What is a GR route? French footpath signs (hiking trails) explained
It took me years to understand the logic of French footpath signs, finally resolved by attending a weekend course for baliseurs, the volunteers who actually paint the signs. You can read more about this fascinating experience inThe Nature of the French. The most revealing thing I learned was that the signs are meant to be discreet. Practical usefulness is all very well, I was told, but aestheticism is more important. Not all French walkers agree. A helpful French website explaining how not to get lost when following the signs is http://www.randonner-malin.com/le-balisage-en-randonnee-ce-que-vous-devez-savoir/
The footpath signs were created by the FFRP (Féderation Française de la Randonnée Pedestre, https://www.ffrandonnee.fr/), the equivalent of the Ramblers’ Association in the UK or the American Hiking Society in the US. Their volunteers are responsible for maintaining the system of letters and coloured markings which help you find your way across country. These waymarked footpaths are shown in red on the IGN (Institut Géographique National) large-scale maps.
On the ground the red and white or yellow markings are deliberately rather discreet, usually painted at eye level on a tree or lamp-post. However, once you start looking for them you will notice them everywhere, including central Paris. It is generally a good idea to follow the FFRP paths, which avoid busy roads as far as possible, sometimes leading to an unsuspected underpass or taking you through a pretty wood.
Footpaths are classified as follows:
GR (Grande Randonnée): Major footpath crossing several regions. Red and white stripe.
GRP (Grande Randonnée de Pays): Major footpath circling an entire region. Red and yellow stripe.
PR (Promenade et Randonnée): Shorter circular routes taking one to eight hours. Yellow stripe.
Two horizontal stripes mean you are on the right path, a horizontal stripe above a right or left angle means turn right or left at the next fork and a horizontal cross means you will stray off the path if you take this route. More unusually, two horizontal stripes with a vertical line through them indicate that the path is a diverticule, a waymarked deviation from the main one.
I’m delighted to announce that the fully revised and updated third edition of An Hour From Paris is out now as a Kindle book (with a clickable Index) from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.fr.
The print edition will be released in April 2017 and can be pre-ordered now from Amazon.co.uk
View the first few pages and a sample chapter here.
I’ve re-organised the chapters by station of departure instead of alphabetically and listed the daytrips in descending order of journey time. So, for example, the quickest journeys from the Gare de Lyon are shown first. I’ve also added an optional walk and map to the Ile du Martin Pêcheur chapter and completely re-written the Getting around the Ile de France chapter, as so much has changed. One of the best changes is the extension of the Navigo zone for Paris to cover the entire Ile de France, seven days a week, for the same price as the old Paris pass.
I’m in the process of revising 10 new daytrips less than 30 minutes from Paris by train to be called Half An Hour From Paris.
As the name implies, La Ferté sous Jouarre is actually two small towns. La Ferté is in the Marne valley and Jouarre is on a hill about 3 km away. Above is a photo of Martine (standing), the 68-year-old owner of the café Chez Martine in La Ferté. She tells me she is thinking of retiring in two years as she runs it single-handed. We sympathise – it’s an all too familiar story – and then go on to road test my directions for the country walk to Jouarre.
It seems much quicker than when I first did it, as I now know exactly where I am going. There is no need to revisit the Merovingian crypt at Jouarre as I have already photographed it. There is a cloudburst while we are there so we shelter in the deserted giftshop of the Benedictine abbey, the only place which seems to be open, and I end up buying two tiny handmade cards decorated with pressed flowers. Also, some home-made local fruit jellies which are so delicious that we finish the lot. The old nun at the till, on hearing we are about to walk back to La Ferté in the rain, says ‘Quel courage!’ My friend, being Scottish, looks up at the murky grey skies and says ‘It’s clearing up’ and sure enough, after a few minutes the sun comes out and the countryside beneath us is bathed in sparkling light.
We are almost back at La Ferté when I see from the map that there is a promising detour along the Petit Morin river to where it joins the River Marne, which we don’t have time to try out. There is also a protected wood on the other side of the station which I have decided to exclude from the book, as it looks as if a ramble there might take all day and the Merovingian crypt is the point of the visit. But it’s an excellent reason to go back for the fun of it – and to test out that little detour before I draw my map.
I have never experienced a march quite like this one. The sheer number of people massed in the streets around the Place de la République made it impossible to move after a certain point. I gave up trying to reach my group of English journalists at the planned rendezvous and stayed motionless for nearly two hours, packed shoulder to shoulder with another group of journalists who had come by coach from Belgium and were bound for the same meeting point 200 metres away.
Apart from the Belgians, I seemed to be the only non-French person there. But the French around me came in all colours, sizes, religions and age groups. Most had placards saying ‘Je suis Charlie’ and some read ‘Je suis flic (cop), je suis juif, je suis la République’. Many had tricolours, ready to be waved, and larger flags hung from the balconies and windows over our heads, whose occupants were leaning out. The mood was good-humoured and, above all, expectant.
From time to time a rumour would sweep the crowd that we were finally about to move and applause rang out, only to die down as it became obvious that we weren’t going anywhere. One of the Belgians gallantly held a placard over my head during a brief shower. Looking up, I noticed a police sniper on the roof of the building opposite and a man who had wrapped himself around a traffic light acted as a lookout for all of us, but with nothing to report. Finally, we were reduced to watching tv coverage of François Hollande and other leaders in the Place on another man’s Iphone, which he held up to be seen by the people pressed around him.
On the last sunny Sunday in October I found myself on a quiet country road, two kilometres from Maintenon, which is 90 km but less than an hour from Paris by train, clutching an out of date map. My research companion, who is great on sampling restaurants but not so keen on walks, had just informed me that he could go no further, and preferred to walk back to the station, via the château. The 4,000 year old dolmens I had lured him with were nowhere in sight and the road seemed endless.