The famous GR-Grandes Randonnées (hiking routes) and other historic pilgimage routes are throughout Europe but the best can be found in France. They explore exceptional landscapes and popular themes such as the Grande traversée of the Alps, the Routes of Santiago de Compostela, the Douaniers paths on the Brittany coast and the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson in the Cévennes. www.gr-infos.com/gr-en
The essential landmarks with the Fédération de la randonnée (French only)
The idea of marking a trail was born in 1842 in the forest of Fontainebleau, but the concept of the GR was invented in 1947 in the Sologne area, south of Orléans. Twenty years before the excursion and walking clubs were considered pioneers and were later renamed “clubs de randonneur.” The comité National des Sentiers de Grande Randonnée united the various organizations under one umbrella in 1985.
Today the French network includes some 180,000 km (108,000 miles) of marked routes that extend another 12,000 miles into neighboring countries. Certain GRs are newly created and others follow historical routes such as the Routes of Santiago de Compstela. The Federation publishes a complete collection of guides and gives information and advice on its web site.
The Federation’s web site lists information for group hikes organized by the clubs. For example, the “rando-collective” of the Canal du Midi from July 9 – 15 is planning a 100 km hike in honor of the 400th anniversary of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the designer of the Canal du Midi. It will start in Bonrepos-Riquet and pass through Toulouse to Revel.
They offer free downloads of audio-guides (in French only) describing a large number of suggested walking paths even in urban areas. The Paris “nature” includes 180 km of marked paths between parks and gardens or other lesser-known locations.
The Federation organizes the “Rando-challenges” for the competitive types and they encourage walks where the experienced walkers share their passion with handicapped or disadvantaged persons.
The Routes of Santiago de Compostela.
The origin of the journey goes back to the 10th century and was the subject of the first medieval travel guide, the Codex Calixtinus! Today, the most popular of the four French routes is the Via Podensis or GR 65. It links Geneva to the Roncevaux hill in the Basque country and passes through the Puy-en-Velay, Conques and Figeac. The route is marked with the Scallop symbol. French web site: www.chemins-compostelle.com
In the footsteps of Robert Louis—GR 70 www.chemin-stevenson.org. This year marked the 130th anniversary of Robert Louis Stevenson’s published account of his walk through the Cévennes Mountains. With his donkey, he covered 252 km from Puy-en-Valley to Alès in 12 days.
Along the sea…
The GR 223 goes along the coast of the English Channel on the Cherbourg peninsula from the bay of the Veys to the bay of Mont St-Michel.
The GR 34 follows the Brittany coast and the Douaniers path.
In the mountains…
The Grande traversée des Alpes françaises www.grande-traversee-alpes.com via the GR 5 links Belgium to the Mediterranean by the Vosges and Jura mountains as well as through the heart of the Alps. Between high mountain pastures and glaciers, the path goes as high as 3,000 m. With 15 to 20 stages of 20 km each, this magnificent path in the high mountains is seldom traveled in its entire length all in one time.
The TMB or the Tour of Mont-Blanc
This loop takes some 12 days to hike with an unobstructed view of the highest mountains in Europe. Crossing through Italy and Switzerland, the mountainside path gives you a close up look at the impressive summits and glaciers.
Crossing the Pyrénées via GR 10
The Pyrénées chain stretches from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and offers green hills of the Basque country, summits of the Pic d’Ossau and Vignemale, cliffs of Gavarnie, lakes and plateaus of the Ariège. In a country of bears and isards, all walks promise above all, beautiful landscapes and colors.
The Massif central can be discovered via the GR 4 and GR 30
Corsica, the island of beauty…
Corsica, between the sea and mountains on GR 20 climbs from Calenzana to Conca and crosses summits of more than 2500 m.