French joie de vivre on foot

This is no backpacker guide, it's walking France on a full stomach

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FRANCE ON FOOT By Bruce LeFavour Attis Press 234 pp., $24.95

If you've been to France during the summer, you've seen them: glitzy tour buses whizzing by monuments. Tourists sit wedged in stiff seats listening to a guide spew rapid-fire facts about each passing site. Occasionally, they spill off the bus to buy local kitsch - miniature Eiffel Towers and baguette-shaped magnets.

Bruce LeFavour, author of "France on Foot," wants none of that. He found the real France by walking through it.

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"You hear the joyful chaos of sound from a schoolyard at recess time and you not only see the color but also smell the knock-you-down perfume from a blooming hedge of lilacs," notes LeFavour. "The foot traveler is not an isolated spectator but a participant sensually as well as intellectually involved in the event of the moment."

In "France on Foot," LeFavour lays out in detail how to plan a walking vacation and take advantage of France's well kept but little known web of more than 37,500 miles of trails.

You won't be bushwhacking. The Fdration Franais de la Randone Pdestre maintains the trails that are lightly traveled most of the year. Many of today's paths originated from routes used in medieval France by monks, armies, and shepherds.

Three types of trails exist: long-distance national trails, local trails that branch out from towns, and international trails that connect countries. Walks can last anywhere from a one-day jaunt to a two-week haul.

The book divides France into 13 regions and describes terrain, climate, and some recommended towns.

LeFavour is adamant that walking in France should not be confused with backpacking. Backpacking requires lugging a mess of gear and camping out. Hiking, on the other hand, allows you to stay at anything from simple rural inns with communal meals to swanky hotels with four-star restaurants.

Since walking can be very map intensive and require hours of research, LeFavour explains which maps and guidebooks to buy before setting out.

A retired professional chef, LeFavour also devotes several pages to France's gastronomic delights. Recalling smooth pt, creamy Camembert, and crusty baguettes, he advises a leisurely trip. If you find a town that appeals to you, he says, while away the hours, absorbing the French joie de vivre.

A section on cost may be a surprise. Depending on the tastes of the traveler, LeFavour estimates the cost for two people on a typical day can range from $70 to $190.

This is not a guide book. It is a how-to book on planning a walking vacation. If you're tired of piling in and out of tour buses, take a hike. You'll see the real France, instead of hearing about it over a loudspeaker.

*Lane Hartill is on the Monitor staff.

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