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Oh mon frère, welcome to the land of great wine, better champagne, gastronomic delights and stunning scenic beauty! Southern France has it all. Here is a haven you can safely drift through and explore, sampling great wares, and meeting other backpackers on your trip.
The only catch you’ll find is that you need to be able to speak passable French, or else be prepared to have most French people looking down their nose at you for the duration of your trip.
The imaginary split between Northern and Southern France is accepted by many, is the stretch from Geneva down to Lyon, up to Clermont-Ferrand, then to Limoges and across to La Rochelle. Others say the split is from Aquitaine to Midi-Pyrenees, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur. Whatever your choice is for the invisible line, we’ve got a great backpacking option for you. Get a solar backpack to keep smartphones, tablets, laptops and music players charged up wherever the trail takes you.
Below is one of the historic trails which should take five days on to complete, with two days spare so you can spend some time browsing around each location, before heading onwards. Though almost completely forgotten, this route used to be one of the top pilgrimage trails for Christians in France.
The Historic Regordane ‘Royal Route’ Trail
Start your journey from the village of Langogne, which can be reached by the Cevenol mountain railway. Take some time to explore this historic town, and don’t forget to stop in and visit Lake Naussac, which is a perfect spot for an afternoon picnic. You can also visit the ancient circulade, which dates back to the 11th and 12th century.
After a day spent exploring and relaxing, you can awake the next morning and start your trip along the ‘Royal Route’, named after its 18th century paving stones. Your destination is La Bastide-Puylaurent.
Distance from Langogne to La Bastide-Puylaurent: 23.4 km.
Before arriving in La Bastide, you will pass Luc castle, which offers an opportunity for some lovely holiday photographs. While in La Bastide you can take a short trip to the nearby Trappist monastery, Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (Our Lady of the Snows), that was founded in 1852. The monastery is 1-2 miles east of the village, and if you’re lucky you may have an opportunity to spend time with the Monks.
The next portion of the trail is a hike over a high volcanic plateau, and along hill crests passing through a medieval village near the Chassezac gorge, before reaching your third stop at Villefort. While at the Chassezac gorge, stop in at La Garde-Guerin and view houses from the 15th century. The stone cross and the bread ovens are also several centuries old.
Distance from La Bastide to Villefort: 23.8 km.
Once in Villefort, rest your weary feet and take to the water at Lac de Villefort – a popular water sports area not far from the village. Once you’re done splashing about, visit some of the cafes and nearby restaurants, or check out the Chapel of Saint Loup, Pont Saint Jean, which has two Gothic arches from the 17th century. Spend the night in a comfortable youth hostel, and awake early the following day to start your trek to Genolhac.
On your way through to Genolhac, be sure to visit the cliff-top chapel, which is another purely picturesque site. Along this route there are several small villages which each have their own rugged charm; a few of them have historic Roman churches.
Distance from Villefort to Genolhac: 23.6 km.
If you’ve arrived in Genolhac and are looking for a warm meal stop in at the Snack Pizzeria Aigebelle, a small pizza shop with a beautiful rustic seating area and tree-hewn benches. Don’t be surprised if you see some friendly chickens scratching about your feet. Four kilometres away from Genolhac you can see the Jardin du Tomple, which has beautiful sculpted gardens. Spend the night here before heading onto Chambrigaud.
Distance from Genolhac to Chambrigaud: 20.5 km.
The small village of Chambrigaud is well known for the ancient viaduct, which was designed by Charles Dombre in 1867. As opposed to other bridges in this style, this one curves upstream. Chambrigaud offers visitors cosy taverns, ancient stone houses, and a number of other tourist sites.
Rest up and explore some of the hiking trails, or chat to the friendly locals (French required). The current population sits around 804 permanent residents, so personalised care is pretty much a guarantee. From here you can travel to Portes or Le Pradel via train to spend a half day in each location, soaking up the rich history all around.
- The best time to visit Southern France is April to June or September to October, as the weather is more amicable in these months. The accepted form of backpacking here is to travel from hotel to hotel (or hostel to hostel), while crossing between villages and travelling through the countryside.
- If you’re interested in visiting areas where English isn’t frowned upon, you’re better off going to Alpes de Haute Provence, Haute Savoire, Lot, Var, Aples Maritime or Dordogne. Many English speaking Frenchmen own accommodation and restaurants in these areas and are fluently bi-lingual.
- There are quite literally hundreds of youth hostels and hotels throughout France, so you should have no problem finding reasonably cheap accommodation regardless of what region you are in.
- The majority of the small villages along the way have rail stations, which means that you can hop on and pop off of the train if your feet are feeling weary.
- Southern France is a beautiful destination and although we haven’t even touched on the stunning vineyards or mountain trails that are available, you should take every opportunity to go adventuring further afield.
Author bio: Roseanna McBain writes for the TravelGround blog, and has a love of travelling, discovering different cultures, and admiring scenic beauty. She often attempts to recreate exotic cuisines from around the world, but sadly they don’t quite have the same pizazz.