The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

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Hiking in France

Posted by on in Activities, Walks, Beaches & Day Trips

balisageThe area around Lou Messugo is a walker's paradise. There are so many different types of walk to choose from: the coastal path, urban walks, mountain hikes in pristine national parks, hill walks and country trails right from the door.  You can walk in all seasons, using snow shoes on higher ground in winter.  In summer it can be scorching hot in the back country which makes the coastal path an attractive choice, stopping off for a refreshing dip along the way.  Or go into the mountains to find cooler temperatures at higher altitudes and enjoy the stunning alpine scenery. We really are spoilt for choice.

Long distance footpaths in France are organised by numbers with the letters GR infront.  This stands for Grande Randonnée meaning "big hike" and they tend to be from A to B not circular.  There are over 60,000 km of signed paths, some of them reaching hundreds of kilometres long. Possibly the most well known, certainly the oldest and amongst the longest at 1600 kms is the pilgrimage route, the St Jacques de Compostelle Way, GR65.  GR paths are all signed with a horizontal paint mark in red and white.  These marks are painted on to trees or rocks every 50 or so GR signmetres, sometimes more frequently and certainly wherever there is a choice of direction in which case they indicate whether to turn left or right.  

Lesser footpaths which aren't on the GR network tend to be tagged with a yellow mark.  I find these marks (balise in French) are great for motivating reticent young children who are less than enthusiastic about hiking.  By sending them ahead to find the next one and check you're on the right path it becomes a kind of treasure hunt that keeps motivation levels up. As well as the painted tags most footpaths have wooden signs at the beginning, end and important junctions showing the name of the walk or the next village etc.  These are numbered and the numbers correspond with numbers on IGN maps of 1:25,000 scale.

mapsLarge-scale maps are produced by the Institut Géographique National (IGN) and are available in good bookshops such as FNAC or online.  We have all the local ones available to borrow at Lou Messugo.

It's worth knowing that nearly all villages and towns in France have public drinking fountains some of which are beautiful elaborate affairs dating from when there was no mains water, others little more than a tap. They are often, but not always, near the church. The water is drinkable unless there's a notice saying "non potable".and you can fill your water bottle at them.  

Lastly a note on safety.  During the hunting season (roughly September to February with local variations) if you're walking in forest it's a good idea to wear something bright and talk reasonably loudly as French hunters shoot anything that moves!  When walking in mountains it's important to check the weather forecast as it can change rapidly and dramatically at altitude.  The national forecast office is MétéoFrance. Here are some useful numbers to call in case of an emergency:  Ambulance (SAMU) 15, Firefighters/Paramedics 18, CODIS 06 (local fire & disaster emergency) 04 93 22 76 90, Mountain Rescue 04 97 22 22 22.

To find more posts on walks in the area local to Lou Messugo click on the tabs below.

Bonne balade!


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rando w SteenWe recently packed up a picnic and headed off for a lovely Sunday walk with some friends, which made me think this would be a good catagory for my blog: recommended walks.  So here's the first in what I hope will be many.

path barnabé walkThis walk starts at the village of Courmes which is about 25 minutes from Lou Messugo.  Head out of Roquefort towards La Colle sur Loup and at the bottom of the hill before the town turn left on to the D6 along the Loup river and up through the lovely gorges du Loup.  Look out for a waterfall on the right which I recommend you visit on the way home for well-deserved ice-cream or beer at the café.  At the hamlet of Bramafan turn right onto the D503 to Courmes, a steep, winding and very narrow two-way (though you wouldn't know it) road.  The village is at the end of this road where you'll find a large carpark.

The beginning of today's path (partly the GR51 with red and white markings, and partly just a local walk with yellow marks, just to complicate things) starts shortly after the carpark, up the road to the left under a large oak tree.  {Click here for my blog on hiking tips including signs}.  After a few minutes you'll come across a small crossroads in the path which isn't significant, just keep going straight.  At the first
berry pickingwooden sign (#83) you get the choice to take the more direct route to St Barnabé which is what we did.  It's a significant shortcut making the whole round-trip about 3 hours.  If you take the long route I don't know how much longer it is, but it's definitely a lot!  This shortcut is the less significant-looking path though it is clearly marked in yellow.  From now on it's all straight forward and uphill along rocky paths with lovely views across to the village of Cipières and Gréolières in the distance, and the Barre du Cheiron, an enormous cliff-like mountain to the north.  All along the open path we were treated to blackberries to feast on and sloes to gather for ambitious plans to make sloe gin!   It's consistently uphill but it's pretty easy going as it's just so beautiful and you're rewarded when you reach the vast expanse of flat land on the St Barnabé plateau.  Situated at just under 1000m, in winter it can be under snow, but no matter what the weather, it's an unusual landscape with very few trees and wierd stone sculptures created by erosion creating a rather spooky atmosphere.  It's truly beautiful though, don't get me wrong!   You feel like you're on top of the world, it's completely silent with only the sound of the wind and the occasional bird.  

plato st barnabéOnce on the flat of the plateau take the main path north towards a shrine to John the Baptist (signpost #86) in the middle of the open landscape where you turn sharp right.  This section of the walk follows under high tension electricity pylons but it doesn't ruin the glorious isolation.  Look out along here for silhouettes of black cats stencilled on to rocks.  We spotted four.  I don't know why they're there but their presence certainly helped to keep little kids' spirits up.  Searching for cats as well as looking for the next yellow marker helped motivate the younger members of the group. In spring the plateau is covered with rare orchids, lilies, fritillaries and other protected flowers and as with nearly all walks in the area you'll see and smell plenty of wild thyme.  Treading on it releases the smell of Provence - mmm heavenly!  You're now nearly at the hamlet of St Barnabé and you'll start to see signs of habitation such as "la maison de Poupée", the doll's house.  Saint-Barnabé is tiny and the chapel bearing its name is minute. It was firmly locked but we could peer into the gloom through the little windows.  It looked very dark and very damp.  This is as far as the trail goes, you now have to turn around and walk back the way you came.  

st barnabéIf, like us, you've run out of water, there's a drinking fountain just outside the chapel but if, like us, you find it dry, here's a tip:  open the manhole cover nearby and turn on the tap!  That's what we did.  When nothing came out of the tap we set to a little detective work as our friend pointed out that the ground around was wet.  JF, ever the engineer, decided to open the nearby manhole cover which sure enough had a tap in it.  He turned it on, we filled our bottles from the fountain, turned off the tap and replaced the cover.  Simple!  (Probably not advised in a busy street but St Barnabé is as sleepy as they come).

                 Cat Collage


Do you like hiking?  Do you have a favourite walk?  I'd love to hear from you. 


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