This is a rewrite of the blog I did a couple of months ago and benefits from the work I have now done on the French part of the E4 itinerary and the more detailed planning I have completed for each stage.
The route is more complex than the E4 in Spain which largely followed the route of the Spanish GR 7. In France the route joins up sections of 9 different GR routes. When it comes to developing the itinerary some things are easier and some more difficult compared to Spain. In England, French maps are much easier to get hold of, particularly if you live in London, and indeed I found I already had a number of them from previous trips. The Federation Francaise de la Randonnee Pedestre, the national walking association, have been particularly helpful. Not only did they provide me (free of charge) with a map of Europe with all the E routes marked, they also constructed a table for me listing all the maps I would need to get. Brilliant, formidable or what!
What I haven't been able to find (yet) are the itineraries you get on the Spanish regional walking associations websites which give you a stage breakdown with estimates of how long it will take you to complete each stage. What I have found, as a substitute, is a site called GR-info which not only lists all the GR routes but allows you to display them on Google Earth. Using Google Earth you can then work out where the accommodation is and produce distance and amount of climb - almost all you need to plan an itinerary.
According to the GR-info/Google Earth method the E4 in France is 1186 kms long. This is 86 kms longer than the figure on ERA website. Not sure which, if either, number is right and to be honest I think the GR-info/Google Earth method straightens a lot of bendy lines and could itself understate the real extent of the route.
My itinerary suggests I could complete the route in 46 days - which translates into 26 kms or 15.5 miles a day. This looks OK but could be a bit more of a stretch when you start to take account of the ups and down. Roughly speaking it’s 49km up and not surprisingly and about the same amount down.
The route is very varied from virtually every perspective. It’s varied in terms of the walking itself, going from quite gentle, once your out of the Pyrenees and heading towards and beyond Carcassone, to really very tough, as you get into the Vercors and the foothills of the Alps. It’s varied in terms of the history and the mark history has made on the architecture of the towns (I’m particularly looking forward to those Cathar castles in the south-east). It’s also varied in terms of the geography, geology and to an extent climate as to travel from Alpine to Mediterranean and back to Alpine again. This is top walking country and French have celebrated this with a necklace of national and regional parks which almost join the entire route together.
Accommodation by and large looks plentiful and I shouldn’t need a tent or even a bivi bag. A number of the stopovers however involve a "Gite d'Etape" . The definition of what you get in a “Gite d’Etape” is not entirely clear, not to me anyway, and while some definitely come with half board others don’t which will mean carrying food for more than one day.
There are options for breaking up the route and at the moment I’m thinking of stopping for a day a Carcassonne, Villefort, Malaucene and Grenoble, 4 days rest, 46 days walking, which might not be enough. Anyway if I leave it time being that France will take 50 days, start France on the 14th May I should be ready for the Swiss section by the 2nd of July. Onwards and upwards!