The 8 best hikes in France

Destinations

Hiking in France is nothing short of glorious. 

From soaring alpine peaks to billowing lavender fields and azure rivers corkscrewing down into deep canyons, France has a trail to match every mood, moment and ability. 

Our eight favorite French hikes take in everything from cloud-grazing peaks to Provence’s drowsy, sun-kissed countryside and the wave-hammered beaches of the Basque Country. It’s time to sling on your hiking boots and hit the trails.

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1. Sentier du Littoral, French Basque Country

Best coastal day hike

25km (15.5 miles), 5–6 hours, easy

Tumbling Atlantic waves, rocky coves, countryside blanketed in maquis (scrub), and fishing villages snuggled below high cliffs provide a coastal stunner of a day hike in the French Basque Country. Forging a path between the Pyrenees and the Bay of Biscay, the Sentier du Littoral delivers one heart-lifting coastal view after another as it strides from Bidart to Hendaye via Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

Highlights are plentiful: the views of the Bay of Biscay from Colline de Cenitz, the cheerful seaside buzz of St-Jean de Luz, Socoa’s chunky 17th-century fort and the dramatic cliffs of the Corniche. Follow the trail north to south for arresting sights of the Jaizkibel mountain range, the granite crown of Les Trois Couronnes and the 905m (2969ft) peak of La Rhune, topped by Neolithic dolmens and stone circles. Technically, the hike is a breeze, but, in summer in particular, pack plenty of sunscreen and water, and aim to walk in the early morning or late afternoon.

The Chemin de Stevenson Trail is a peaceful wander through lovely French countryside © Jon Sparks / Alamy Stock Photo

2. Chemin de Stevenson, Cévennes

Best hike for rural romance

270km (169 miles), 2 weeks, moderate

A love letter to Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, who trekked across the Cévennes in 1878 with his stubborn donkey Modestine, this hike is one of France’s most classic and captivating. Read about the journey beforehand from Stevenson himself in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

The route is the rural French dream, running from the forests of the Cévennes across the ragged granite Mont Lozère massif into the rolling farmland and valleys of Gévaudan and Velay. Hikers weave from Le Puy-en-Velay to Alès through forested ravines and rolling cornfields, passing ruined châteaux and stone-built hamlets, and crossing sunbaked hillsides to the soundtrack of cicadas and cowbells. 

Fiery sunsets give way to nights spent camping or sleeping at simple rural gîtes (guesthouses), as the scenery builds like a drumroll, saving the best for last – the Unesco-listed Parc National des Cévennes, bristling with beech, oak and sweet chestnut woods and scored by gorges, cliffs and rivers. This spectacularly biodiverse park is home to beavers, otters, roe deer and golden eagles.

Several ridge ascents turn what would otherwise be a gentle walk into a more challenging hike, so come prepared. Hiking the full route takes around two weeks, or you can tackle one of the individual sections.

A hiker crosses rocky terrain near Lac Blanc, Chamonix, France
Lac Blanc is a vision of Alpine perfection © Josef Schafnitzel / imageBROKER RF / Getty Images

3. Lac Blanc, Chamonix

Best hike for mountain fiends

11km (7 miles), 5–6 hours, challenging

If you’re the kind of hiker who thinks it’s cheating to stand eye to eye with one of Europe’s most impressive mountains without breaking a sweat or getting a blister, this hike from Argentière near Chamonix to jewel-like Lac Blanc is for you.

It’s all uphill from the starting point in Tré-le-Champ in Argentière, with more than 1000m (3280ft) of rocky and rugged ascents to negotiate, and a few dizzying fixed ladders to climb. But it’s well worth it: the Lacs des Chéserys are a tantalizing prelude for sapphire-blue Lac Blanc, with its out-of-this-world view of 4808m (15,774ft) Mont Blanc and the Aiguille du Midi.

Wildlife thrives at these craggy heights, so keep a look out for mouflon, golden eagles and ibex. The icing on the cake is getting to eat at – or even better, stay the night at – the Refuge du Lac Blanc, perched at 2352m (7717ft). You’ll need a head for heights, a decent level of fitness and good timing for this one, as it’s proper Alpine terrain. The trail is only accessible from the second half of June through to September; before or after that, as the name – White Lake – suggests, you’ll have snow to contend with.

Trekking on the GR20 trail in Corsica near the Aiguilles de Bavella hiking towards Refuge d'Asinao
The GR20 in Corsica is rightly regarded as one of Europe’s most challenging trails © Alex Treadway / Getty Images

4. GR20, Corsica

Best hike for the sheer challenge

180km (112 miles), 2 weeks, challenging

Of the many thousands of miles of sentiers (hiking trails) spidering across France, the trek hailed as the most epic is the GR20 in Corsica. This two-week, into-the-wild, no-holds-barred, knee-crunching monster sends a shiver down the spine of even the most experienced hiker. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that this beast of a hike exists on a Mediterranean island where many flock to chill on the beach.

But it’s a beauty, too. Traversing the island from Calenzana to Conca, north of Porto Vecchio, it delivers non-stop drama, from deep ravines to glacial lakes, granite crags to wind-battered craters, peat bogs to snowy peaks and plains to forests. 

This is one of Europe’s toughest trails, and the terrain is hardcore, with plenty of steep climbs, exposed scrambles and slippery crossings.

Some planning is required as you’ll be drawing water from springs and sleeping in mountain refuges. Note that wild camping is officially not permitted, but people may casually turn a blind eye if you’re discreet and gone by sunrise. The whole route takes two weeks; it may well break both your back and soul, but you’ll be raving about it forever.

Trekkers on the famous Tour du Mont Blanc route in France
The Tour du Mont Blanc is one of France’s most famous Alpine routes © Vitalalp / iStockphoto / Getty Images

5. Tour du Mont Blanc, France, Switzerland, Italy

Best long-distance hike

180km (112 miles), 10–14 Days, moderate-challenging

The hugely popular Tour du Mont Blanc whisks you through some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in France, Switzerland and Italy as it circumnavigates the gnarly, snow-polished peaks of the Mont Blanc massif. A test of grit and stamina, the trail twists up to sky-high passes, grazes glaciers and wild rivers, and plunges hikers into remote valleys and meadows bursting with wildflowers.

Nights spent camping under starry skies or digging into a warm meal at a rustic mountainside hut. You’ll also relish peachy sunrises and sunsets, and the chance to glimpse altitude-loving wildlife such as marmots, chamois and ibex.

The tour is accessible from late June to early September, but do come prepared for wild weather at all times; conditions can change at the drop of a hat. There’s no need for technical gear (crampons, ropes, etc), but bring warm layers, waterproofs and solid boots.

Starting and finishing in Les Houches near Chamonix, the trail is best hiked clockwise to acclimatize for the tougher climbs towards the end. Planning is essential as the mountain huts get booked out months ahead.

Walkers in an ochre landscape on the Sentiers des Ocres near the village of Roussillon, France
Rust-colored landscapes await on the Sentiers des Ocres near Roussillon © Telly / Shutterstock

6. Sentier des Ocres, Roussillon

Best hike in Provence for families

1.5km (0.9 miles), 1 hour, easy

With its spectacularly eroded rock formations, blushing a color chart of reds from dusky pink to rusty terracotta, this canyon in Roussillon in Provence feels more like the American Wild West – especially beneath a pure blue sky.

This former quarry was once for ochre mining, but today it is the cinematic backdrop for a short but astonishingly lovely circular trail, which weaves through a desert-like landscape of cliffs and ridges and groves of chestnut and pine.

This is an ideal short hike for families and has information panels on local plants and wildlife. Wear solid walking shoes and avoid white clothes as you’ll get pretty dusty. Walk the route from mid-February to December.

Stairs leading down towards the Puy de Dome volcano, France
The Puy de Dôme volcano just calls out to be climbed © Florian Leoty / 500px

7. Puy de Dôme, Massif Central

Best volcano hike

6km (3.7 miles), 1½ hours, moderate

The area that makes up France’s midriff remains sorely overlooked by hikers, but Auvergne’s long-extinct volcanoes are a geological and visual treat. These ancient mounds that last blew their top more than 7000 years ago still crumple the landscape, while green blanketed countryside gives way to granite plateaus and glacier-sculpted valleys.

Find here the vast Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne, and within it the Unesco World Heritage-listed Chaîne des Puys, a 40km (25-mile) string of cinder cones and lava domes. The showstopper is 1465m (4806ft) Puy de Dôme.

Many will jump on the rack railway to reach the top, leaving keen hikers to enjoy the peace of the Chemin de Muletiers: a short, steep old mule trail that hoists its way up wooden steps and along wildflower-fringed paths to the summit. This trail has been hiked for millennia, as pilgrims once used it to reach the Gallo-Roman Temple de Mercure that now lies in ruins at the top.

A grand view over the Gorges du Verdon, France
The Gorges du Verdon offers some of France’s most spectacular views © Lottie Davies / Lonely Planet

8. Blanc-Martel Trail, Gorges du Verdon

Best canyon hike

16km (10 miles), 6–7 hours, moderate

One of France’s most stirring natural wonders is the Gorges du Verdon, where limestone cliffs razor above the startlingly turquoise Verdon River as it carves its way through the plateau to the Alps. In the shadows and hush of early morning, the canyon is utterly peaceful, enclosed by walls of rock reaching up to 700m (2297ft). Yet listen carefully, and you may hear the screech of a golden eagle wheeling overhead.

The canyon can be admired from many viewpoints and picnic spots, but the way to truly get the measure of Verdon is to hike the Blanc-Martel Trail, which twists and turns through the gorge and down to the river. Later, the route sneaks along trails scored into the high canyon walls, occasionally dipping into a tunnel (bring a torch), traversing a bridge or teetering up a flight of wooden steps. It’s a proper day-long adventure, with the odd steep descent and ascent thrown into the mix.

As the hike is point-to-point, you’ll need to think about transport. The best option is to start your walk at Chalet de la Maline in La Palud-sur-Verdon and end at Point Sublime, where you can take a shuttle bus back to the trailhead. The gorge gets as hot as an oven in summer, so get a nice early start and bring plenty of sunscreen and water.

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