Discovering some of France's most spectacular long-distance footpaths, read the exclusive Q&A with the show's producer!
Broadcast on Saturday April 2, 14, 17, 21, 23 & 28 at 3:00 p.m. (ET) Whether spending ten days exploring the Mont Blanc circuit, walking the Ecrins Mountains, or discovering the Massif Central, the show immerses viewers in France’s most beautiful treks, accompanied by a guide who knows each region and its hiking trails like the back of their hands.
INTERVIEW WITH FRANÇOIS FÈVRE, THE SHOW’S PRODUCER
What inspired you to make this show?
My team includes a director who is a big fan of hiking. When we looked at the subject in more detail, we realized that there were no shows devoted to hiking or walking in France – even though the French Hiking Federation has 500,000 members! It is an activity enjoyed by 5 million people across the country. Hiking has historically been a difficult subject to portray on-screen, as filming equipment has always been so heavy. But thanks to the miniaturization of many pieces of kit, we now have the technical means to shoot beautiful images with drones and on-board cameras. The combination of these two elements led to the creation of the show.
What is a trek?
The term “hike” (randonnée in French) tends to conjure up images of gentler, easier walks, such as a stroll through Fontainebleau Forest near Paris. However, in our show, we film the toughest trails, such as the GR20 in Corsica, the Ecrins Mountains, and the Mont Blanc circuit. For now, we have only filmed in France and the French overseas territories, but the initial objective was to travel to Nepal or the Andes – which offer routes for which the term “trek” is more appropriate.
How do you film hikes?
We set out with a small team, and each person has a number of skills. There is a director, who films with little cameras connected to stabilizers, which help to reduce the impact of walking and provide fluid images. They are accompanied by a sound engineer who also manages the drone – this is how we film almost 30% of our landscape footage. There is also an assistant who takes care of logistics, and a guide who acts as the main character in each episode.
What have you discovered during these shows?
In some places, we have seen changes in the landscape caused by global warming. Glaciers are receding and this creates a number of safety issues, such as parts of the hillside collapsing and rocks falling, which makes the trails more dangerous. We have also seen the process of desertification in other regions. Despite a lot of talk about a “return to the countryside” at the moment, the rural exodus has had a major impact on France and we have occasionally walked through abandoned villages in the Cantal département or the Cévennes Mountains. Sometimes, hiking is a way to restore a certain dynamism to these territories. For example, if a restaurant or a guesthouse caters to walkers, this can relaunch a local micro-economy.
Why is hiking so popular in France? Hiking is the “school of slowness.” You take the time to see things. When you travel by car or by train, you only see landscapes flashing by. By contrast, when you walk, you have the time to breathe, to admire, to listen to the silence. The horizon changes as you get higher, and all your senses are on high alert: the feeling of physical effort, sight, smell, hearing… Walking forces us into a slowness that enables us to rediscover all the senses that we tend to lose in the frenzy of our urban lives.
Who are your characters?
For each show, we select a mountain guide qualified to lead hiking groups. Local people are generally the ones who can teach us about the surrounding fauna and flora, explain what makes the region so special, and recount its history. Thanks to them, we also meet other people. For example, in New Caledonia, our guide, Caldoche, took us through Kanak territory and we learned about their traditions. These guides teach us about geological formations, local customs, the weather, plants, and even hiking techniques. In Martinique, we learned how to set up a camp for the night. In French Guyana, our guide showed us how to hang a hammock to sleep in the forest.
How do you avoid repeating yourself?
France is an incredibly rich country in terms of hiking. It offers a fantastic playground with different landscapes, climates, and cuisines from region to region. We filmed the Vosges region in the fall, but we could go back and do it again in the spring and it would be totally different. The idea is not to simply contemplate the surroundings. We want viewers – whether they enjoy hiking or not – to actually feel like they have travelled to these places, while also learning something.