, so this is rural France at its most peaceful and hospitable.

When to go: May to October
Our top trip: Self guided walking vacation in Poitou-Charentes
See all our trips: Poitou-Charentes vacations
Read more: Poitou-Charentes travel guide

5. Rural Rhone… with a donkey, Ardeche

Explore the Ardeche at a donkey’s pace on this family vacation. It’ll take the children two shakes of an ass’ tail to fall in love with your good-natured companion – a donkey who’s well accustomed to plodding the forested footpaths, alpine meadows and vineyard-striped Rhone Valley in south-east France. Stop off in chambres d’hôtes guest houses along the way, including farms where produce from the fields ends up on your breakfast table.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Family walking vacation with a donkey in France
See all our trips: France walking vacations
Read more: France family travel guide

6. Mercantour National Park, French Alps

Part of the largest mountain chain in Europe, it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to walking vacations in the French Alps. We recommend Mercantour National Park, which lines up 600km of footpaths in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur section that stretches south towards the Mediterranean. Plod plateaus, the village-to-village Postman’s Trail, and past glacial lakes solo, with friends and family – or even with a donkey.

When to go: mid-May to September (spring for wildflowers)
Our top trip: Mercantour family walking vacation
See all our trips: Mercantour National Park vacations
Read more: Mercantour National Park travel guide

7. Coast to coast by rail, Corsica

Corsica has superb rail links, with rural stations and mountain train tracks giving you access to some of the best hikes in France. You only need a week to discover the variety of landscapes on this island – the highs of rose-tinted granite peaks and mountain meadows, right down to the deep-cut Tavignano Gorge, wooded valleys, megalithic standing stones and beachside Corsican villages.

When to go: May to September
Our top trip: Corsica walking vacation
See all our trips: Corsica vacations
Read more: Corsica walking travel guide

8. Guided hikes through the Haute-Savoie, French Alps

The Haute-Savoie segment of the French Alps is best known for its star ski resort, Chamonix. But go in spring and summer, and you’ll get to explore paths through defrosted alpine vistas. Small group vacations are one of the best ways to travel here. You’ll stay in a chalet in an alpine village such as Samoëns and delve into easy to moderate trails through and around the sheer-sided Giffre Valley with an experienced mountain guide.

When to go: June to September
Our top trip: Guided small group walking vacation in the French Alps
See all our trips: French Alps vacations
Read more: France walking travel guide

9. Riverside rambles, Dordogne

The twists and turns of the Dordogne carve out your route when walking in the Perigord region of France. You’ll trace the history of the Hundred Years’ War that was fought between French and English here in the 14th century, as well as forest footpaths up to fortresses and villages on snooze. The best way to learn about local food and drink is, of course, to refuel with it. We’d give the Dordogne’s famous foie gras a miss and feast on the Bergerac wine, honey, walnuts and truffles instead.

When to go: May to September
Our top trip: Dordogne walking vacation
See all our trips: Dordogne vacations
Read more: Dordogne travel guide

10. Footpaths, food & history, Normandy

Some walking vacations in France use food to refuel. Others dedicate the whole itinerary to following your foodie nose. Hike through apple orchards and towns honeycombed with calvados brandy cellars, stopping off along the way for cider tastings, a galette or to pick up baguettes and Camembert for a picnic. Coastal walks wind through the storied sites of World War II and you’ll finish off in cathedral city Bayeux – home to the Bayeux Tapestry.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Normandy walking vacation
See all our trips: Normandy vacations
Read more: France walking travel guide
Photo credits: [Page banner: Nicolas Cool] [3. Snowshoeing, French Alps: Geoffrey Arduini] [4. Self guided strolls, Poitou-Charentes: Salix] [7. Coast to coast by rail, Corsica: lucas Favre] [10. Footpaths, food & history, Normandy: Ilnur Kalimullin]