The 'via ferrata' originated in Italy at the end of the 19th century and developed very quickly in France, where it appeared around 1988, creating many followers in its wake. These mountain routes that combine hiking and rock climbing are hard-core athletic courses strewn with cables, rungs, monkey bridges, ladders, nets and zip-lines, which can sometimes turn out be rather acrobatic. However, in order for everyone to be able to participate in this activity, the via ferrata itineraries are divided into six levels of difficulty: F ('facile' - easy) for first-timers, PD ('pas difficile' - not very difficult) for children and beginners, AD ('assez difficile' - rather difficult) for well-accompanied beginners, D (difficult) for those with experience, TD ('très difficile' - very difficult), a very physical course requiring strong arms and experience, and ED (extremely difficult), an extremely physical course requiring strong arms and experience. In addition, there are two types of via ferrata in France: the 'old ones', which were built before 1995 and favour more contact with the rocks than the bars, and the 'news ones', built after 1995 and which favour more contact with the bars than the rocks. For more information: Office of the guides Le Village ? 09300 Roquefixade. Tel: +33 (0)5 61 01 90 62. Maison de la montagne Le Village ? 09400 Gourbit. Tel: +33 (0)6 87 25 79 62. Montagne Passion Gare aval du Télé-Porté ? 09110 Ax-les-Thermes. Tel: +33 (0)5 61 64 31 51.