11 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in France

Written by Lisa Alexander
May 31, 2019

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France has a striking diversity of landscapes, from the snowcapped peak of Mont Blanc to the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean. Every region offers inspiring hiking trails that are sure to impress. Even the most jaded hiker will be awed by the sublime alpine scenery of the Chamonix Valley or a dazzling seaside hike along the French Riviera coastline.

In the quaint pastoral region of Alsace, recreational amblers can meander through country lanes, arriving at storybook hamlets nestled in the vine-covered, rolling hills. Also delightful are the trails in the Luberon Mountains of Provence, which connect picturesque, historic villages.

Modern-day pilgrims will discover a fascinating, medieval spiritual heritage (and physical challenge) on a portion of the Camino de Santiago trail in the Pyrenees Mountains. For many history buffs, an essential experience is the Remembrance Trail, which traces WWI battlefield sites along the Normandy coast. The most challenging hike on the list is the GR20 trail in Corsica, which is only advised for well-trained athletes, while anyone can enjoy the gentle nature walk at the Cirque de Gavarnie, where marvelous waterfalls drop from soaring granite rock walls in the distance.

From the mountains to the sea, explore this diverse country with our list of the top hiking trails in France.

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1. Tour du Mont Blanc

Tour du Mont Blanc

Tour du Mont Blanc

The legendary Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Europe, at an altitude of 4,810 meters. Ascending to the top is extremely strenuous and requires exceptional fitness, as well as a guide. However, Mont Blanc is not just for mountain climbers. There are moderate sections of Mont Blanc that can be approached as short hikes.

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a system of hiking trails that covers 170 kilometers, with many different starting points, including Courmayeur, Les Houches, and Chamonix. Along the way, mountain refuges allow hikers to rest and get refreshments or refuel with a hearty meal and stay overnight in cozy alpine-style guest rooms.

Le Chemin des Rognes is a challenging mountainous route that begins in Bellevue and ends in Baraque des Rognes and takes three to four hours. This route rewards hikers with incredible views of the Chamonix Valley, the Aiguille du Midi, and the Aravis Mountain Range.

In the Chamonix Valley, the Glacier d'Argentie`re route is a 10-kilometer loop hike on a steep incline, ascending 980 meters with sublime panoramas at the top. Accessible from the Grands Montets cablecar, the hike begins in Lognan. The Chalet du Lognan mountain refuge and the Refuge d'Argentière lodge are found along this route.

In the Valle d'Aosta, the starting point of a two-hour hike is accessible from the Courmayeur funicular. This relatively easy hike ends in Courmayeur at La Maison Vieille, a rustic mountain lodge in a sunny valley.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Chamonix

2. Gentle Nature Walk at the Cirque de Gavarnie

The Gentle Nature Walk at the Cirque de Gavarnie

The Gentle Nature Walk at the Cirque de Gavarnie

In the National Park of the Pyrenees Mountains, the Cirque de Gavarnie is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's accessible to most visitors. An easy loop walk begins in the tiny village of Gavarnie, past the Hôtel du Cirque and horse stables, and then follows the stream up to the head of the valley. With almost no incline, this trail lends itself to more of a stroll than a hike. In the distance, glacier-formed limestone rock walls soar 1,700 meters and enclose the small valley, creating the impression of a cathedral in nature.

Adding to the theatrical splendor are numerous rushing waterfalls that tumble from the snow-dusted summits (over 3,000 meters in altitude). The most impressive is the Grande Cascade, which drops for over 400 meters, making it the tallest waterfall in Europe.

The park has no modern developments, only small rustic chalets, pastures of grazing goats, and little footbridges that cross the gurgling mountain stream. Chirping birds complete the tranquil, meditative experience. The gentle, circular walk takes about one hour from start to finish.

For a more challenging hike in the Pyrenees National Park, advanced hikers should take the trail up to the Brèche de Roland mountain pass (at 2,807 meters). The route begins at the Col de Tentes and leads to the French-Spanish border. The hike takes about four hours and involves a steep ascent, as well as clambering over some rocks, but magnificent views make the effort worthwhile.

3. The Legendary GR20 Trail in Corsica

The Legendary GR20 Trail in Corsica

The Legendary GR20 Trail in Corsica

The GR20 hiking trail in Corsica is one of the most famous and toughest long-distance hikes in Europe. With its dramatic gorges and rocky hillsides, this legendary trail is popular with advanced hikers. The sun-drenched path traverses the island of Corsica from north to south, covering a landscape of rugged hillsides and wild gorges. Besides being a test of physical endurance, the trail is in remote terrain, which adds an element of psychological challenge. Only those who are sufficiently trained should attempt the hike.

4. Hikes to the Most Beautiful Villages in the Luberon Mountains

Hikes to the Most Beautiful Villages in the Luberon Mountains

Hikes to the Most Beautiful Villages in the Luberon Mountains

Off-the-beaten path and wildly beautiful, the Parc Naturel Régional du Lubéron is a UNESCO-listed nature reserve in Provence. The Luberon has hiking trails and walking paths that connect its picturesque villages, many are listed as "Plus Beaux Villages de France" ("Most Beautiful Villages of France").

An excellent hike is from Gordes to Roussillon. The 10-kilometer hike begins in the medieval hilltop village of Gordes and continues along scenic roads until reaching the striking village perché (perched village) of Roussillon, which stands on an ochre cliff overlooking a stunning landscape.

From Roussillon, a wonderful all-day hike is to Lourmarin, one of France's "Plus Beaux Villages." This 25-kilometer hike travels through country roads and footpaths until reaching Lourmarin, nestled in a protected valley at the base of the Luberon Mountains. Lourmarin has the laid-back yet lively ambience of a traditional Provençal village and is the perfect place to end up after a long hike because of its inviting restaurants, outdoor cafés, and boutiques. Lourmarin also has several charming hotels.

5. Paths Through Rolling Hills to Picturesque Alsatian Villages

Paths through Rolling Hills to Picturesque Alsatian Villages

A picturesque Alsatian Village | Dennis Yang / photo modified

In the picture-perfect countryside of Alsace, verdant vine-covered hills are dotted with fairy-tale villages and little hamlets. The entire area is found within the UNESCO-listed Parc Naturel Régional des Vosges du Nord.

A moderate eight-kilometer hike in this area is from Bergheim to Riquewihr. Surrounded by medieval town walls, Bergheim is appreciated for its quaint winding lanes and flower-bedecked buildings. From Bergheim, walking paths lead through a bucolic landscape towards Riquewihr. Hikers will notice the church steeple of Riquewihr upon approaching this storybook village, listed as one of the "Plus Beaux Villages" of France.

A pleasant, short walk (of three kilometers) continues from Riquewihr to Mittelwihr, a tiny hamlet nestled among a patchwork of farms. Another scenic hike adds onto this itinerary from Mittelwihr to Kaysersberg, which can be reached by a six-kilometer country road into the Weiss Valley. Kaysersberg's handsome old burgher's houses are decorated with colorful potted flowers in the traditional Alsatian style. This elegant town was a Free Imperial City in the 13th century and has retained its captivating medieval ambience.

6. The Nietzsche Path from Eze Village to Eze Beach

The Nietzsche Path from Eze Village to Eze Beach

View from the Nietzsche Path | Photo Copyright: Lisa Alexander

The Nietzsche Path on the French Riviera offers a challenging hillside hike with splendid seaside panoramas. This steep path follows in the footsteps of the famous German philosopher. Its starting point is the perched medieval village of Eze, known as the "nid d'aigle" (eagle's nest) because it is perched 400 meters above the sea. Shaded by oaks and olive trees, the trail overlooks the Mediterranean coastline and the Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat peninsula in the distance. On a clear day, the stunning coastal views extend all the way to Italy and the island of Corsica.

Although the scenery is dreamy, this hike is difficult, with an extremely steep stone stairway that winds through the overgrown hillside. While taking on the incline, hikers can stop to admire the mesmerizing blue waters. The hike takes about 1.5 hours and ends at Eze-sur-Mer, the seaside section of town which has a pine-tree backed beach (great for swimming and sailing), cafés, restaurants, hotels, and a train station. The Nietzsche Path may be approached in the reverse (convenient if arriving by train) by hiking up from Eze-sur-Mer to the hilltop village of Eze.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Eze

7. Route Napoléon on the Camino de Santiago

Route Napoléon on the Camino de Santiago

Route Napoléon on the Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago was the most important medieval pilgrimage route in Europe. Pilgrims embarked on months-long journeys to reach the revered destination of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, venerated for the tomb of Saint James the Apostle, which had been relocated from the Holy Land. The Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle ("Way of Saint James") route is still popular among modern-day pilgrims and hikers. Some travelers spend weeks or even months to complete portions of the trail or even the entire journey.

One of the most interesting and challenging sections of the Camino de Santiago is the Route Napoléon. This advanced hike begins in Saint-Jean Pied de Port, a characteristic Basque town with cobblestone streets and red-shuttered houses. The 27-kilometer route takes hikers through the Pyrenees Mountains, ascending around 700 meters in altitude. Parts of the trail have a very steep grade.

Along the way, little plaques featuring scallop shells (the symbol of Saint James' pilgrims) confirm that this is the Camino de Santiago. The route ends in Spain at Roncesvalles, an ancient village with a historic pilgrims' hostel and convent.

8. Coastal Walk in Bassin d'Arcachon or on the Dune du Pilat

Coastal Walk in Bassin d'Arcachon or on the Dune du Pilat

Coastal Walk in Bassin d'Arcachon or on the Dune du Pilat

The Bassin d'Arcachon is a pristine nature site in southwest France about 72 kilometers from Bordeaux. A relaxing seaside retreat, the Arcachon Bay has seven kilometers of sandy beaches, as well as oyster ports, fishing piers, and the largest marina on the Atlantic Ocean. Enjoy a refreshing coastal walk beginning at Arès in the Bassin d'Arcachon. The area is a marshland nature reserve (the Réserve Naturelle des Prés Salés) with a 12-kilometer loop trail. This scenic pedestrian route is a great place for bird-watching.

One of the best places to visit in France to discover unique natural scenery is the Dune du Pilat, 12 kilometers south of Arcachon. Because of the wind and tides, the 2.7-kilometer-long sandbank is always changing shape. A protected reserve, the Dune du Pilat is a marvelous place for taking nature walks under the bright blue skies. Bird-watchers will be able to spot native species like the Kentish plover. Other things to do include paragliding, sailing, and surfing.

9. Hikes Through Forests and Farmlands in the Béarn Mountains

Hikes through Forests and Farmlands in the Béarn Mountains

Farmland in the Béarn Mountains

One of the top attractions of the French Pyrenees, the historic Béarn region is an idyllic rural area of rolling hills and mountains about 40 kilometers from Lourdes. Just outside of Jurançon, a narrow two-lane country road takes travelers up to the Montagnes Béarnaises (Béarn Mountains), a lush mountainous area of deeply wooded groves, ravines, crystal-clear rivers, and rushing waterfalls. The forests are interspersed with small farms and pastures where goats graze. Beautiful hiking trails wind around through the forests and valleys.

10. Somme Battlefields Remembrance Circuit

Australian Cemetery

Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux

With its unspoiled beaches, lagoons, sand dunes, and marshes, the Baie de Somme is a majestic seaside landscape in Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Nature lovers will enjoy the invigorating coastal scenery, while history buffs will appreciate the Remembrance Circuit, which traces the sites of the WWI battles (the Battle of the Somme of 1916 and the Battle of Picardy in 1918).

The Remembrance Trail is a marked itinerary between the towns of Péronne and Albert. Along the way are battlefield sites; WWI cemeteries; museums; and memorials, such as the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux.

The Remembrance Trail may be approached as a self-guided walking tour. The tourism offices in Péronne and Albert offer information about hiking the Remembrance Trail. (Guided tours are also available.) If visiting in late spring, hikers will be treated to the gorgeous spectacle of bright red poppies blooming in the fields. Fittingly, the red poppy is considered an emblem of sacrifice, as well as remembrance.

11. Martel Trail in the Gorges du Verdon

The Martel Trail
The Martel Trail

The Martel Trail (Sentier Martel) offers a glimpse of the Gorges du Verdon's breathtaking natural environment. Suitable for physically fit hikers, the 16-kilometer trail traverses the dramatic canyon with a steep descent into the valley, crossing through tunnels and passing by swimming spots. It takes about six hours to complete from start to finish (one way). Because of the length and level of difficulty, trying to complete the entire trail may not be the best idea unless transportation is arranged for a pick-up at the end of the trail.

Tips: Be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes with treads to handle the terrain. Bring plenty of water because it can get very hot, especially during the summertime. Wearing a swimsuit comes in handy if you want to take a dip in one of the natural pools along the way.

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imageHiking Boots We Love: Before hitting the hiking trails, you may want to take a look at your hiking boots to see if they are still up to the task. This is your most essential piece of hiking gear, so it pays to have a good pair. For a look at the latest in style and innovation, see our articles on the Best Men's Hiking Boots of 2019 and the Best Women's Hiking Boots of 2019 to provide insight and inspiration.

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