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DISCOVER FRANCE ON FOOT: GET READY TO BE SURPRISED

August 2, 2018

Get your backpack ready, you'll rush to France after seing this video

2PVA COUNTRY EPISODES FRANCE

Get ready to discover France in a totally different way! We thought we knew our country but discovering it thru-hiking is something unique.  From the Pyrenees to the Alps, we found wild and desert places, strong terroirs, proud and generous people. This is how we will remember our crossing of France.

Download our GPX itinerary in France

 

Before being there, we had not imagined that, at the end of May, it would be difficult to find a negotiable passage in the Pyrenees. And yet, crossing the French border turned out to be difficult because of all this snow. Even if we prepared our thru-hike of Europe as much as possible, we could not predict EVERYTHING (fortunately) and even less the vagaries of the climate. With patience and research, it is finally at 2,000 meters high, near Puigcerda, that we entered our home country!

 

 

Overall, since the beginning of the trip, we have not been blessed by the weather. Where, in Portugal, they had not seen rain for 2 years, we had it for 3 weeks, day and night! The Spaniards told us that, in man's memory, we have never seen a winter so long and rigorous... In France, the daily storms almost did not leave us in peace until mid-July! Since we got in France, we have heard an "explanation": it is the year of the thirteen moons. The lunar month being slightly shorter than the solar month, in 2018, there will be 13 full moons. An old popular belief associates these years with natural disasters, particularly rainy periods and harmful to harvests. Funny year for an ultralight hiking trip across Europe!

 

 

It is in this humid atmosphere that we found France and quickly welcomed our sixth guest. Fran @frantictwalks is the editor of the website seizeyouradventure.com which tells the adventures and sporting achievements of people suffering from epilepsy.

 

Shortly after, Rémi @lenomaderandonneur joined us. Trek instructor, Rémi experienced everything during his stay: the changing weather, waiting for parcels, hard days of hiking, working days, great encounters…

 

 

 

If some pessimists told us that taking two steps towards the others being well received would be more difficult in France than elsewhere, we quickly had the confirmation that they were wrong. Obviously the fact that we are French, that we can talk about our project in our mother tongue helped to overcome a few barriers. Still, the welcome was generous, sincere and spontaneous and we stayed 60% of the time in local houses!

 

 

The list of unusual places in which we slept continued to grow: in a barn, in a cave, in a fruit and vegetable shack, in a winery where we probably should not have been, on the beach, on the stage of a village hall, in a farm...

 

 

Before leaving the mountains, we still had a good time bathing in the beautiful hot springs of Fontpédrouse and took a little history lesson spending a night in Latour-de-France, first French village after the border before the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 grants territories to France.

 

 

Then, finally, we reached one of the central points of our project: the Mediterranean! It is true, even if our curiosity pushes us to go to visit some neighboring countries, our thru-hike in Europe strives to discover the European countries which border the Mediterranean (except island countries). We were looking forward to seeing it! Our many meetings with the sea have been interspersed with returns inland, largely because, unfortunately, the Mediterranean coast is densely built. Still, we managed to find sublime and wild places.

 

 

The Gruissan ponds within the Narbonnaise Regional Park represent a unique natural heritage, a reserve for exceptional flora and fauna and rare colors. It is also one of the places where Marie spent a lot of holidays and where she was happy to come back.

 

 

The Camargue... It is hard to find the words to describe how we were surprised by this place. Obviously, the colors of the salt marshes took our breath away, of course the flamingos, herons and other birds in profusion, as well as the typical Camarguais horses marveled us, but what surprised us the most was the desert. On Vincent's advice, that we had met a little earlier, we wanted to go through Beauduc. Since Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer, we chose to go by the beach. A slight crust of salt covers a part of the beach, making it more passable, loaded as we are. We walked this coast for almost 24 hours and we spent the night on the beach without meeting anyone. It is the most gigantic beach we have ever seen, it is a desert of sand and salt, it is an unforgettable experience.

 

Arrived at Beauduc, we discovered hundreds of kite surfers coming from all over the world to ride this mythical spot.

 

 

Ok, we forget a detail that will seem insignificant after all this beauty: mosquitoes. On the beach where there was a little wind, we were spared, however in the marshes around the fortified city of Aigues-Mortes, we spent a terrible night. In Camargue, it is not good to sleep under a tarp, even tinkered with a last minute mosquito net.If we are regularly warned against bears, wolves or even dogs that we may come across on the way, we assure you that mosquitoes and ticks are much more terrifying for us! We often say that if we return from this thru-hike of Europe without any of the diseases they transmit, it will be a great victory…

 

 

Arriving at Carry-le-Rouet, we discovered a completely different decor that would follow us for some time: creeks. Until Marseille, we followed the GR®51 in a sumptuous setting of turquoise waters and idyllic coves.

 

 

After Marseille, we hiked it is in the National Park of the Calanques. It was without a doubt one of the most beautiful days of the trip, but the big drop, the rocky and sometimes slippery terrain, the unbearable heat and, consequently, the lack of water made it one of the most difficult days.

 

 

Our feet still remember these hard days. By the way, let's talk about our feet. On the health side, we are in great shape for almost 6 months now but we must admit that our feet have seen better days. The blisters, we make it our business, we know how to avoid them and they have not been a problem since our departure. However, the feeling of having two pieces of wood at the end of the legs each morning, we discovered it! The funny part is that we have pain when we do not walk. Nevertheless, it sometimes becomes worrying. Well, we know that we should stretch more, massage regularly, we are sometimes a little lazy on this side. We just hope that they will hold out for the remaining 7,000 km of our trip... on foot.

 

 

We arrived in Cassis exactly one month after our entry into France and without having found anyone to interview. Via the French Federation of Hiking of Bouches-du-Rhone, we met Bernard Bonetto. Bernard guided us between Cassis and La Ciotat among the superb Soubeyranes cliffs. He has devoted his life to the sporting community, especially with the association Ambition Réussite, but we do not tell you more, look at this:

 

 

Our last meeting with the sea was in Porquerolles. Difficult to avoid it there, it is an island, one of three of the Port-Cros National Park. Although Nil knows it like the back of his hand, spending the majority of his holidays as a child, she has still reserved a few surprises. Accompanied by four motivated people, we hiked around the island on foot, 35 km and comparable conditions to the Calanques. Those who thought they knew perfectly the island, had to admit they have never seen it that way!

These few days in Porquerolles were also an opportunity to spend some comforting family time.Porquerolles also witnessed an emotional sequence since we organized the first public screening of our videos!

 

 

But in France, we have not seen stick to the sea, far from it.

 

In Hérault, we gave ourselves a getaway in the largest city crossed since the beginning of the trip: Montpellier. We spent a weekend at Marie's father's house, but we kept busy. The annual fanfares festival was held that weekend, as it was done on purpose!

 

 

In the small villages of southwestern France, something recurrent struck us. It is the smallness of what the inhabitants consider as "their place", "their corner". A city or a village located 20 or 30 km away is already elsewhere, another region, another terroir, it is already too far for them to feel they have something in common.

 

Yet we found them at least one thing in common: their passion for hunting, more than for collecting waste…

 

1KG FOR THE PLANET

 

And yet, from one end of the department to the other, from one end of the country to the other (and as we are more and more sure, from one end of Europe to the other), we found open and generous people, people who sometimes had little but still had a lot to give. Many times, we found our bill already paid, for a few hours or a few days we shared the lives of families, couples or lonely people that we left, as always, with great emotion.

 

Arriving in the Pre-Alpes d'Azur Park, we came back to the memories of our first preparation trip that we did almost to the day a year earlier. On the heights of Grasse, we found the Trail of Heaven, along the Foulon Canal, this rusty pipe that weaves along the mountainside and under refreshing tunnels.

 

 

During these days of heavy heat, very humid and with a lot of elevation, not being able to wash every day was a real lack of comfort for Marie. But she is a very creative person :)

 

Before leaving France, we crossed a third national park. Our first day in the Mercantour had a nice surprise for us. We had the chance to visit the Alpha Park, dedicated to the mythical animal of Mercantour: the wolf. Back in France since 1992, the wolf is controversial in the region, between shepherds who had previously lived without it and those who welcome the return of this protected species that almost disappeared in Europe. Three immersive scenographies expose, without bias, the different points of view on the presence of the wolf in France. Vincent accompanied us throughout our visit.

 

 

Speaking of the Mercantour, do you remember Andrea? This Italian cowherd who had welcomed us last year and who we interviewed. This year, we made him a surprise visit at the end of the day during the milking. The Vacherie du Collet is located near the village of Mollières, a village that was still Italian before World War II. Andrea, his wife Barbara, their four children, Federico who spends the summer season with them and their 270 animals make twice a year the transhumance between Cuneo, Italy, and Mollières, by putting to their cows these big bells which tell the story of the family and the herd that is a little part of the family: "this cow, it was me who gave birth to it, her mother, it is my father who did it and his grandmother... it was my grandfather ".

 

 

If the thirteen moons did not give us a lot of respite in terms of climate, we must admit that we had the chance to finish our thru-hike France in beauty. Without being fans of football, the excitement of the World Cup and the victory of the French team was quite communicative. Although, we hardly dare to admit it to you, we were counting on a victory of Croatia to draw us their sympathy next autumn.

 

On July 14 (French National Day), a beautiful fireworks was even organized to celebrate the end of our French stay.

 

We have discovered our country in a new way and with totally new eyes. We arrived with the preconceptions of people who believe they know something and those clichés were turned upside down, for our greatest pleasure.We start this crossing of the alpine arc with a lot of excitement and a little apprehension, physically it will probably be another kettle of fish that the Camargue....

 

 

See you soon!

Marie & Nil

 

 

- Read the previous article: Discovering another Spain: a 1,500km thru-hike

- All our videos on our Youtube channel

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