Guide books are best purchased in the cities and larger towns, where you'll have the greatest choice. While the guides will normally be in French, the directions and map symbols are universal enough to be clear to most hikers and walkers.
To give you an example of the number of possibilities,
a few of the many hiking guide books I've seen recently are:
- 250 Hikes on the Cote d'Azur
- 355 Hikes in Provence
- Au Pays d'Azur de l'Esterel a la Roya, 163 Hikes
- Mercantour Ouest - 125 hikes
- Mercantour Est - 150 hikes
- En Haute Provence - 86 hikes
- Randonnées et Découvertes Alpes du Sud et Corse (200 pages of hikes)
Train des Pignes Hikes
A wonderful little guide shows 50 Randonnées Pedestres avec le Traind du Sud (50 Hikes with the Train des Pignes). Each hike is a loop, starting and ending at a station of the narrow-gauge train that runs between Nice and Digne-les-Bains. Take the train out, have the hike of your choice, and return on the train. The train ride itself is worth the trip, so this hiking tip is for non-hikers as well. This guide is available only from the train station in Digne or the Gare du Sud in Nice.
52 Balades (Petites Traces Vertes) - Didier Richard
This set of paperback guidebooks, with green covers and about 130 pages, describes family-style hikes of varying degrees (many very easy) and varying lengths (many from 1 to 3 hours). The descriptions (French) are short and detailed. There's a very clear and easy-to-understand map for every hike, with nice cartoon-style graphic icons for key features, points of interest and navigation. We use these guides ourselves for day hikes in the region.
- Some of the titles: 52 Balades en Famille...
- autour de Aix-en-Provence
- autour de Marseille
- autour de Toulon Hyères
- dans le Pays Niçois
- autour de Avignon
- autour de Briançonnais
- autour de Tignes - Val d'Isères
- autour de Cannes - Antibes - Grasse - Fréjus
- 30 Balades en Famille autour de Serre-Ponçon
- 30 Balades en Famille autour de Ventoux
Les Guides Randoxygen are small-format (15x24 cm) hiking guidebooks, produced by the Conseil General des Alpes-Maritimes, and available from the Nice Office de Tourisme. We found two versions "Rando Haut Pays" and "Rando Moyen Pays" available (free) at the Office de Toursime desk of the Nice airport. We strongly recommend these guides: well researched, nicely presented, good maps, and free.
Office de Tourisme. Tel: 04 93 92 82 82; Fax: 04 93 92 82 98 Main office
Now available online (still free): http://www.randoxygene.org/
FFRP 'Topo Guides'
FFRP "Topo Guides" (about 10-15€) are published for many areas in the Beyond region, based on the different Grand Randonnées or principal parks and mountains. The FFRP is listed on the Hiking page. The FFRP website is at www.ffrp.asso.fr/.
A partial list of FFRP Topo Guides for the Beyond region is presented on a separate page.
Each Topo Guide covers one or more trails, GRs and PRs, in a particular region, with a clear map of the region covered on the back cover. The Topo Guides include detailed maps of the terrain and the trails, and profiles showing the altitude of all hikes in the guide.
Each stage of the hikes is described clearly and briefly. The descriptions are in French (bien sur), but the stage titles give the time, location and altitude clearly enough that the guide is useful even without the descriptions. Example: "1h 20 - Col du Pérus (659 m); 2h - Sospel (350 m)".
The guide lists the resources (lodgings, campsites, shops, restaurants, trains, buses) for every town and village along the trails.
There's also a list of suggested itineraries for the region of the guide, listed by times. The guidebook "GR52A, Panoramique du Mercantour", for example, lists (in French):
- One day between two stations
- Three days
- Three days loop, from Sospel
- Four days
- Five days loop, from Col de Turini
- Les Guides IGN are excellent guidebooks are for hiking, cycling, canyoning and even sailing, with detailed route maps and information.
- 1. Mont-Blanc Vanoise (northern Alpes)
- 2. Vercors - Diois Buêch (Die)
- 3. Ecrins - Queyras (Briancon)
- 4. Corse (Corsica)
- 5. Ubaye - Verdon (including Gorges du Verdon, Castellane, Annot, Entrevaux, Digne-les-Bains, Colmars, Barcelonnette) ISBN 2.85595.036.8
- 6. Préalpes de Savoie
- 7. Cévennes - Grands Causses [coming soon]
- 8. Provence [coming soon]
- 9. Environs de Paris [coming soon]
- 2. Vercors - Diois Buêch (Die)
Traces Grand Air
Didier Richard "Collection Traces Grand Air"
are small-format, but thick, hiking guides (about 15€), with detailed route instructions, but no maps.
They are text-heavy, and the key information (place names, stages, times) does not stand out, so the guides are not useful if you don't read French well.