Walking holidays are growing in popularity all the time. No longer the preserve of hardcore hikers with Gortex gear galore, modern walking holidays can be exciting, rewarding adventures that combine natural beauty, culturally and historically significant sites and, often, fine cuisine and top notch hotels.
France is one destination that has all those things and many, many more. The geographical diversity of the country is astounding, from the high Alpine passes to the Emerald Coast of Brittany, the rolling lavender fields of Provence to the chateaux-dotted greenery of ‘France’s Garden’, the Loire Valley, it has something for everyone. And you never have to walk too far to find an exquisite restaurant or bistro or a fine vineyard.
In order to get a slice of this life-affirming type of vacation that is worth eating takes a good deal of planning; not only must you choose your desired destination (often the easiest step), but you must sort out your accommodation, assessing how many miles you are likely to walk each day and picking appropriate stopping points. You must also have a fair idea of the terrain and topography of the areas you are due to visit, ensuring you are physically up to the task. And then there’s the packing: you need enough maps and guidebooks to make sure you don’t miss out on anything (and – importantly – that you don’t get lost) but all the time balancing that out with taking attire for all weather conditions, knowing that you will have to carry the whole kit and caboodle on your journey. Perhaps that makes the whole experience a little less appealing?
There is, however, another way. Guided walking holidays in France are a great option for those who have neither the time nor inclination to plans things from top to bottom before setting off. Benefits of this style of trip include the fact that you will be in a group of – hopefully – like-minded people, all the routes, maps and trip notes are sorted for you, and you have the excellent resource of a expert guide who knows the particular area like the back of his or her hand and who is obviously fluent in French (which tends to open doors in itself). On top of this, you also have all your accommodation organised with the welcome benefit that the company will transport your luggage ahead to the next hotel each time you move so you don’t have to make like a packhorse and can instead take just a light day sack with you while you walk.
One area of France where a guide is highly recommended – at least if you want to experience more than the most touristy of routes – is in the Alps. High-level walking, replete as it is with awe-inspiring views, pristinely fresh air and a real sense of adventure, must be respected to be enjoyed. Walking in the mountains can be highly rewarding, but – if weather conditions are disregarded or routes not planned and followed effectively – it can also be dangerous. As such, going on a guided walking holiday in the area can reassure you that your safety is being looked after and that you are likely to visit places that could otherwise be missed by those who are not highly familiar with the region.
It is not just holidays that involve trekking the Alpine paths that would benefit from a knowledgeable guide. Rural Provence, for instance, is an absolutely delightful place through which to amble. But ambling aimlessly means you will miss out on the best views, restaurants, towns and villages. Having a local guide leading the way, answering questions and opening up the region to you with recommendations, history and general knowledge can enhance your experience enormously. Knowing when a particular Provençal village has market day or which hamlet has an amazing rustic restaurant can make sure you visit the places that will be the most rewarding at the right times.
And even on the Côte d’Azur there is a big difference between restaurants geared towards tourists who are unlikely to return and those which take their food seriously – which in France means very seriously indeed. The backstreet bistros, the small galleries that aren’t in the guide books, assistance with negotiations in markets: guides can make things a lot more pleasurable on many levels.
So if you are thinking about an activity holiday for your next trip, be sure to consider a guided walking holiday and enjoy the fact that you’ll be spending more time enjoying the sights and tastes of a region than frantically flicking through maps, guide books and phrasebooks!