7 Route Napoléon on the Camino de Santiago
The medieval Routes of Santiago de Compostela was the most important pilgrimage route during the Middle Ages. Pilgrims embarked on months-long journeys from all over Europe to reach the revered pilgrimage destination of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Pilgrims went there to venerate the tomb of Saint James the Apostle, which had been relocated from the Holy Land. The Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle (Way of Saint James) route is still popular among modern-day pilgrims and hikers. Some travelers spend weeks or even months to complete portions of the trail or the entire journey.
To experience this pilgrimage route in a challenging one-day hike, one interesting small section of the Camino de France (the French section of the Camino de Santiago) is the Route Napoléon from Saint-Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles in Spain, just past the border with France. Saint-Jean Pied de Port is a charming town, 55 kilometers from Biarritz, in the Basque Country of Southwest France. The town’s cobblestone streets and red-shuttered houses with red-tiled roofs are typically Basque. The 27-kilometer road to Roncesvalles takes hikers on a pedestrian trail through the Pyrenees Mountains, ascending around 700 meters in altitude. This advanced hiking route has sections with a very steep grade that are extremely difficult, but the sensational views reward the effort. Along the way, little plaques featuring scallop shells (the symbol of Saint James’ pilgrims) confirm that this is the Camino de Santiago. Roncesvalles is a beautiful ancient village with a historic pilgrims’ hostel and convent.
8 Coastal Walk in Bassin d’Arcachon or on the Dune du Pilat
The Bassin d’Arcachon is a pristine nature site in southwest France about 72 kilometers from Bordeaux. A relaxing seaside retreat, the Arcachon Bay has seven kilometers of sandy beaches, as well as fishing piers and the largest marina on the Atlantic Ocean. Enjoy a refreshing coastal walk beginning at Arès in the Bassin d’Arcachon. The area is a marshland nature reserve with a 7.5-mile trail. This scenic pedestrian route is a great place for birdwatching.
One of the top tourist attractions in France lies 12 kilometers south of Arcachon, the Dune du Pilat. Because of the wind and tides, the four-kilometers-long by two-kilometers-wide sandbank is always changing shape. A protected reserve, the Dune du Pilat is a marvelous place for taking nature walks under the bright blue skies. Birdwatchers will be able to spot native species like the Kentish plover. Photographers appreciate this site because of its unique landscape, and paragliders enjoy the perfect wind conditions and interesting views.
9 Hikes through Forests and Farmlands in the Béarn Mountains
The historic Béarn region is an idyllic rural area of rolling hills and mountains about 40 kilometers from Lourdes in the Pyrenees region. Just outside of Jurançon, a narrow two-lane country road takes travelers up to the Montagnes Béarnaises (Béarn Mountains), a lush mountainous area of deeply wooded groves, ravines, crystal-clear rivers, and rushing waterfalls. The forests are interspersed with small farms and pastures where goats graze. Beautiful hiking trails wind around through the forests and valleys
10 Somme Battlefields Circuit of Remembrance
With its lagoons, sand dunes, and marshes, the Baie de Somme in Normandy is a majestic seaside landscape. Nature lovers will appreciate the invigorating coastal scenery, and history buffs will enjoy following the Circuit of Remembrance, which traces the sites of the WWI battles of 1914 to 1918. The Circuit of Remembrance is a commemorative walking tour that begins in Villers Bretonneux, the location of the National Australian Memorial; continues in Froissy; and stops in 10 other locations. The Somme Tourism Office offers a self-guided audio tour that may be downloaded onto an MP3 player.