The Bogtrotter

French Walks

Walk in the land of the menhirs

by on Sep.17, 2013, under French Walks, Walks

Any Asterix fan will tell you that a menhir is an ancient standing stone. Whilst they are spread all across France, there is a curious concentration of them in the northern Cevennes and this walk takes in many of them.

CombettesThe “Balade au pays des Menhirs” is a 3.5 mile circular walk in the Lozere department in southern France. It takes about two hours to complete the loop, but you will travel back in time through Millennia.

The walk starts from a signed car park on the road from Le Pont de Montvert to Mende. From here you cross a couple of fields, then turn left and follow a farm track with hedges on either side as you descent downhill into dense pine forests. Almost as soon as you enter the woods you start to see menhirs, standing upright in small clearings in the forest. Modern man has worked around these ancient landmarks, leaving them untouched over thousands of years.

The track continues to descent until you emerge into rolling farmland, with a wide vista of the resplendent Gorges du Tarn opening out before you. After 2 miles you reach the tiny hamlet of Combettes, which provides the pretty rustic idil that seems to typify rural France. As you enter the hamlet, a small building on your left (which is actually an old bread oven) houses a permanent exhibition on “Mont Lozere before history”. (continue reading…)

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Sentier des Douaniers – part two

by on Mar.28, 2009, under France, French Walks

In part one of the Sentiers des Douaniers walk we went from Maccinaggio around the coast to Barcaggio, where we spent the night. Now we complete the second half of the walk around to Centuri.

From Barcaggio the next stage is a simple walk along the coast to Tollare, the only other habitation on the route. This stretch give you the best views of the Ile de la Giaglia, a small island of the north coast.

View out to sea

View out to sea

Tollare is also the last place you can get water, so make sure you have enough before you set off. From here you start to climb up onto the grassy hills, then you see the Capo Grosso lighthouse down at the foot of the hills to your right. This part of the route is very exposed with no shade, so is best avoided in the middle of the day during the summer. But the views across the maquis scrub out to see are spectacular. The sense of isolation is great, with the trail cutting through the maquis is the only sign of human activity.

The route then starts to gently descend off the hills as you work your way down to the fishing village of Centuri, where the Sentier ends. The village peeks in and out of view as you slowly wind round the slopes towards it, but eventually you come to a few houses and then the village opens up in front of you.



Centuri is a typical picturesque mediterranean fishing harbour, with several small bar restaurants and a few shops. The ideal place to relax and have a drink before making your way back.

The final challenge is for us was to return to our starting point at Macinaggio. We walked up the only road into Centuri until we reached the main road, and then hitched back (which worked for us). All told, this was a fantastic coastal walk with a multitude of interesting things to see on the way.

Before you start the walk – visit the tourist office in Macinaggio which gives out a free map and route description of the trail (a poor quality copy is available on the web site).

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Le Sentier des Douaniers – a walk into the wilderness

by on Mar.21, 2009, under France, French Walks

The Sentier du Douaniers (which translates as the custom officers path) follows the coast around the tip of Cap Corse, the long peninsula that sticks out from the northern end on the island of Corsica. The first half of the walk is fairly flat, but the second half in more demanding with more hills.

The route is just under 20km and could be completed in one day (official guides say 7h45 minutes of walking), but we chose the more leisurely approach of doing it over two days with an overnight stop in a hotel.

View back to Macinaggio

View back to Macinaggio

The walk starts in the small village of Macinaggio, which has a tourist marina and a couple of shops where you can get your provisions. From Macinaggio the route heads north along the coast – just walk along to the end of the beach and follow the path. After walking around the first headland you drop to a beach where the only things that are normally found sunbathing are the local cows. As you walk along the path you cannot fail to smell the mixture of scents from the “maquis”, the herbs and shrubs that make up the vegetation that covers the landscape.

Tour De Santa Maria

Tour De Santa Maria

The next bay contains the ruin of the Tour de Santa Maria tower stands with it’s feet in the water. Dramatically sliced in half, the remains of this three storey tower sit just off the beach and you can walk across to it to have a look at what’s keft.

Continuing along this classic coastal walk you see the Tour d’Agnello tower standing proud on a small headland marking the north-eastern point of the island. Before you reach the tower the path cuts inland, away from the cliffs, before turning and following a track straight down to the tower.

You then drop down to the beach which gently curves round the bay. As you leave the far end of the beach you enter Barcaggio, the small village that is the half-way point on the walk. We then stayed the night in Barcaggio’s only hotel – the Hôtel La Giraglia (Open 01/04 to 30/09 – Tél 04-95-35-60-54). The hotel has no restaurant and no televisions. But who needs a tv when you can leave your bedroom window open and listen to the waves gently lapping against the shore. This has to be one of the most remote-feeling hotels I’ve ever stayed at – a real place to “get away from it all”.

If you do stay overnight you need to consider where you will eat. Barcaggio only has one restaurant – U Pescadore which specialises in seafood and is in an ugly prefab building on the quayside (Tel 04-95-35-61-64). It is only open from June to September and otherwise it is 7km to Chez Néné on the main road.

From Barcaggio the Sentier des Douaniers continues round to Centuri Port, which is covered in part two of the walk.

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Etretat – beach walk on the wild side

by on Feb.09, 2009, under France, French Walks, Walks

Chalk cliffs of Etretat

Chalk cliffs of Etretat

Those looking for a challenging but spectacular coastal walk should head for Etretat in France, where the chalk cliffs rising up from the English Channel create the magnificent image of the Alabaster Coast.  Etretat is a pretty little coastal town which is now a tourist honeypot, and the start of one of the best short walks you will ever do.  With the beach section only accessible at low tide you need to check the local tide times and ideally start about an hour before low tide.

As low tide approaches a group begins to gather at the western end of Etretat beach, and you can sense something is about to happen.  A short walk across the seaweed-covered rocks (and a splash in the rock pools if you’re so inclined) takes you to a metal ladder fixed to the cliff.  Climb up the ladder to a ledge and you can then walk through the tunnel carved out of the rock.  You are now the other side of the Failaise D’Aval arch, and on a much quieter beach enclosed by the mountainous strata-lined chalk cliffs.  Carry on across this pebble beach – with the Mannaporte Arch in front of you striding out into the sea.  When you reach the next arch go though this and down a ladder to reach another enclosed beach.  This one has a beautiful waterfall cascading down the cliff – the perfect place to stand and cool off from the summer heat.

Waterfall on the beach

Waterfall on the Beach

One feature of this walk is it’s challenging nature. This is one place the Health and Safety brigade have failed to reach.  The rocks are slippery, the ladders are exposed, and there are no handrails or barriers on the open ledges.  It is not unneccessarily dangerous and can be done by any reasonably active person, but is not for those of a nervous disposition!

Arch through the rock

Arch through the rock

Another archway to go through to reach the final beach – from a distance I think this one looks like a silouette of the queen on a postage stamp.  This final beach is probably the best for sunbathing – and is much busier than the previous two.  At the end of this beach is a roadway which cuts through the cliffs.  From this road you can join the cliff path and follow this all the way back to Etretat.  The clifftop walk gives stunning views of the chalk cliffs – which seem to go on forever into the distance.

In the summer there are large crowds on the cliffs, and the numbers increase the closer you get back to Etretat.  But it is easy to see why – the scenery is unsurpassed.  Once you are back in Etretat – head for one of the great restaurants where you can try the local seafood (highly recommended) washed down with a glass or two of Normandy cider and calvados.

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