Waymark on the trail to Drache, France, 2007.”
French Trails and the FFRP
FFRandonnée Leads the Way
The FFRP®, now re-branded as FFRandonnée®, is the administrative heart of the vast web of French long-distance hiking trails. If you’re planning to take a walk in France, this is prime resource dedicated to providing information to all randonneurs (hikers). The FFRandonnée Centre d’Information is in a nondescript office building not far from the Paris Métro station Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, on Line 14.
Téléphone: 01 44 89 93 90
A government-supported organization, FFRP oversees a vast network of over 180,000 kilometers (113,000 miles) of walking and hiking trails throughout France. The most famous are the 65,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of GR® sentiers de grande randonnée (long hiking trails), and GRP® sentiers de grande randonnée de Pays (rural or countryside hiking trails). The former are trails that span long distances across France (in some cases, from border to border, linking to other European trails, like the Caminos de Santiago de Compostela, in Spain). The GRP are shorter, regional multi-day routes, which often intersect or overlap their GR brothers and sisters.
Additionally, FFRP coordinates the squigglier 115,000 kilometer (72,000 mile) PR® randonnée pedestre (local footpath) system, composed mainly of day hikes in and around various localities. All of the trails are maintained by some 6,000 volunteers, who are members of various local hiking clubs.
What’s cool about the FFRandonnée system as a whole is that if you know what to look for, you can walk from almost any village in France to any other, on an organized, coordinated collection of paths that have been carefully chosen to be the optimal, safest way to get there on foot. This doesn’t mean it’s the shortest distance between two points (although some of them follow ancient, straight-as-an-arrow Roman roads), but you can trust they’ll be the quietest, most interesting way for walkers. Here you can see a typically discrete GR mark on a crosswalk sign in front of Notre Dame cathedral in the very heart of Paris. Wherever you are in France, if you see one of these white over red blazes – your on a trail.
“White over Red ~ Keep Walking Ahead”
FFRP also publishes a growing library of Topo-guides, an unmatched collection of trail guides containing detailed IGN topographical maps and concise route descriptions that follow the course of a trail as it winds across the landscape from village to village, and waymark to trail sign. The instructions are generally excellent. Where necessary, the detail zooms in to the level of, “… pass the church and take the second street to the right. Cross the river by the pedestrian bridge, and continue straight ahead up the hill. After 1 kilometer, take the dirt path to the left that crosses a field (southeast) toward the woods …” Of course, all of these instructions are in French, which may sound daunting, but in fact, with just a little practice and a small French-English Pocket Dictionary, you can get up to speed and feel comfortable quite quickly. (I know, from personal “fluentless” experience.)
Despite the growing number of foreign-language, non-francophone walkers in France, so far, the FFRandonnée website remains French-only (welcome to France!), but it still offers a lot of information for researching possible routes. [Note: Wherever possible on Longwalking.com, we link to specific pages of relevant topo-guides and other information.] Fortunately, in my experience, there has always been at least one person in the office (and hence, on the web) who can speak English. I’ve written to them for information and advice and received replies filled with detailed information about a given route, including distances, which maps and topo-guides (or other non-FFRP guides) are needed, etc.
If you haven’t yet learned to speak French, one way to write to them that has worked for me is to draft a simple letter in English. Then use a service like the Google Language Tool to translate your message to “Frenchish” (which is about as close as Google gets it). If you know someone who can review and correct your text, so much the better. Then send both the English and French versions in an email to info @ ffrandonnee . fr. If you keep your queries relatively short and simple, they’ll be able to decode your message and send a response – in French. Reverse the procedure, and you’ll have a pretty good idea what the reply is.
When in Paris, you can visit the friendly staff at the FFRandonnée Centre d’Information to obtain advice, and purchase topo-guides.
To get there by Métro, take Line 14 to the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand stop. After exiting the station, climb the stairs to Rue de Tolbiac and head southwest (left). Go two blocks to Rue du Dessous des Berges. It’s a one way street with traffic coming up from the left. There’s a Pizza Hut (Geesh – I thought I was escaping this for a couple of months!) on the corner. Turn left. The FFRP is in a building on the left a short distance after Rue Lerrede (also on the left). The building is marked 68 – 66 – 64, (and sometimes with graffiti).
For some reason I had a very difficult time tracking this place down on my first visit, which is why I’m providing these helpful hints. (My theory is that it’s because there are no GR trail marks leading to the door…)
To browse the topo-guide collection online, check out the FFRP Boutique. You can search for guides by region, department, and trail number. For an overview (in “Frooglish”) of some of the collections, go here.
Here’s a sample of the page about the famous Chemin de Stevenson, which retraces the route Robert Louis Stevenson walked through the Cevennes with his donkey, Modestine, in 1878. (A clever super-hyper-ultralight technique). You can more or less get the gist of the guide to see if it’s a walk you’d like to make.
One important thing to note toward the bottom, below the description, is a link to updates since the last revision. In this case, it’s new information about lodgings, which would be very handy to have. It’s designed to be printed out so you can include it in your own topo-guide.
Get to know FFRandonnée. Explore. There’s a wealth of information to help you get off to a great start and enjoy your next long walk in France.