With thousands of trails across the country, walking and hiking have always been a popular pastime in France. Since the Covid-19 and the confinement, a new generation of young hikers take the country lanes, fleeing the closed spaces of the city.
The French Hiking Federation, FFRandonée, estimates that there are around 18 million regular walkers in France.
The choice of places to walk is immense with trails that crisscross the country, both at municipal and national level, in the mountains, along rivers, by the sea, in the plains and valleys.
There are tours ranging from those for the casual walker who enjoys a short ride to the more demanding for sports enthusiasts who want a challenge.
The FFRandonée takes care of 206,000 km of trails, many of which are labeled Grande Randonnée with the familiar white and red striped road signs or the Grandes Randonnée de Pays with yellow and red markings along the way.
A 2016 survey by Atout France, the official agency that promotes France as a tourist destination, found that walking was the most popular activity for French people on vacation. 21 million stays around walking, up 25% compared to 2007.
From now on, walking has become a popular pastime for city dwellers who want to get away from it all during their days off.
Clément Lhommeau, 31, left the Vendée to work in Paris ten years ago and failed to walk in the countryside. Like many in big cities, he doesn’t have a car, so he set out to explore the walking possibilities he could reach by train or metro:
“I found that it was possible to access different types of landscapes within 15 or 30 minutes by train from the center of Paris. There are forests, fields, national parks, rivers and the chalk cliffs of the Seine nearby. I launched my finds on the site helloways.com in 2018, and it has grown incredibly quickly.
“It’s now my full time job and we are a team of three. We offer walks around eight cities in France and two in Belgium. The Gallimard editors approached us to write a book and we recently published one describing 40 different walks near the capital by public transport.
The biggest jump in numbers came in May of last year when the first lockdown ended and people could travel within 100 km of their homes: “More than 2 million people viewed our walks since we started. People can join our club for € 39.90 per month which gives access to the entire catalog of our walks. Covid-19 has introduced people to the benefits of local tourism with amazing experiences not far from your front door. You don’t have to travel halfway around the world to have an adventure.
This is the philosophy of micro-adventures, a term coined a decade ago by British adventurer and author Alastair Humphreys. He describes it “as a short, simple, local, inexpensive adventure – but still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding”.
Clément Lhommeau says that this trend is gaining momentum in France and he includes “Micro-Adventures” on his site: for example, from Lyon, there are five suggestions for hikes that last from two to seven days with and some up to at the mountain. .
“We are refreshing the way people see walking and giving it a new, more trendy image related to slow tourism, adventure and sustainable living. It attracts the youngest who see the quiet walk on weekends in a fantastic setting as an antidote to working weeks in front of screens where everything goes so fast.
“Each city with which we are linked so far has its own Facebook page, Rando & Co, where you can take part in organized walks. This is also very popular because it is a way for people who are often isolated in cities to meet new friends. “