Friday, February 4, 2011

Walking in the park

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According to “France on Foot”, France has more than 110,000 miles of hiking trails. The same website says that there are 38,000 miles of “sentiers de grande randonnée” (long, national paths).

I first learned about the hiking trails when Tish came to visit two years ago. She had done her research on hiking in France and came ready to start walking. We picked up a few hiking guides at the Tourist information office that listed the starting point(s) distance, elevation, etc. Tish, Ellen and I had some very fun walks by picking hikes from the books. (For long-time blog readers, you may remember my text about our hike through the Dentelles: “Les Dentelles de Montmirail”, January 5, 2009.)

As a result of being introduced to the system by Tish, I have become very aware of the markings that indicate national paths or grande randonnée. Grande Randonnée 5 (GR5), for instance, goes from Amsterdam to Nice. If you are in France and see a tree or a light pole or a building with yellow or white and red horizontal stripes, you will know that you are on one of the national paths. I was reading “Follow the Yellow and Red Striped Road” by Anne ( in which she talked about seeing the red and yellow stripes on posts in Paris. Local trails have single, yellow stripes designating petite randonnée (PR).

The hiking trails include urban centers as well as rural areas. I would have said frontier areas but France has been traversed and settled by so many groups, there really is no true frontier anymore. You go for a walk in an area in which you think that you must be the first person to trek down this path and you learn that the path was one that the Romans created in 400 AD or the Celts used in 700 AD.

We learned recently that there are excursions each Sunday that leave from the Vaison la Romaine Post Office parking lot where the hikes are 10 to 20 kilometers and of varying degrees of difficulty.

In addition to the “GR” and “PR” trails, we have had friends show us other promenades. (Remember MB – “Embay” – standing below one of Les Demoiselles Coiffées? Tuesday, December 1, 2009.) This year, Tish walked with us past the ‘coiffed women.’

In addition to the well-marked trails that are part of the national paths, there are shorter, more local trails. There are also the ubiquitous yellow signs that one sees in town and in the country that show directions and the number of kilometers to the named destination.

Last weekend, Jane called and asked if we wanted to join her on a little walk above the village of Piégon. We had a great time (though the Mistral wind made it feel very cold when we got to the top of the ridge). The picture below is of a carving in Piégon. 

So, the next time somebody tells me to “take a hike!” I will answer: happily! (and I will know where I am going).


  1. Geez. I want to take a hike with you! Maybe I can fit it into the revolutionary timetable :-)

  2. Great pictures along the hiking trail! In PA, the Laurel Highland Hiking Trail also has yellow blazes about every 100 feet, like your first picture. Blue blazes indicate side trails. They are both quite helpful as we x-c ski in the area. I can remember those strong,cold mistral winds from our visit to the Pont du Gard.

  3. Terrific post, Mark. I love that you continue to explore and are learning more about your area.

    Two days ago in Tucson, I took a quick hike between conference calls into Sabino Canyon. When I drove in they gave me a pamphlet about the wild cats and other things to look out for. Silly me from Chicago, I thought they were talking about Northwestern. Ha! The brochure said not to bend over (I thought that was only in prisons), not to stop eye contact (I dont know how you do that when you are running away) and not to run away. I started walking the asphalt road, screwed up my courage to get on a trail with little pictos of people with backpacks. (I hoped there wasnt going to be a ranger checking to see if I had one, my wristlet bag with cell was it.) Fifty feet in a doe crossed my path about 20 feet ahead, which reminded me of last week's Prarie Home joke show. where the doe they mentioned said "I'll never do that again for two bucks." And using PHC as my out door guide, I looked around and in the bushes saw one of the bucks. He took off in another direction. Further down the path, luckily across the desert floor a few feet, I saw a snake slither between rocks. I didnt see its whole egress, by then I found my way back to the asphalt luckily never out of site. From my vantage, those stripes you mentioned are probably from hikers like me who have scarred the trees from holding on too tight.

    Keep posting I love hearing what you are learning. Makes me want to book a flight.


  4. Mark & Ellen,
    I can imagine few things more delightful than hiking, discovering and feeling healthy after hike that offers so many adventures and connects us with nature's finest. What fun! Thanks for sharing the photos and the adventure. John

  5. Thanks again for sharing great photos.
    I am giving you the dates of our Easter break.
    B Zone is from April 16th to May 1st.
    Should you fancy to make it between the 16th and the 19th , it would be great whether you make it to my school or not.


    Marie Mary Doubs