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France: Best walking trails

Classic Mediterranean landscapes featuring clifftop bastides and Roman ruins are just some of the highlights of walking in France

France: Best walking trails
Aubrac village on the Via Podiensis, St James’s Way. Image: Alamy

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Route St Jacques

This is a classic walk through France Profonde, from Aubrac to Figeac. Part of the route follows the Sentier de St Jacques (a segment of the Camino de Santiago), following the Allier River through a series of striking gorges. It crosses the plains of the high and wild Aubrac plateau, where summer grazings have fed cattle since Roman times to produce milk for Cantal cheese. The area is even said to be home to the mythic Beast of Gévaudan, the Gallic equivalent of the Beast of Bodmin, who lurks amid forests of oak, beech and chestnut.
This is a demanding trail, with 11 days of walking, ranging from eight to 18 miles and several days with ascents of over 2,460ft. The ground can be rough but the paths are reliable. Another highlight of the route is medieval Conques, officially one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (france-beautiful-villages.org/en), with its Abbey Church of Saint Foy — historically one of the most popular stops on the Santiago de Compostela, its monks were known for the encouragement they gave to passing pilgrims. From there, it’s a two-day walk to the route’s end at Figeac. Unlike the pilgrims that went before, you can stay in comfy hotels, pensions and gîtes. 
How to do it:  Ramblers Walking Holidays covers the 130-mile route described above on a 14-day trip, with 11 walking days. Prices start at £1,380, with half-board accommodation, including flights, transfers from the airport, baggage transfer and the services of a walking leader.

Windy Mountain, Northern Provence

A looming presence during this walk, Mont Ventoux (‘Windy Mountain’) will be grimly familiar to Tour de France cyclists (mercifully, walkers don’t need to ascend it). The route covers eight to 11 miles a day for seven days and is bookended by two clifftop villages, Venasque and Vaison-la-Romaine. In between, it explores the lush foothills east of Avignon. If possible, visit Vaison’s excellent Tuesday market.
How to do it: From On Foot Holidays for £1,025 per person. Includes most evening meals and picnics, luggage transfers, full walk pack and local support.

Roman ruins of Pont du Gard. Image: Getty

Pont du Gard

A walk in the area around Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard, in the west of Provence, will inevitably take in some classic Mediterranean landscapes — the air scented with herbs, the hills sun-scorched and the tiny villages made of stone. You’ll also get to interact with the famous old bridge, tracking the River Gardon as it slips between the arches. Late spring is a good time to walk here, when the rosemary is in flower, attracting huge numbers of butterflies. Plans are afoot for the local authorities to stitch together a 205-mile network of trails across the entire region.
How to do it: Walking option and route variations can be found at pontdugard.fr/en/walks-and-hiking

Camino Le Puy Way, Gascony

Starting in Aire sur l’Adour and lasting six days (the longest covering 18 miles), this round trip takes in pretty towns, such as Lectoure, and bastides (fortified villages), including Larressingle and Montreal du Gers. Near the end, vineyards give way to maritime pines.
How to do it: Macs Adventure offers the Camino Le Puy Way from £675 per person, including all dinners, baggage transfers and maps.

Published in the May 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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