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Finding property in the best walking areas of France

A guide to the best areas for walking in France

France... a walker's paradise

Walking is, and has always been, one of mankind's greatest pleasures. A hobby as old as the hills in which it takes place, walking has the huge advantage of being cheap and accessible to all. The joy of walking is that it enables the participant to take advantage of what is naturally supplied - that is, the countryside. This is where France comes into its own. With its massive size and incredible diversity of landscapes and climactic conditions, France has a head start on most countries, it must be said. In France you can choose to walk in flat pastures, beside fascinating canals, in gently rolling hills or sheer towering mountains. You may prefer a wild rocky coastline, with craggy cliffs and savage, awe inspiring breakers, or perhaps you might enjoy walking a gentler seaside trail, with soft golden sands, a softly lapping blue sea, and a warm sun above. France is also one of Europe's most walker friendly countries. With its highly developed trail system, supported by Chambre D'Hotes, hostels and small hotels in abundance, there can be no better place for walkers, be they serious hikers who cover miles in a day or simply Mr and Mrs Average taking an afternoon stroll.

A trail system second to none

The French trail system is 110,000 miles long. It encompasses three main types of trails, the first category being the Grande Randonnées (GR), or long national paths. These are mapped on the IGN (Instuit Géographie National, the French government mapping agency) maps. The second category of trails is the GRP (Grand Regional Paths). Trails in this category are frequently circular, but only the largest are marked on the IGN maps. Finally there is the third category, the Local Paths. These are not marked on large maps, but are well waymarked with bright yellow flashes of colour on posts beside the trails. Detailed local maps should show all types of paths.

Where to walk in France

The burning question then, is where to walk in France? Where indeed. The answer, unsurprisingly, is almost anywhere. Some of the most unpromising places turn out to have some amazingly satisfying walking country close by, and if you enjoy new discoveries you should perhaps, blindfold yourself and stick a pin in a map of France, and start your walk there. If, however, you want to experience what is guaranteed to be some of the most spectacular walking country in the world, you could do worse than begin in the French Alps.

Alpine delights

The French Alps are usually considered to be a winter holidays destination, renowned as they are for superb skiing and snow sports. It should be remembered, however that there is more than one season even at this altitude, and summer has as much to offer as winter. Some of the resorts still operate their ski lifts in summer to transport walkers to the tops of the mountains, although serious walkers may prefer to test their fitness by climbing. Many of the ski resorts link together to provide miles and miles of unrivalled pistes and trails, and there is no denying that the Alps offer the most stunningly extensive mountain scenery in France.

Best location for property in the Alps

If you are a keen walker, a dream situation for a property could be the beautiful town of Annecy, in the Haute-Savoie region. Property here is expensive, due to its superb location and high rental income potential, but with lake and mountain scenery and some of the best walking and skiing in Europe, who would complain? (Property in Annecy). It is possible to keep the costs of property down a little however, even in this glorious region. Look for smaller, less well known places, such as Morillon (Morillon Property Guide) or Samoëns (Samoens Property Guide) perhaps, or focus your search a little further down the mountains.

A Pyrenean alternative

Less well known but equally spectacular as a walking region, is the Pyrenean mountain range in south-west France. Stretching to the Mediterranean Sea and to Spain, the Pyrénées and their foothills provide a chance for keen walkers to own property in beautiful mountains without paying Alpine prices. It is possible to pick up some real bargains in the Ariège department for example, with amazing views of the shining iced peaks of the mountains, and delightful character towns such as Mirepoix on your doorstep. (Properties in Ariège). The mountain resorts here are plentiful, from the small and friendly Mont D'Olmes, with the Cathar castle of Montsegur to climb to and explore (if you have the energy!) to the larger resorts nearer to Andorra, where the summer walkers are as well catered for as the winter skiers. Here also, you can find terrifyingly steep gorges with wildly rushing white water, and the kind of walking opportunities which simply take your breath away.

True walkers paradise

Try looking at the Pays de Sault and the Gorges de St. George, with its winding mountain lanes snaking ever upwards towards a pine fringed plateau which opens up into a true walkers paradise. Even the little foothills of the Pyrénées close to Carcassonne, can provide some glorious walking, with well waymarked, maintained trails and fantastic views. Imagine the sheer delight of waking up to a view of the mountains, and knowing that you only have to walk out of your door and up into the hills without so much as seeing a road…

Beautiful Brittany

Also well known and loved by walkers is the delightful region of Brittany, in north-west France. Here the walking pleasures are quite different from the mountains of the south. They involve a wild and rugged coastline, unparalleled in its beauty, and an inland landscape of canals and marshes, lakes and forests. The coastal paths of Brittany provide an opportunity to enjoy some of the most beautiful seascapes in Europe, which are frequently accessible to all levels of fitness, unlike some more mountainous regions. Once again, the paths are well signed and maintained, making walking a pleasure in every way. Brittany is well supplied with excellent cafés and creperies, so you can satisfy your hunger with traditional Breton delights before going on your way! Brittany also caters for those who like to take their walks on the flat. There are miles of lovely inland waterways with adjacent paths where you can walk under the shade of the trees planted long ago to protect the towing horses from the hot summer sun. You can also watch the boats go through the complex system of locks.

An ideal place for a home

Brittany is, as many have already discovered, an ideal place for a French holiday home, or indeed, a permanent home in France. Prices on the coast itself are high, but you do not have to go far inland to find some pretty traditional little towns with character properties available at bargain prices. Walkers could take a look at the Finistère department, which is less developed than the better known Cotes D'Armor. The coast here is as dramatic as you could wish, and absolutely unspoiled. Property prices remain relatively unspoiled here too, but it can't last forever! (Property in Finistère).

The best of the rest

Where then could honestly be described as the best of the rest? How about the sunflower-filled fields of Poitou-Charentes? The vineyards of the Languedoc? The cider orchards of Normandy? The stunningly beautiful lakes and meadows of the German-flavoured Alsace? The answer is anywhere. France has such diversity of experiences for walkers that it is really impossible to pinpoint places which would have no appeal at all. Town walking is not necessarily any less worthy than country walking or mountain walking, and the ancient towns and villages of this fascinating country have as much to offer the urban walker as the mountains have appeal for the hill walkers, and the coastal trails for lovers of the sea. Do your research, find your property, put on your walking shoes ands step out of your door…the dream starts here.

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