Walking in France: a bit of vocabulary

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Did you know that the French have several words about ‘walking’, a popular pastime in the country?


‘Une flânerie’ is a word often used when walking in the shopping centre of a town when one has no clear destination. The verb ‘flâner’ is somewhat equivalent to ‘to stroll’ in English.

‘Une balade’ involves a walk with a certain direction but not much purpose to it. ‘Une balade’ is more informal and more familiar to use than ‘une promenade’. The corresponding verb is ‘balader’. ‘Une balade’ should not be confused with ‘une ballade’ meaning a poetry.

‘Une promenade’ implies a component of leisure and enjoyment, and is used as a reflexive verb in French: ‘se promener’. ‘Une promenade’ is not exclusively limited to a walking activity: one can also say ‘une promenade en vélo, en voiture, en bateau’ (bike, car, boat).

More seriously, ‘une marche’ (a walk) or ‘une petite randonnée’ (a little hiking) are outings of a greater length along a planned route. ‘Une grande randonnée’ is the longest and most challenging walking activity which takes the hikers on a several-day journey through the countryside of France. The French use verbs such as ‘marcher’ or ‘randonner’ and ‘faire des randonnées’.

Mont Saint-Jacques, La Plagne in Autumn © French Moments

At the top of Mont Saint-Jacques with a view of Mont Blanc © French Moments

The walking routes are rigorously marked in France and recorded into very detailed maps such as those from I.G.N. (Institut Géographique National). It is estimated that there is more than 60,000 km of marked walking paths (chemins balisés) throughout France, which are often part of the Grandes Randonnées network (GR), in addition to former shepherds’ paths, drove tracks or pilgrimage routes (such as the St. James Way).

Walking through France is one of the best and rewarding way to discover the diversity of its landscapes, from the plains of Poitou to the snow-capped mountains of the Alps and from the jagged coastlines of Brittany and Côte d’Azur to the vine-covered hills of Alsace and Champagne.

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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