Hiking trails near Paris
Discover Rural France
It never fails to amaze me how profonde – how deeply, relentlessly rural – France can be as little as one hour away from Paris.
Today’s walk – which features some pretty and prosperous farms, some new, some hundreds of years old – could serve as a perfect introduction to the charms of rural France for visitors who want to see more of the country than the Eiffel Tower and the interiors of the Louis Vuitton shop on the Champs Elysees, but want their experience wrapped into an easy and convenient day trip from Paris, without the need for sitting on a train for half a day.
Go hiking rural France on a day trip from Paris.
Take a RER Line C train from the Gare d’Austerlitz or the Bibliothèque Francois Mitterrand (easier to reach by Metro from downtown Paris) in the direction of St. Martin d’Etampes and leave the train at Etrechy.
Once out of the train station, turn left down the Boulevard de la Gare, which eventually changes its name to Avenue d’Orleans. Then, turn right into Rue Jean Moulin and immediately left into Rue de la Butte Saint Martin, past a complex of sports fields and indoor tennis courts.
Behind the last house on that road, turn right into a footpath and briefly afterwards left (following the white-and-red trail markers) into a dramatic rock strewn landscape. This is actually the best part of the walk – not least because it provides a rugged contrast to the rural idyll that is to follow.
The way out of the forest, however, gets a little tricky.
After crossing a sandy, prairie-like clearing, we found ourselves in a glade with no sign of where to go, suspecting that the line of trees they appeared to have felled quite recently had probably carried the trail markers.
In the end, we decided to walk downhill, straight ahead, in the direction of the farm that we could see underneath the hill, and this eventually allowed us to rejoin the trail.
Soon after, you will run into the first of a series of prosperous farms that are scattered along the trail. Continue walking straight through it. This is a public road even if it may not always look like one, and turn right before the owners’ near-palatial residence, thus leaving the GR11 (with its red-and-white trail markers) that continues straight ahead.
Continue all the way to the small village of Vaucelas.
At the intersection inside the village, cut to the right – a particularly picturesque farm will soon appear on your left – and, after about 500 metres, left into the woods. (The town you can see in the valley below is Etrechy, of course.)
Out of the forest, continue down to the country road and turn left. Continue straight ahead on to the footpath where the road makes a turn to the left. Pass underneath the high-voltage power line, and then, after a short distance, turn twice to the right in quick succession, followed by a left and a right turn.
This may sound a little difficult – even confusing, perhaps – but let me add that the trail is, overall, excellently marked. Usually in France, trail markers can be a bit of a problem, sometimes even a bit of a mess. But on this walk, you often feel that somebody has really gone out of his or her way to make things easy for you.
Where there are no trees or lampposts, they have sometimes rammed dedicated beams into the soil to hold the markers or have painted the markers on stones on the ground.
Hikers do not get such assistance in many other places in France, believe me. Maybe it’s because Etrechy is such a prosperous little town that they can afford this level of attention to detail, or maybe it’s because the mayor (or one of his predecessors) is himself a dedicated hiker, who knows.
Continue on this path until you meet the street, the Route du Bas Vaucelas. Turn left and when you hit the main road, the D148 aka Route de Chauffour, turn right heading into Etrechy centre.
The village of Etrechy is a bonus at the end of your journey. If you are old enough to have watched TV in the 1970s (as I am), it may remind you (as it reminded me) of the French village of Clochemerle, the (fictitious) setting for a celebrated BBC TV comedy of manners, based on Gabriel Chevallier’ satirical novel of the same name. (Just don’t look for the public urinal!)
It is certainly worth a look and provides the perfect finish for a trip into the deep, rural heart of France.