“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move” - Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes
France’s homage to the great writer’s work is the Stevenson Trail, a 225km waymarked trail which follows in his footsteps through the Haute-Loire, Lozère and Gard. Otherwise known as the GR70, or Grande Randonnée, this is just one of 35,000km of GR routes traversing France, with PR paths, or chemins de petite randonnée, contributing many more. Here are some of our favourite GRs as well as a few other walking routes, with trailheads accessible by train, so that you can get moving as quickly and easily as possible.
Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB)
The most popular way to tackle the colossal and iconic 170km route is by starting and ending in Chamonix, although you will also walk through France, Switzerland and Italy on this walk of a lifetime. Most people spread it over two weeks and, although you don’t summit the great ‘dame blanche’ on this circuit, you have plenty of cols to conquer.
Pyrenean perambulations (GR10)
The GR10 is a mammoth 850km trail across the Pyrenees and one that should be tackled with expert mountain guides. Broken up into segments, the main starting point is in Hendaye and last spot to hang up your boots in Banyuls-sur-Mer. A classic segment is from the mountain thermal spa town of Cauterets, an hour’s bus ride from Lourdes, ending in Luchon where there are, thankfully, more waters to be taken. As well as a lot of beers.
Provence to the Atlantic (GR4)
Trailheads for this stunning walking route are at Royan on the Atlantic coast and Grasse in Provence, which is just 24 mins from Cannes by train, making this an almost coast to coast trail. The most famous section is through Provence’s Verdon Gorge, the world’s second largest gorge with walls that stretch to a height of 300m for a distance of 20km.
Walking in the Loire Valley
Think chateaus over cols, pinots over peaks when it comes to a walking holiday in the Loire Valley. To saunter through the region’s famous chateaus and their exquisite environs, we raise a toast to the GR3, your stairway to heavenly spots such as Chinon, Azay-le-Rideau, Villandry, Amboise and Clos-Lucé chateaux, as well as Loire-Anjou-Touraine Natural Park. Trains stops along the Loire Valley include Blois, Amboise, Tours and Angers.
Ecrins National Park
This is one of France’s largest national parks, although less well known to international visitors. Which means that its dramatic valleys, ancient footpaths and challenging Alpine peaks are a lot less crowded than around Mont Blanc, for example. The GR50 circumnavigates the park and the GR54 takes on the Oisans and Ecrins Massifs. To get on the GR50 circuit, take a train to Briançon in the east and Embrun in the south.
The Camino Frances
There are nine major Camino de Santiago routes, called the Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle in French, but this one, starting in France, is the most popular. The route traditionally starts in St.Jean-Pied-De-Port in the French Pyrenees and culminates at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the burial place of St. James. You don’t have to take on all 800km of the route, but in order to get your Compostela Pilgrim Certificate you must walk at least the last 100kms from Sarria.
There are many walking companies in France which can organise guided walks or self-guided holidays on these routes, booking your accommodation and organising bag transfers. Leading ones which also support travelling there by train include Exodus Travels, Inn travel, Mac Adventure and Headwater. For more information on Grande Randonnées in France, see here.
Looking for inspiration?
Feeling free in Portugal
Travelling to Portugal by train takes you off the beaten tourist trail, with Lisbon, Porto and the Costa Verde high up on the list of its heritage highs.