Walking Trails

The whole of France is crisscrossed with walking trails and they form the backbone of a popular leisure activity for locals and visitors alike. There is a national network of long distance and short walks as well as local networks. The route signage uses a system of colour coded bars which are painted on trees or posts at points where you have to make a decision about which way to go. The walks go through villages, fields, forests and along rivers and canals as well as sometimes along roads. Cyclists and horseriders are allowed to use them but motorised vehicles are banned unless indicated (motorised vehicles are allowed on the chemins blancs, for example, but are asked to 'respect' them; farm vehicles will use the tracks through agricultural land for access to their fields).

A communal route marker at Angle sur l'Anglin.
Red and white bars mean a grande randonnée (long distance) route, red and yellow bars mean a grande randonnée de pays route with features of natural or historic interest along the way and forming a circuit. Single yellow bars mean a promenade et randonnée (short day walk). Local authorities (communes) generally use single blue or green bars and their walks are usually circuits, often overlapping with the national network for part of the walk. Two bars set like an equals sign ('=') means straight ahead, a bar on top of a sideways L indicates which direction to turn and an X indicates that you should not go any further along the path. You turn in the direction of the long (horizontal) bar of the sideways L, which is generally pointed at the end as a visual aid to indicate the direction you should go.

A local (communal) walking path through the woods at Angles sur l'Anglin.

You are best to use a map in conjunction with the route markers. IGN, the French national mapping agency, has produced a series specifically for the national randonnée network. These are called TOP 100 maps. For even more detail go for the TOP 25 maps, which mark every little path and stream. You can buy them online directly from IGN, from outdoor shops or newsagents. Alternatively you can go to Géoportail, the French government interactive online map website and create your own route using several series of maps for free. 

Cycling through the Véron, the triangular area of land near Chinon formed by the Vienne coming to meet the Loire River, on a chemin blanc.

If walking between mid-September and the end of February, be aware that you could encounter a hunt in progress. You may feel more comfortable wearing a hi-viz vest during these months.

If the trail passes through forestry land be careful not to mistake forestry markers for trail markers. They are often on the same tree, but forestry markers are generally larger.


  1. I like the Geoportail site...
    thanx for the link...
    now I've finished "Hut 17" I think I'll be off there... it looks both fun and informative!!

  2. Tim: Géoportail is excellent.

  3. Thanks for this. We like to walk between meals when we're in France.

    Simon recommended Géoportail on your blog once and I've been using it ever since. The new version is not as good, so if you or Tim can figure out the search function, please let me know because I could use some help.

  4. Carolyn: It's changed again recently and improved. You need to have all scripts running and it sucks computing power though.

  5. I just saw your November comment, Susan, and I will check it out. Maybe there's hope for the mobile version as well.