The Ardennes region is popular with hikers, and Charleville and Sedan are great places to use as your base from which to take day hikes in and around the Ardennes region. It is a beautiful part of the world, that includes large areas of forest, rough terrain and rolling hills that stretch across parts of Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg.
On my visit to Sedan we did only one small part of the longer GR14 route, a route that runs from Belgium all the way to Paris. We did a short 6km walk through some of the Ardennes’ forest, ‘Route Forestiére du Bouillonnais’ that took us about 2 hours.
About the walking trails in France
There are over 180,000km of marked walking trails across France and they are largely labelled as either a GR, GRP or PR Route.
GR (Grandes Randonnées) routes are long walking routes across France with a different beginning and end point. Many are a few 100km long.
GRP (Grand Randonnées du Pays) routes are shorter routes that loop around in a particular area.
PR (Promenades et Randonnées) are much shorter walking routes.
You will find different red and white lined markings that will keep pointing you in the right direction, often found on tree trunks or even on the ground. You might have to hunt for them behind overgrown foliage, so keep your eyes peeled when on a GR route so you can be sure you’re going the correct way.
There are a number of different maps you can buy or apps you can use to download key routes. We were given an A4 colour print out of our route which helped us make sure we were going in the right direction.
Of course, the usual rules apply of making sure you leave no trace and take any rubbish with you on your hikes. If you’re doing a much bigger hike than the 6km we walked then make sure you are fully prepared with plenty of water, food, comfy shoes and clothing layers. There are a few tips below for things you need to remember when planning a hiking trip.
Our part of the GR14 route to Olly
If you wanted to do our part of the trail you would need a designated driver to drop you off where we started. We drove to the village of Olly, where we dropped off our car, then we were driven to Mollevau further north from Olly and a few km up the trail. We then walked back along the trail to Olly where we could pick up our car again.
The village of Olly is about 10 minute’s drive from the castle in Sedan and it was a further 10 to 15 minutes from Olly to our drop off point.
Our walk took us along a path wide enough for cars to go down so it was easy to follow and our printed map helped us on the few occasions when we came across a fork in the road. Luckily I spent much of my childhood learning map reading skills from my dad, so was positive we were going in the right direction.
We started our walk only a couple of kilometres away from the Belgium border. On such empty bendy country roads it would be easy to miss your entry into another country.
We were dropped off in a car park and started our walk deep into the Ardennes forest. Tall trees with straight trunks were lined up either side of us on our walk. I imagine it would be quite a spooky walk if it was dark or if you strayed far from the path.
We saw a couple of the traditional GR route markings on tree trunks, though they can be hard to miss if you didn’t know what to look out for. You could easily mistake them for graffiti or markers put there by foresters or landowners.
Our route was fairly flat, starting to move down the hill the closer we got to Olly. We didn’t see much along the route except a small pond, some wild mushrooms or fungi and many many tall trees. I loved the peacefulness of it, we didn’t see or hear another human along the route, it was just us and the natural world, the odd bird song and the crunch of Autumn leaves underfoot.
We stopped to play in the colourful Autumn leaves a couple of times, throwing them at each other and up in the air. We’re never too old to play!
The final stretch of the walk took us down a hill and into the village of Olly, part of the municipality of Illy. As we arrive into the peaceful, quiet village we walked past ‘Le Château d’Olly’ first built in 1870, a grand building that had a garden filled with freshly grown fruit and vegetables, perhaps now a shared allotment.
I was particularly excited to be in the village of Olly, with my boyfriend Olly and had to have some fun photos taken by the Olly signs. ☺
There is a small restaurant in Olly called ‘Les Terrasses Du Warcan’, which is a warm and traditional restaurant serving local French dishes. If you’re going through Olly on a longer route back to Sedan then it’s a great place to stop.
We hopped in the car and headed back to Sedan for our lunch. Our walk was only a tiny part of the longer route and with more time I would have liked to walk all the way into Sedan.
The GR14 route runs right through the centre of Sedan and onwards to Paris. Below I share a few other parts of the route that might be worth trying.
Places to visit along the GR14 route
South of Sedan
If you continue south of Sedan along the GR14 route you will pass through more rolling French countryside and through the Champagne region. Probably worth a slight detour to visit a winery or two. You will pass many vineyards on your walk, so it would be rude not to!
Sedan will be the largest town along this part of the route, only passing through a few small villages, so make sure you plan some campsites or B&Bs to stay in if you aren’t just doing a day trip from Sedan.
Paris and the East– The start of route GR14
If you want to tie in a bit of hiking with a visit to the city of romance then you could hike from Paris centre itself. The route starts (or ends) in the 12th arrondissement of Paris and past the Hippodrome de Paris Vincennes. You eventually leave the Paris suburbs and head into the countryside and through smaller towns such as Ozoire La Ferrière.
The route is quite flat with elevations no higher than 140m and a great way to mix some city hiking with the open countryside!
The full GR14 route
The full GR14 route is 782km long (or 486 miles) and it is said to take about 39 days. The full route isn’t for the faint hearted, but if you’re looking for an exciting challenge this could be the route.
The GR14 route takes you along rivers through France, where you can learn about France’s industrial history and soak up the country air and surround yourself with nature!
You won’t find many other people along this route, so if you’re looking for a quiet, peaceful adventure to be at one with nature, then get yourselves to Paris or Belgium to start the route at the very beginning and follow it all 782km to the end! Good luck!
Tips for hiking in France
Whether it is the short 6km route we did or a much longer trip it is important to be prepared when you go hiking. I’ve done a lot of hiking across the UK and beyond so here are a few of my top tips for hiking in France and beyond!
Wear comfy shoes!
It might seem obvious, but deciding to wear a new pair of boots for the first time on a long hike is a recipe for disaster. Most shoes take some wearing-in, so take them on a few shorter practice walks before the big one!
Always take water
Take as much water as you can carry and make sure you’re drinking it. Even in cold temperatures it is important to stay hydrated.
The answer to so many problems, a hole in your bag, a broken boot, a broken tent pole (if you’re camping), having some duct tape on you can be a lifesaver. I always have some taped around my water bottle, rather than taking a full role. It stays sticky even when you’ve taken it off the role and sticks back to itself around the bottle. Honestly it’s so useful when travelling, whether hiking, cycling, camping or anything!
Follow the signs
As mentioned above the GR routes are marked with red and white lines painted on fence posts, tree trunks and whatever else they find to paint them on. Follow the signs and hopefully you won’t get lost. Make sure you have a map with you too. Even though our 6km route was fairly straight forward it was good to be able to double check and look out for key elevations or bends in the road to be sure we were on the right track.
Some of the GR14 route includes quite long stretches without many places to stop along the route, so make sure you plan out realistically how far you can get in a day and where you’re going to stay each night.
Book your accommodation
This will be less necessary in quieter periods, though it’s good to have a plan for where you are staying so you aren’t tired and lost and unable to find a place to sleep after a long day of hiking. Busy periods are spring through to Autumn.
Wild camping is allowed in much of France as long as you have permission from the land owner where necessary. Though of course wild camping means carrying your tent, cooking and sleeping equipment with you too, so make sure you’re fit and healthy for such an adventure!
Hike at your own pace, stop off to take photos, have a rest, visit a boulangerie for a freshly baked patisserie. Make it a fun adventure, with plenty of rest stops rather than a gruelling chore!
So have I tempted you to go hiking around Sedan, The Ardennes and wider parts of France? I would love to return to see more of the beautiful landscapes, rivers and villages that make up much of the GR14 route.
If you’re not a walker then there are plenty of cycling routes around Sedan too!