5 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in France
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.
1. 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 valle
2. 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 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
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
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.