If you see a group, it is highly likely that it is part of a club belonging to the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre, which likes to be known simply as FFRandonnée. Due to Covid-19, its groups are currently smaller, with 10 being the recommended number, and the walkers are more spaced out, with a recommended two-metre gap between people, but the feeling of camaraderie is still present.
Formed in 1947, FFRandonnée has around 190,000 members grouped in 3,500 local clubs, which are organised in a departmental and regional committee hierarchy that feeds into a national governing body. FFRandonnée is responsible for the marking of the 65,000km of long-distance Grande Randonnée (GR) footpaths and the 115,000km of Promenade et Randonnée (PR) footpaths which mainly form local loop walks.
After a court battle, the federation won the copyright to use the red-and-white paint stripe footpath markings, meaning footpaths marked by local authorities and tourist promotion groups have to use different colours or signs. Like almost every other club offering physical activity in France, anyone wanting to join has to get a certificate from their doctor stating they are fit enough to take part.
The cost of the certificate is usually covered by the state for up to 70%, with most mutual insurance schemes paying the remainder, and certificates are good for three years before having to be renewed. Then it is simply a case of finding a club and signing up with it. Most clubs are listed at ffrandonnee.fr and will be registered with the mairie. The most basic fee is €24.40 a year but most people take out a €27 option which gives third-party and accident insurance. An extra €10 gives you insurance cover for other outdoor activities. Membership also gives discounted access to an online platform with detailed maps, and discounts in FFRandonnée shops.