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This article is the first in a series of 5 and is written by Andrew Hudson from the UK. It narrates his experiences of walking the Stevenson’s Trail in the Cevennes together with his friend John*.
In 1878 Robert Louis Stevenson walked from Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille in the Haute Loire to Saint-Jean-du-Gard in the Gard region of France. His main reason was to collect material for his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, which was published in the following year. Several years ago, my friend John and I followed in his footsteps on the GR70 (Grande Randonnee). There obviously are differences between Stevenson’s journey and ours. His trip was certainly ground-breaking at the time and by comparison, our walking holiday was actually rather easy.
Stevenson was by no means new to travel or walking. He had completed many walks in Scotland and England and had made a Grand Tour of Europe by train and stage-coach with his family in 1863 at the age of twelve. He chose to make his Cevennes journey in October of 1878. Stevenson suffered from (what is now thought to be) tuberculosis for most of his life and from which he eventually died, making his exploits all the more heroic.
Stevenson states the philosophy behind his Cevennes journey:
"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more clearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting who can annoy himself about the future.” – R.L. Stevenson in his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes
My attitude to our walk was to have a small adventure, sample the local French wines and delicacies, while staying firmly on the feather-bed of civilization.
In 1878, in rural France, few people had any idea why someone would want to make this journey without good reason. Some pointed out to him that only a century before, a wolf known as “La Bête du Gévaudan,” had killed over one hundred people, many of them children, by ripping their throats out, in an area he would be passing through. Although, during the Romantic Era, writers and poets had sung the praises of the Great Outdoors, anyone actually making this type of journey, was still looked upon as an eccentric, if not stark raving bonkers.
Now with lightweight clothing and boots, and a company like Sherpa Expeditions that transports luggage from one overnight stop to the next, with specialist maps and navigational aids, it is more of a relaxed saunter than a trek. Chemin du Stevenson is now a known destination in France and travellers of all types are catered for. Even so, this walking holiday in the Cevennes is still around 220 kilometres of hilly, sometimes mountainous, countryside and should not be taken too lightly.
Stevenson had no maps of a scale suitable for walking in the area he planned to walk. He did take a compass but his primary source of navigation seems to be by asking others the way.
I should say at this point that my hiking trip in the Cevennes was with my friend and we were both reasonably experienced walkers. John, my son’s father-in-law and also a friend, was a lovely man. He was a railway buff and so when I suggested this walk to him, I also asked him if he would like us to go by train leaving from England. He jumped at the chance and as he knew the railways much better than I did we agreed that he would arrange the trip for us. My part in the groundwork tended to concentrate on the wines of the regions which we would pass through.
John booked our hotels and luggage transfers through Sherpa Expeditions which simplified the arrangement as they offered maps and route notes for the itinerary we wanted to walk. He booked the trains separately and must have made a good job of it because both the outward and return journeys went like clockwork.
Walk the GR70 in France
*The author’s friend John was a big man in every way who loved life but is now sadly no longer with us. He was one of those people that enjoyed the planning as much as the holiday itself and the author had a memorable walking trip on the Stevenson’s Trail in France with him.
4 active holidays to discover the other side of the French Riviera, behind all the glitz and glamour
There is more in southern France than the Cannes Film Festival and, especially beyond the seaside town, there is plenty of choice for active south of France holidays. Traditionally, the world-renowned festival takes place at the beginning of May and this is also a fantastic time to go out and explore some of the 60.000km stretch of tracks and trails that France is known for.
So, if the Cannes Film Festival has put you in the mood to discover the other side of France, behind all the glitz and the glamour, you can choose from a selection of self-guided week-long breaks across the southern part of the country…
On the Massif Central, above the broad valley of the Rhone, lies a walker’s paradise of hills where the Ardèche, Loire and Haute Loire regions meet. This little-known watershed for some of France’s great rivers is a land of steeply terraced slopes, half-hidden valleys and tumbling streams. Massive ruined farmhouses seem embedded into the landscape and the bleat of goats and call of the wild birds are often the only sounds you will hear on your hike. This active holiday in the south of France begins to unfold with breath-taking views across the enchanting Doux Valley from Le Crestet, a medieval fortified village built on a rocky hill, and is available over either 8 or 10 days, with the longer option taking in the hauntingly beautiful ruins of the Chateau de Rochebonne overlooking the River Eyrieux.
>> Find all active holidays in Ardeche
Gain a unique insight into rural French life as you walk the secret hills and gorges of the Luberon – some of which plunge to depths of 30 metres. This region in the south of France brings holidaying walkers the pleasure of discovering mas (stone Provençal farmhouses) and ochre coloured hilltop villages. Starting in the heart of Papal Avignon, you will cross a revolving landscape through magnificent forests filled with oak, maples, cherry and fig trees, but also butterflies, owls and eagles. The famed Luberon Nature Park also includes a Geological Nature Reserve, whereas Buoux is one of the most famous rock climbing areas in Europe.
>> View our active and introductory walking holiday in the Luberon
Did you know? In France the carpooling app Bla Bla Car is a great way to cheaply and quickly travel between places if you like to save money on taxi rides and save time on train journeys.
In the autumn of 1878 Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, set out to walk across the Cévennes accompanied by “a small grey donkey called Modestine”. His journey inspired Travel with a donkey in the Cévennes, which has since become a travel classic. Starting in the Auvergne, this south of France holiday follows a winding route across a region that boasts great natural beauty, sad romantic ruins and is almost totally unspoilt.
>> Find out about two walking holidays in the Cevennes
Along footpaths dotted with cypress trees, crumbling farmhouses and lone chapels, this trip follows in the footsteps of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Take this southern France holiday to walk from St-Rémy to Les Baux-de-Provence and onto Arles, where the painter famously cut off his ear. Take in the sublime images of the region, with highlights including the Saint-Paul de Mausole monastery (where Van Gogh painted 150 paintings in a year!) and the painter’s much loved second home, the city of Arles, where he lived in the late 1800s.
>> Find all active holidays in the Provence or learn more about Van Gogh’s Provence
If these active south of France holidays have given you some ideas to add to your travel bucket list or if you have any questions on any of the above-mentioned suggestions, please feel free to get in touch with our team of dedicated travel experts.
Tour de France 2018 dates are slowly approaching and before you know, the official start from Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile (just off the coast of the Vendee) on July 7th will be here! It’s a unique opportunity to watch the Tour de France live in one of France’s charming towns. Spending some time with similar tour enthusiasts in high anticipation of the cyclists and then witnessing their speed and recognising famous participants will make for a lifetime memory.
This year, why not plan your summer holiday around the Tour de France dates and combine an active holiday in France with witnessing Le Tour for real? Whether you want to walk between vineyards in the Loire Valley, get lost in the Pyrenees – once a hideout for the Cathars, outperform yourself on Mont Blanc or traverse the remote countryside of Cevennes, below are six of the very best trips to combine with the Tour de France this year.
10 July: La Baule – Sarzeau >> Loire Valley
The ever-popular Sauvignon Blanc was one of the very first fine wines to be commercially bottled with a screw cap and the Loire Valley is known to be producing some excellent delicate varietals – especially the Upper Loire areas of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Pick a nice terrace in the shade and with a cool glass of white in your hand, watch the Tour de France cyclists pass by on one of the first stages between La Baule and Sarzeau.
Travel on the Vineyard Trails of the Loire and watch the Tour de France live >>
17-19 July: Annecy – Alp d’Huez >> Mont Blanc Region
This extended itinerary circumnavigates Mont Blanc and explores the surrounding alpine region. Faced with picture postcard vistas from every vantage point, this trek affords unsurpassed views of the different faces of the Mont Blanc massif, as well as the highest point on the Tour of Mont Blanc, the Grand Col Ferret at 2,537m. Take in glittering glaciers and spectacular mountainscapes – your bags and supplies will be transported for you, allowing for plenty of time to explore en route. Add some extra days to see the Tour cyclists climb some of France’s highest mountains.
Travel on the Tour de Mont Blanc and watch the Tour de France live >>
21 July: Saint-Paul Trois-Chateaux – Mende >> Cevennes
In the autumn of 1878 Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, set out to walk across the Cevennes accompanied by “a small grey donkey called Modestine”. His journey inspired Travel with a donkey in the Cévennes, which has since become a travel classic. Starting in the Auvergne, this trip follows a winding route across a region that boasts great natural beauty, sad romantic ruins and is almost totally unspoilt. Ahead or after your walking holiday, visit Mende to watch the tour de France live.
Follow Louis Stevenson’s Trail and watch the Tour de France in Cevennes >>
24 July: Carcassonne – Bagneres-de-Luchon >> Crusaders Cathar Castles
Joining in Toulouse, this walking quest in the foothills of the Pyrenees delves into the rich history of the Cathar Country of the Foix, Aude Valley and Corbières areas of Southern France. The trip follows the tragic fate of the Cathar heretics, whose parfaits or priests were burned at the stake or driven into hiding. As well as its rich and evocative historical heritage, the area offers outstanding scenery of wild flowers and fine local dishes and will make for a mountainous stage 16 of this year’s Tour.
Trace the footsteps of the Crusaders’ Cathar Castles and watch the Tour de France >>
24-26 July: Bagneres-de-Luchon – Pau >> Tarn & Aveyron
Our walking route winds between the ‘Bastides’ (fortified towns) that sprung up during the Wars of Religion: rich in history and situated in spectacular settings on rocky promontories, here every stop has a tangle of narrow medieval streets to wander and sweeping views from the rocky hilltops or ancient walls. The start and end point of this circular walking tour, through the departments of Tarn and Aveyron, is Cordes-sur-Ciel, the first and most important of the ‘Bastides’, founded in 1222.
Travel on the Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron trip and watch the Tour de France >>
27 July: Lourdes – Laruns >> Pyrenees
When the Greenwich Meridian was agreed upon as the international standard, the fact that it was passing through some of the most spectacular corners of the High Pyrénées was probably not a major consideration. Trip highlights on include the dramatic, natural ‘amphitheatre’ of Cirque de Gavarnie and the famous Brêche de Roland, a natural rock doorway into Spain. The latter location is closer to the 25 July stage of the Tour de France that finishes in Saint-Lary-Soulan.
Travel on The Meridian Way: Heart of the Pyrenees and watch the Tour de France >>
If you are curious to find the exact schedule and Tour de France dates for 2018, below map may give you some support:
For more information and booking details, please contact our team of travel experts via email, phone or drop into our office in London.
©Le Tour de France
There is an elaborate network of grande randonnées in France (literally "big hikes") that form part of the European long-distance footpaths. In the country alone, there is already a network of 60,000km of GR trail to discover. If that’s not enough, France has many other interesting long-distance footpaths that offer fabulous walking conditions.
Below, we selected five French long distance footpaths for you. No matter if you like to complete them in one go, like to break them up in separate sections, or just cover the best parts, as usual, our team in London can assist with your wishes.
Way of St James
Full Length: 1500km / 935 miles
Rustic and charming, this is one of our most popular trips, ideal for anyone who wishes to explore some of the more unusual, less visited landscapes of rural France, coupled with a flavour of the past and a dose of religious history. It covers a large swathe of the uplands of the Massif Central, taking a path that the early pilgrims walked to reach Santiago de Compostela about 1500 kilometres later.
>> See More & Walk this Long-Distance Footpath
Full Length: 180km / 112 miles
Dense maquis, mountain ridges and granite peaks that soar to 2,700m create a rugged terrain that is tempered by deeply wooded valleys, pine forest and cascading streams. This toughest of all grande randonnées in France starts in Corte’s old town, which clings to the steep slope below its majestic citadel. It then leads from the heart of the mountains across the north-south watershed to the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Along the way you will pass ancient villages that preserve century-old traditions and visit iconic rock formations such as Les Calanches.
>> See More & Walk this Grande Randonnée
Tour de Mont Blanc
Full Length: 170km / 106 miles
This self-guided, extended itinerary circumnavigates Mont Blanc via a network of footpaths to explore the surrounding alpine region. Faced with picture postcard vistas from every vantage point, on a two week trek you can enjoy unsurpassed views of the different faces of the Mont Blanc massif. The trails also lead you to the highest point on the Tour of Mont Blanc, the Grand Col Ferret at 2,537m.
>> See More & Walk this Long-Distance Footpath
GR70 | Stevenson’s Trail
Full Length: 274km / 170 miles
In the autumn of 1878 Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the book Treasure Island, set out to walk across the Cevennes region of France accompanied by “a small grey donkey called Modestine”. His journey inspired Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, which has since become a classic travel book. Starting in the Auvergne, this French long distance footpath follows a winding route across a region that boasts great natural beauty, sad romantic ruins and is almost totally unspoilt. Today it is known as the Stevenson’s Trail or Chemin Stevenson.
>> See More & Walk this Grande Randonnée
GR10 | The Meridian Way
Full Length: 866km / 538 miles
When the Greenwich Meridian was agreed upon as the international standard in 1884, the fact that it was passing through some of the most spectacular corners of the High Pyrenees was probably not a major consideration. Today, the line forms part of the grande randonnée GR10 that goes through the Haute Pyrenees. Highlights of the route include: the dramatic Cirque de Gavarnie, a natural amphitheatre 1,400m high; the spectacular Grande Cascade, whose 423m drop makes it the longest in Europe; and the famous Brêche de Roland, a natural rock ‘doorway’ into Spain.
>> See More & Walk this Grande Randonnée
You can find more information in the trip notes, which you can download via the blue button on each trip’s page. Or for other details and booking information, please do contact our team of travel experts by phone or email.
Rural & Unspoilt Destinations Great for Walking
Even though Europe is a highly developed continent, there still are plenty of destinations that are fantastic backdrops country walking holidays. For those of you who like to spend some time in rural communities and like to take in the unspoilt countryside, here are country walking destinations in France, Ireland and England.
Tarn & Aveyron, France
Picture a spectacular setting of rocky promontories or broad hills, like the Tuscan hill towns, rich in history with an intervening countryside that is a beautiful mixture of forests, fields and river valleys. This is the Tarn & Aveyron, about two hours driving north from Toulouse in southeastern France. Going on a country walking holiday in this region, you will notice a distinct lack of tourists. The route that we offer here has become one of our most venerated walks and one of our most popular tours in France. It’s a little different from our other hotel-based treks as you overnight in Chambres d’Hotes - literally ‘a room with your hosts’, and Table d’Hotes – ‘dinner with your hosts.’ Sit and eat with your hosts, enjoying a regional wine and try to engage in conversation to learn about their daily life.
Our beautiful country walk winds between the bastides, or fortified towns, that sprung up between the Cathar Crusades of the 1200s and the Wars of Religion in the 1500s, as well as vineyards, gorges, forests and rivers in rural France.
Want to visit Tarn & Aveyron yourself? You can, between May and September, on our 8-day self guided walking holiday in Tarn & Aveyron.
Lake District, England
Travel through England’s most rugged and mountainous landscape: the Lake District National Park. This part of the English country walking destination brings sensational woodlands and forests that provide a habitat for native English wildlife. Spot for example the red squirrel, one of the UK’s best-loved species. The countryside is celebrated not only by Beatrix Potter but also poets, authors and painters such as Wordsworth, Tennyson, Ransome and Wainwright. In between quaint market towns, the walking trails lead past the peaceful depths of Coniston Water and Derwentwater lakes, as well as the superb Tarn Hows, set in the wooded hills between the picturesque villages of Coniston and Langdale. Anybody looking for one of England’s best country walking holiday destinations, the Lake District in Cumbria should be high on your list.
Besides our 8-day Cumbrian Way: Crossing the Lake District walking holiday
, also our Coast to Coast walking holidays
cross the English Lake District.
Wicklow Way, Ireland
Starting in southwest County Wicklow, the route that we’ve set out in this southeastern part of Ireland passes through rural communities, old market towns and grand estates. The region has proved itself as one of the best country walking holiday destinations as it attracts walkers from across the world eager to explore one of the greenest parts of the ‘Emerald Isle’. The Wicklow Way is Ireland’s oldest waymarked trail through which you can experience a patchwork of landscapes. If you’re keen to cross country estates, heather-covered granite mountains, rolling green hills and tranquil forests this is a country walking holiday for you! You will also pass ‘the valley of two lakes’ and monastic settlements that date back to the 6th century on your way to the bright lights of Dublin…
Discover The Wicklow Way on a 7-day country walking holiday between March and October.
From Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy, the richly varied landscape and the historical treasures of Dorset have inspired generations of authors. On this country walking holiday, you cross unspoilt and peaceful rural villages. The route follows the coast as it stretches eastwards, along fossil-encrusted cliffs and the famed Golden Gap, a 190-metre headland of orange sandstone. Explore a timeless landscape of hidden valleys and hill forts before you drop down to the beautifully preserved village of Abbotsbury, which does not even have street lighting!
Follow the Dorset-Wessex Trails in the period from May until October on an 8-day self guided country walking holiday from Lyme Regis to West Lulworth.
Start in the French Cevennes at the extinct volcanoes to the north of the Massif Central and follow a winding route southwards across the more mountainous Cevennes on the eastern flank of the Massif Central. It is one of the remotest country walking holiday experiences you can get in France as this is the only French national park that is inhabited. We follow the route that in the autumn of 1878 was taken by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island) with his donkey Modestine. Their journey inspired ‘Travel with a donkey in the Cévennes’, which has since become a travel classic. Stevenson’s route can still be followed today without drastic modification: inns where Stevenson stopped still exist and at Notre Dame des Neiges, the monks from the book are still praying and brewing! Follow a winding route across a region that boasts great natural beauty, sad romantic ruins and is almost totally unspoilt.
You can choose between an eight or ten-day trip with excellent country walking following Stevenson’s Trail.
For more information on each of the regions and detailed information on these country walking holidays, please download the trip notes on each trip's webpage. If you like to speak to one of our travel consultants, please send us an email or contact us by phone and we’d be happy to discuss your requirements.