We are always being told in the media that exercise is good for us, but sometimes it is not easy to find an activity that we can afford, or find the time for. Hiking, or even taking a gentle stroll, is a popular sport that fulfils both categories. With the wonderful range of French countryside there are walks available to suit all ages and levels of fitness. Even in the cities, such as Paris, there are pleasant walks along the river banks and these have the advantage of being fairly level, so less strenuous!
For the more active, it is possible to find many beautiful walks in France, from high level hikes in the French Alps, for which a guide may be advisable, to coastal paths or forest walks. For the less active walking is something that we can do almost without realising it. Just walking instead of taking a short bus or tram ride can help to keep us fit and many cities have “special interest” walks which take in architectural places of interest or other historical features.
There are 180,000 km of footpaths in France, so there is something for everyone, even the most intrepid walker. If you are going as a family, especially with younger children, it is best to choose a shorter walk, (3-4 km max) that can be achieved in less than two hours and have a play value: discovery of a lake where they can swim, a cave or a castle. The monotony of a repetitive activity such as walking can tire quickly, so it is advisable to use ruses to discover natural wonders, animals or to invent games to maintain the children’s interest. From around age twelve years or so, they are strong enough to go on more taxing routes, whilst adults are limited only by their physical fitness and motivation.
The equipment you need is simple and inexpensive. A strong pair of comfortable shoes is required for most hikes, with waterproof boots with good soles being advisable for rough terrain and mountains. A backpack is very convenient to carry a picnic, waterproofs and camping equipment for camping enthusiasts. Maps, compass, GPS and an altimeter could be useful for the most adventurous to find new paths in the French hills and mountains. A pair of sticks, if you wish, and you're ready to travel the world.
Hiking uses muscles in legs, back and arms and is beneficial for endurance and fitness in general. But even more, it is food for the mind, especially when hiking in France, in beautiful scenery: it promotes a form of meditation which is very useful against stress; it allows a special contact with nature. Conducted with a group of friends, it allows an unparalleled opportunity for relaxed, friendly conversation.