Friday, 2 April 2010

Hiking in the Languedoc

Hiking in Languedoc is an exceptional experience and the tours listed below are exceptional walking holidays in France. Please click each one or scroll on down the page for background information on some remarkable long distance trails for hiking in Languedoc.
A.The Stevenson Way (GR 70) As far as the rating of walking tours in France goes, this hiking trail is often ranked in the top ten. It is a trek that takes you from Le Monastier, near Pay-en-Velay in Haute Loire, to St Jean-du-Gard in The Cevennes, a distance of 156 miles or 252 kilometres.
Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, first published in 1879, was one of Robert Louis Stevenson's earliest works. Admired by the likes of John Steinbeck, it is considered a pioneering classic of outdoor literature and one that set the standard for the whole travelogue genre that was to follow by presenting hiking and camping outdoors as a recreational activity. Futhermore, Stevenson's hiking in France can be considered as a catalyst for the whole back to nature and modern hiking sports and social genre. 

The Book relates Stevenson's twelve-day, solo hiking trip through the thinly populated and impoverished areas of south central France and into the Cévennes. He spent a few months planning it from Le Monastier before he departed and, whilst twelve days is perhaps the optimum period for accomplishing this delightful walking tour in France, the minimum time required is nine.
Stevenson was bedeviled with poor health for most of his life and some argue that this trek hastened his departure from the world; not due to the level of difficulty of the French walking trails themselves, but because he developed a penchant for sleeping out rough at night that few others would undertake nowadays. Thankfully the quality of accommodation that can be found along the entire length of the modern Stevenson Trail obviates the necessity to have recourse to a tent.
Stevenson was in his late twenties when he undertook his long-distance trekking in France and the route he took was not of any particular significance prior to his visit. His objectives were simply to visit some of the places in The Cevennes that had become household names during the Uprising of 1702 and, along the way, try to forget his American ‘lost love’.
Stevenson’s route, aka The GR70, can nowadays be walked for purely recreational purposes, and in relative comfort, from April to October respectively. For those who enjoy backpacking, walking Languedoc is a must.
B. Roman Roads - The Via Domitia
The Celts preceded the Romans in Languedoc-Roussillon. Having arrived from Northern Europe, they settled and rarely travelled, and brought in their provisions by sea. In contrast, for reasons of Empire construction and maintenance, The Romans were much travelled and constructed fine and straight roads or ‘vias’ on which to do so.

hiking Languedoc
The most important of such roads in France, The Via Domitia, joined Rome with Spain and traversed the south coastal strip of France along what is now called ‘La Languedocienne.’ It was constructed by Emperor Dominus Eanobarbus in 118 BC.
A good part of the route still remains as it traverses The Region from Beaucaire in The Gard to Spain. Once it reaches the Pyrénées, it splits into two paths: the Eastern Route follows the coast down to Portus Vénéris (Port-Vendres) whilst the alternative path goes via Perthus Pass in French Catalonia, crossing Cerdagne by la Via Confluentana. Most of this is now covered by the RN116.
All along the route The Romans placed monolithic stones of around 2 metres in height called ‘borne Milliaires’ at a distance of one mile from each other. They were engraved with the name of The Roman Emperor. The first of these monoliths can be found 2 kms west of Beaucaire. The UK has of course kept faith with such an ancient measurement. Just like today, there were locations en route that served as staging posts and watering holes. Perhaps the most noteworthy along the route is the town of Salses. The surface of the Via Domitia was not paved or cobbled, except for the parts inside towns or at major crossroads.
Credits: This map is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. The map comes from the Wikipedia article "Via Domitia".
Further Reading:
Visit the excellent site The Roman Roads in the Mediterranean.

C. The Regordane Way
Arguably the most celebrated ancient French route, and one of the best ways of walking Languedoc, La Régordane’s history goes back to classical antiquity, but its origins are thought not to be Romanesque but Gaulist. It is the southern section of the route that links Paris to Nimes and beyond, and the part referred to as Le Chemin de Regordane is strictly speaking the part between Luc in the department of Lozere and Alès.

Its halcyon days were from the twelfth century onwards, when goods travelled along its course from the Mediterranean ports like Montpellier, Aigue-Mortes and Saint-Gilles to Parisian tables. An important pilgrimage route, linking to the Chemin de Saint Jacques (see below), its upkeep suffered with the lack of Church funds following the Albigensian Crusade. When Gaul spread eastwards, The Rhone Valley took precedence and, whilst it had something of a second wind at the time of the industrial revolution, it was short lived once railroads became the preferred means of shifting bulk resources.
Some of the old route follows the Chemin de Fer and, whilst a good deal has been paved over, the preservation of this jewel of French heritage remains a battle for the future that all enthusiasts of walking holidays in France should actively support.
Further Reading:
1. For more on The Regordane, visit the official Portal, Regordane Info
2. Hiking the Regordane Way.
3. Read our article on The Regordane.
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