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French gorges and villages in the South

Tue 24 Oct, 2017 12:42 am

Hey everyone,
here's a trip report from my usual Christmas trip I did last year but never got to posting it. The first part of the journey was Grenoble to Bordeaux through Ardèche, the Cévennes, and Tarn, the way back through Camargue and Provence.

Ardèche is well known from French people. It's like Provence, but cheaper and with less crowds. There's a feel of Italy here with the rolling hills, the vegetation, the vineyards... The first village I checked out was Mirmande, a very pretty village on the top of a hill, but the weather wasn't cooperating. Same thing in Vogüé, Balazuc or Montclus, equally as pretty, equally as grey. Luckily it cleared a bit when I did the scenic road through the Gorges de l'Ardèche, a favorite for kayakers, with its bends and rapids. It's a beautiful area, and since the road doesn't connect major towns, it's pretty quiet as well. There's a ton of lookouts, and you don't need to go hiking to reach them, American style. Further along, I loved the village of La Roque-sur-Cèze, forbidden to cars and where you just can get lost in the cobbled streets.

Re: French gorges and villages in the South

Tue 24 Oct, 2017 12:52 am

Next I was heading towards the Cévennes, famous for having Robert Louis Stevenson crossing it on the back of a donkey. No idea why that made it famous, but anyway, there's a Stevenson trail in the park now. I checked out the nearby village of Lussan, on a hill overlooking about 30 km around, very nice. Next up I got a taste of what are according to me the most dangerous mountain roads in France. They're unbelievably narrow, no rails, and barely any spot to let incoming cars pass by. Luckily it was winter, with no one but hunters. I did a very nice hike from Col de l'Asclier, but be careful with the roads if you go there, you've been warned. The vistas are quite nice, no snow but easy walking and gorgeous light.

Re: French gorges and villages in the South

Tue 24 Oct, 2017 12:58 am

The Gorges du Tarn aren't as famous as the Gorges du Verdon (you know the turquoise ones) but they are, I think, equally as impressive. The village of Sainte Enimie seems to be guarding its entrance. It wasn't a very sunny day, I was in the fog, but that made the drive to Point Sublime, which goes above the gorges, even more magical as you can see from the photos. On the way back, I checked out the gorges de la Jonte, very secretive but not less impressive. Only drawback: driving is slow, and the roads narrow and winding, with some crazy tourists and their big fancy cars.
Last edited by Hallu on Tue 24 Oct, 2017 10:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: French gorges and villages in the South

Tue 24 Oct, 2017 1:04 am

In Cévennes, you can drive to Mont Aigoual, 1567 m, the highest point in the Massif Central, that mountain range covering the centre of France. It isn't that impressive, but it was covered in snow, the drive was a bit precarious as it wasn't plowed, but the views were worth it. Further West, I checked out a gorgeous natural amphitheater, Cirque de Navacelles, but with the sun in my face, I couldn't do it justice on camera. Nearby I also checked out the Millau bridge, certainly more impressive from afar than when you drive on it, and some more villages.

Re: French gorges and villages in the South

Tue 24 Oct, 2017 1:11 am

The journey back was sunnier, and started with more villages, with highlights such as Saint Guilhem le Désert or Lagrasse and its huge abbey. There's even one called Montréal

Re: French gorges and villages in the South

Tue 24 Oct, 2017 1:19 am

Camargue is the largest river delta in Europe. It's big and flat, with a huge variety of birds. It's famous for its pink flamingos (yes you don't need to go to Africa to see them) and although they migrate, you can see them pretty much year round in the delta. But I didn't expect to see so many of them... It's a sea of pink, they're everywhere, alongside ducks, a few beavers, herons etc... Unlike most birds in Europe which are very shy, flamingos don't seem to care.

Re: French gorges and villages in the South

Tue 24 Oct, 2017 1:29 am

Now I'm entering Provence. And I checked out les Baux de Provence, supposedly one of the best perched villages in the world... Except they don't mention how expensive it is to park, how full of people it is, that you can't visit the surroundings of the castle without paying, that every food item is insanely expensive... Well you get it, I was quite disappointed by it. It's very small, there are many villages in Provence that are far better (Lourmarin or Roussillon for example). But in the end my favorite is not very well known, very quiet, and is restoring its ancient castle as we speak. It's Oppède Le Vieux, that you can only reach on foot if you're not a local, with a great informative hike up to reach the recently restored chapel next to the castle. There's something to this place, it's still outside the tourist route (although it is in guidebooks so you won't be alone), if you're ever in Provence check it out. Don't bother with shopping, it's not the kind of village where you'll find only shops, people actually live there.
Last edited by Hallu on Tue 24 Oct, 2017 9:08 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Re: French gorges and villages in the South

Tue 24 Oct, 2017 1:37 am

More villages ? Well that's pretty much all there is to do here. Menerbes, Bonnieux, Lourmarin and further North Montbrun-Les-Bains... I did one hike up a hill, but it was very disappointing. I ended up in the middle of hunters who were after deer and wild boar, with nearby gunshots. The views were quite poor at the summit, and with electric generators, radio antennas etc... I didn't do Gorges du Verdon because I didn't have enough money for a longer trip. Now I live in Paris, can't say I enjoy it that much (hiking in the countryside is a bit boring, except the Fontainebleau forest) so I can't wait to get back in the bush somewhere.

Re: French gorges and villages in the South

Tue 24 Oct, 2017 5:53 am

The artist in me would love all those old historical villages... not to mention the varieties of bread, fromage & charcuterie.

Thanks for sharing a little slice of southern France. Brings back memories.

Re: French gorges and villages in the South

Tue 24 Oct, 2017 9:22 pm

Thanks, love your snake photos by the way =)

Re: French gorges and villages in the South

Wed 25 Oct, 2017 5:40 am

Thanks Hallu...they're beautiful creatures as long as they're not anaconda sized... :wink:

Re: French gorges and villages in the South

Wed 25 Oct, 2017 7:42 am

Great photos Hallu, thanks for posting.
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