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).