Walking trip in France: the first 9 months

What to remember from this walking trip in France, after eighteen months of hiking? A look back at the first nine months of walking across France on the diagonal of the void. By putting all these (good) moments together, does this great crossing that is coming to an end draw something? From the Ardennes to the Indre, the adventure at least keeps all its promises. A breaking-in week in the heart of the Ardennes. First hikes, first bivouacs, first encounters... Exalted by the beauty of the forests and wild valleys, the enthusiasm of the first days quickly gives way to doubt... Will my body keep up with the pace of the trip under the weight of my backpack? How can I talk about France with a smile without falling into foolish angelism? How can I let chance get in the way of my busy schedule? That's the magic of the walking trip. The encounters follow one another and are not alike. Without having to force the line, this trip to France promises to be an adventure.

In the Ardennes, the weather is thickening!

In the Ardennes valley, something is wrong. Postcard-like villages, proprussian streets, model houses and flowery gardens... Everything is too smooth here. The pretty movie set at the pointe de Givet hides something unhealthy. I walk along the Meuse. In Sedan, the cowboys are fishermen and the Ardennes look like far-east. There's beer and chips, counter stories, a few fishing sessions and the blues of a town with the air of a sleeping beauty... I cross the border from the Ardennes to the Meuse by hitch-hiking boat no less excited than if I crossed the equator!

In Meuse, off-piste trek in the heart of the matter

The Ardennes were an appetizer. In the Meuse, the diagonal of the void is revealed: fewer villages, less network, fewer bakeries, fewer bistros... On foot, across fields, everything takes on another dimension. Less fast, less high, less far... This is the motto of this walking trip in France. I spend more time in people's homes than on the road. I spend more time in people's homes than on the road," says Jacques, "I spend more time at Jacques' place in the Argonne, riding around on a donkey during the day and playing concerts at night. It's nice to live under the sound barn. In Fresnes-au-Mont, inhabitants and artists create artistic routes. This is Le Vent des Forêts, an open-air art gallery. At Martine and Christian's, at the Clé des champs farm, rural tourism has a taste of jam.

In Haute-Marne, nature takes over

Summer's here, and with it the heat wave. Hiking in Haute-Marne will be done in the shade of the forests. An andouillette slipped into my backpack reveals the wildlife in a less friendly light. From the company of men to that of animals, a little bit of hell, a little bit of paradise. Launched on the GR 7 between the solitary freedom of nature hiking and the sophisticated pleasures of the stage cities, I navigate from port to port. At night, under the tent, I listen to the vibrating world of the forest. During the day, I play hide and seek with the wild animals. In Auberive, a happy encounter awakens my hunting instinct.

In the Aube, stories to sleep upright

In the dawn, my journey promises to be moderately glamorous. Flat horizon, straight road, crushing heat at the lowest point of the summer. It smells like hay and boredom. The always improbable encounters will take care of the entertainment. From Auberive Abbey to Clairvaux Abbey, on the paths of God, I become a pilgrim. Around the forest of Orient, the past mixes with the present in a joyful folklore. From Templars to UFOs, I hunt ghosts and follow the trail of aliens. In Clairvaux, I try my hand at prison tourism. But it's less a question of visiting a unique place, an abbey and a prison, than of meeting the man who brought it back to life, Jean François. This long improvised walk takes me from surprise to surprise.

In the Yonne, bon appétit and great thirst!

In the Yonne, the planned itinerary from castle to castle turns into a gastronomic walk. Chablis wines, shady tables and meats in sauce... Along the Nivernais canal, the weather is fine, the atmosphere at siesta time. As far as the organisation is concerned, it's getting a little out of hand... Nothing wants to get in order. I take things as they come. A night in a cave, a very natural campsite, a small esotericism course, a balloon flight. From Avallon to Vézelay, the Yonne can be discovered on earth as it is in heaven. In Vézelay, departure of the Compostelle paths, the eternal hill that loves visitors. Pilgrims, tourists, walkers... You will find everything and its opposite. Vézelay is mystical and esoteric.

In the Nièvre, an adventure that smells like fir trees...

According to the natives, "in the Morvan, there is no good wind, there are no good people". On the maps, the great crossing of the Morvan has something epic, a perfume of adventure. I set off on a long walk in the shade of the forests. There are thunderstorms, granite and the wind blowing down the trees. In the valleys, it smells like fir trees and gunpowder. It's the opening weekend of the hunt. Among the trees, wild boars are touching wood. So do I... Mont Beuvray and its magnificent landscapes mark the finish line. It has been described to me as the most beautiful point of view in the Morvan. Rising at dawn, my night hike quickly turns into a chase against the sun. In the darkness, I take stock of the situation with myself.

Favourite in the Cher

As I cross the Loire, I have a hunch that the journey will change. Autumn is setting in. Shorter days, cooler nights. In the woods, the deer are braying and announcing the end of the game. There are sounds like that you must have heard at least once in your life. The forest of Sologne is a must for roaming in the wee hours of the day. Kat, a Filipino backpacker, joined me for a few days. The "camping trip" turns into an adventure. The Sologne forest has put on its autumn coat. Along the way, colourful encounters spice up the romantic stroll. Breeders, beekeepers, hunters, poets...

Cold snap in Berry

The end of the year is approaching, my body needs a break. Bronchitis, angina, rhinopharyngitis... Physically, I'm at the end of my rope. Between two bouts of fever, I lug my germs around in the Bourges marshes. In this maze of gardens and canals, away from the world, the walk is both natural and gastronomic, from the (fertile) earth to the (starry) plate. I leave as best I can. In the south of Berry, I arrive at the geographical centre of France. The moment is special. The regional elections have just taken place against a backdrop of attacks. Voters on the national front, green farmers, foreigners in love with France... Everyone has their own vision of things. For me, it's time to take a break from this long journey. I'm going back home to restart on the right foot for a few weeks. To rub shoulders with the Pyrenees in the winter, I will need strength, new walking shoes and a warmer sleeping bag... The next nine months are going to prove to be physical. So, are you ready to travel to France, for a getaway or a longer stay? Looking for ideas for green weekends and destinations off the beaten track?
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