Red and blue trails, 40 stages.
Welcome to France, first tourist destination in the World, the country that “officially” invented mountaineering - the Aiguille mountain was first climbed in 1492, the year of the discovery of America.
The French Alps run from the bottom of Mont Blanc – the chain’s highest point, 14,424 feet, first conquered in 1786 – next to Switzerland, down to the coasts of Provence on the Mediterranean sea, from the high inner Alps made of granite to the outer Pre-Alps, made of limestone.
This exceptional biodiversity can be found on an historical level, too: former Savoy counties in the North and Nice’s counties in the South – they both joined the French nation only at the end of the 19th century, by the way! But we also see many differences in the fields of landscape and economy, both based upon ancient practices (cattle-rearing in the North, sheep-breeding in the South) and contemporary ones (hydroelectricity and big ski resorts in the North, rural depopulation and less intensive tourism in the South).
On the other hand, all along the Via Alpina routes from North to South we meet the cultural legacy of traditional exchanges thanks to border passes (Coux, Mont, Mary, Fenestre), to several baroque chapels and to the imposing fortified vestiges (Mont Cenis, Maurienne, Ubaye, Roya) witnesses of the repeated geopolitical struggles over the peoples.
All of these treasures are now being protected and developed by 3 national parks (Vanoise, Ecrins, Mercantour) and 2 regional nature parks (Bauges, Queyras). Except Bauges, the two Via Alpina routes in France (blue and red trails) run across all these special territories.
They mostly lean on the GR®5 (Grande randonnée, i.e. “long hike”) between Lake Geneva and the Mediterranean. When it was founded in 1971, this first “Grande Traversée des Alpes” (Great Crossing of the Alps) on the French side gave birth to the “gîte d’étapes” stopping places thanks to the GTA association’s boost. They are valley lodgings, adapted to long-distance walking, which complete the offer of both the French Alpine Club’s and private huts one can normally find at higher altitude.
In addition to the Via Alpina” logoes at crossroads, all along the routes you will often see markers of the French Hiking Federation (FFRP); they can be red and white (GR®), red and yellow (country GR®) or simply yellow (PR®, i.e. short hike).
Moreover, a partnership between GTA – responsible for the Via Alpina project in France – and FFRP has been established, together with many other subjects living on the same territory (e.g. parks, communities).
The French Via Alpina team hopes to welcome you soon on the paths of the French Alps!