There’s no finer way to plan a trip to France than to watch a few hours coverage of the Tour de France. The tourist authorities of each region pay a small fortune to have the helicopters fly overhead and capture the landmarks as a peloton weaves its way through the countryside and make me go “I want to go there!”
On this trip I picked out the Gorges du Tarn as one nearby area I wanted to visit, both from its reputation and of course because it featured in the Tour as recently as 2015. But we also discovered a second road connected to the Gorges that could and should be in the top ten of any itinerary, but apparently hasn’t been in the tour for many years.
As a combined linear route the Gorges of the Tarn and the Corniche des Cevennes are about 120 kilometres in length, but in reality they are two completely different experiences – the low road and the high road.
The pretty town of Florac was our entry point, the mid point of the two roads.
The Gorges of the Tarn run east from Florac and quickly become the winding, steep sided valley that has been called “France’s Grand Canyon”. Almost every corner demands a photo stop, but special mention for the extraordinary river side houses and castle of Castelbouc which are built impossibly into the valley side.
We took a lunch at the mid-point of the gorges, the beautiful town of Saint-Emilie providing a maze of cobbled streets and stone cottages winding up the valley side.
Retracing to Florac in the afternoon we decided not to go directly back to our base, the markings on the map to the “Corniche des Cevennes” was just too tempting a diversion. It was clear from the map that instead of hugging the valley sides this route went up, way up, swooping and soaring along the ridge between two valleys for nearly 50 km until St Jean de Gard.
Combining the two roads brings out the best of the Cevennes national parks which are named the Causses et Gorges (plateaux and gorges) representing the two contrasting landscapes of the deep valleys and the broad arid summits, harsh and windy in winter, arid and baking in summer. In Florac we visited an excellent temporary exhibition of landscape photography in the chateau, it showed the spectacular changes in the scenery from winter to summer, I just wish my camera was up to that professional standard, but I hope this small gallery gives a taste.
Now it is a spectacular scenic route, and almost deserted in September because the main French holiday season has finished. Again we were stopping regularly to take in the landscapes spread out around us. The drop down to St Jean de Gard ended the route in an attractive town by the river.
A great combination – and well worth a second trip next time we are here. Which in my case might be by bike, but as you may have guessed gentle reader, this 200km round trip was by car this time. I will just call it “planning”.