trail across stream, France, 2005

French Trail Maps ~ the IGN

The Espace IGN in Paris

The Institut Géographique National (French National Geographic Institute), or IGN, as it is commonly known, is the principal government mapping agency of France. The IGN creates, updates and publishes a wide range of map products that are available to the public. There are several of particular interest to long-distance walkers who are planning a hike through France. These are described below, but first a few facts:The Institut maintains a large retail outlet of its many cartographic materials, called

IGN sign

Espace IGN
107 rue La Boétie
75008 Paris

Espace IGN is open to the public from 9:30 – 19:00, Monday through Friday, and 11:00 to 12:30/14:00 to 18:30, on Saturday. It is just off the Champs-Élysées, a few blocks from the Arc de Triumph. The nearest metro stop is Franklin D. Roosevelt station, which is on both Line 1 and Line 9.

Although the IGN website has excellent English language support, on my visits to the espace itself, I found nobody on the staff who spoke English. They were all as helpful as possible, but you can expect to be somewhat on your own. (Note – this is one more excellent reason to learn French!)

First off, IGN produces carte (map) 903, which is a very useful planning tool for any longwalker. It highlights most (but not all) of the Sentiers de Grande Randonnée (long distance hiking paths) that crisscross France, and their connections to trails in bordering countries. The GR trails are clearly highlighted in red, and labeled by trail number (GR7, GR65, etc.) Some shorter regional trails are also indicated. The 903 is a great way to see the big picture of possibilities for a walk, especially on the established trails. You can find a 903 in better map stores in the US and UK, or here, at Amazon(Fr).

For more detail, there are the Top 100 maps, a new version of the classic Série Verte (green series). The new maps (which have bright yellow fronts), are enhanced with tourist, cultural and leisure features, including walking paths and mountain bike trails. The scale is 1:100,000. (Note ~ “Top” refers to “topographical”, not, as it might seem to an American, “the most popular” – as in the Rock and Roll Top 10) There are 20 maps in the Top 100 set, covering the entire country.

Moving in for a much closer look, are the Série Bleue (“Blue Series”) maps. Also referred to as Top 25 maps, it takes a full set of 1792 cartes to cover all of France at a scale of 1:25,000. American hikers are familiar with the similar USGS topo maps, which use a 1:24,000 scale.

The Fédération Francaise de la Randonnée Pédestre (French Long-distance Hiking Federation) uses 6 by 10 kilometer sections in their excellent series of trail guides, the FFRP Topoguides. With this in mind, it should be noted that it’s quite possible to walk anywhere in France simply by navigating with Série Bleue maps. You can create your own route. This is the method described by Bruce LeFavour in his excellent book, France on Foot. The “twenty-fives” for the local surrounding area are typically sold in tobacco stores (tabacs) and newsstands (agence presse), but in rural areas they are often out of stock. You could easily need 3 or 4 of these small-scale maps every day (and possibly more!), so keep this mind if you choose this method. At over 8 euros each, the cost could be impressive, as well.

In between the Green and Blue series maps, is the Série Orange, which are at scale 1:50,000. Pilgrims and travelers on horseback and bicycle may find these more useful. There are about 1,000 of them covering the whole country. IGN also produces a wide range of regional maps of various scales, which are useful for studying larger sections of the country. There are many other kinds of maps sold by IGN, and it’s worth spending a little time exploring their website.

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