France - Millau and the Gorges of Tarn

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July 2nd 2012
Published: July 2nd 2012
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28th– June 2012

Last night it rained for about five minutes and that was it! Blue sky and sun the next day and our first port of call was Roquefort-sur-Soulzon where the Roquefort cheese comes from. (We do have a story that on a previous travel through France we found a place called Roquefort and duly bought the cheese etc....before one of the locals kindly informed us that it was the wrong Roquefort and that there are eight Roqueforts in France!!)

We arrived just as there was a lorry traffic jam with all the lorries loading up from the various outlet cellars. Walked back down through the village and visited one of the Combalou caves where the cheese is matured for a minimum of three months. The ripening cellars lie at the tip of fleurines – long faults which channel air flows from inside and out to maintain a constant humidity of 95%!a(MISSING)nd a temperature of ten degrees C. There is also a legend where the story goes that a shepherd was watching over his flock from the shelter of a cave, when he left his bread and cheese behind whilst pursuing a shepherdess. When he returned later he discovered that cheese was covered with blue/green veins, tasted it and proclaimed a miracle!

Next we drove along the D999 until we had our first view of the Millau Bridge from underneath! A beautiful bridge spanning beautiful countryside! Stopped at the visitors centre and then took the road down to the river where we stopped and had a walk along underneath the bridge!

Stopped in Millau for lunch and then drove up to the A75 and then drove northwards towards Clermont Ferrand to drive across the bridge! (Peage 10.10 Euros) Stopped the other side where we also had another walk up to the viewing point for the bridge and also the Tarn Valley before driving back down into Millau!

Carried on alongside the river towards the Tarn Gorges stopping at the Camping Municipal de Brouillet in Le Rozier (18.20 euros per night) with free wifi!

Nice ten minute walk along the river into the main street of Le Rozier where we found a good little sports bar and watched Italy beat Germany in the football. Four beers and a glass of wine cost 12.50 euros so drinks appear to be more expensive in France.

Fri 29th June – still hot and sunny although there is rain (aaaggghhh) forecast on Sunday and some of next week also. Decided to get some walk details from Tourist information and we were recommended the circular route of 9kms around the Corniches du Mejean although we had been warned it was high and in one place not so good for vertigo sufferers!

Thought we would just walk the prettiest part of the route (9km being a bit too long in this heat!) and took the steps at the back of the church in Le Rozier that led up a steep stony path, and then a concrete 1:3 hill that takes you up, eventually to the start of the walk at Capluc! From here you can climb up steps, high onto a platform. Unfortunately the Tourist Info Office didn’t warn me that whilst climbing the steps, behind were sheer drops. Vertigo crept in and I ‘crawled’ back to ‘safety’!!

However Chris continued up to the iron cross and got some amazing views – he did say that even after the stone steps there was a lot of scrambling over rocks and then 5 iron step ladders (each approx 20 steps) up the rock face to get to the platform!! I had no chance!!

Anyway, carried on and the rest of the walk was not too bad. Quite a rough track with tree roots, rocks and stones so quite difficult although a lot of it was amongst the pine trees and with many beautiful flowers and butterflies, vultures soaring overhead and the fantastic views made it worth walking to the first viewpoint just past the Ravine of Echoes!

Downhill all the way back – took us about 4hrs altogether (just glad we hadn’t done the 9km!!) and back to the campsite for relaxing afternoon – well and a catch up on the washing!!

Sat 30th June

The next day was high cloud but the sun still shining! Decided to make the most of the weather, do a circular trip and explore the other gorges in the area! Drove out along the D996 towards Meyrueis which was a pretty little village so we stopped and had a wander. From the D986 we took a slight detour to visit Abime de Bramabiau, a spectacular waterfall in the brochures but not quite so impressive at this time of year. Took a single track road that led us took us down along the edge of the Gorge de Treves, with sheer drops and very few barriers. Quite spectacular and once at the bottom of the gorge was Treves – another pretty village with the obligatory river and bridge!

Had to then climb back out of the gorge and drive along the top of the Causses before diving down into the next gorge and St Jean du Bruel which is famous for its water wheel and museum. We didn’t visit, just had a wander around, over the 14th C bridge, back to the Van and onto La Couvertoirade.

La Couvertoirade is one of the villages that grew up around the Castle that the Templars built in about 1200 AD as they were able to collect and store water in underground chambers in this region. The Order of the Hospitallers was created in 1113 and the Templars in 1120 to accommodate and look after pilgrims visiting Christ’s tomb in Jerusalem. The Templars were abolished in 1312 by King Phillippe le Bel and the Pope, but left behind a lasting impression on the Larzac region and a legacy of ancient Temples, Chapels and castles.

The village was fortified in the 15th C due to the climate of insecurity and the Hundred Years War (1338 – 1453) but the Hugenots took La Couvertoirade over in the 16th C and built the fine town houses that we could still see today.

It’s a brilliant little place to visit. We entered by the North gate and it was like stepping back in time! Very old world, many fine buildings with slate roofs, tiny little streets and of course the Templars castle. A tiny church and next door a fascinating cemetery with old circular gravestones. Lots of little shops to poke about in and little bars and cafes with flowers decorating many of the village houses! Had a walk up on the ramparts (3.00 euros) and got some fine views over the whole village.

The cloud was beginning to build up a bit by now so we drove down into another valley to the small village of Nant (another pretty place) picked up some supplies from the supermarket and then drove, past the spectacular clinging village of Cantobre, alongside the river of the Gorges de Dourbie with its towering strange formation rocks high above. Stopped at a campsite just outside Millau – Camping Saint Lambert (11.00 euro) Clouded over in the evening and I think rain maybe forecast for tomorrow.... (83 miles)

Sunday 1st July

A cloudy start so we went into Millau to do some shopping and stumbled across a market/car boot sale so had a wander around buying up all the bargains!! Had a quick look at the old church and fountain before driving out to Boyne where we wanted to visit the Peyrelade Castle.

Peyrelade Castle, built on a large anvil shaped rock 50 x 10 metres and rises 200 metres above the River Tarn. It was first built in the year 1000 and there is evidence that the site has been frequented by man since pre-historic times. It was owned by several different Noblemen in the 12th & 13th C, has throughout the 13thC, been subject to many battles, conflicts and fires, occupied by the Catholics in the Wars of Religion in 1580, before finally being pillaged and abandoned. In the 12thC there were 350 people living in the village but over the years this number decreased – only 70 people in 1480 and by 1920 there were only 4 people. The last person left the village of Peyrelade in 1963.

We parked the van in Boyne - there was a campervan carpark nearer the top but we didn’t realise this until we had walked up there! Took us about ½ hr to walk up the lane and it started raining a little bit. By the time we got up to the castle it was pouring down with rumbles of thunder! Watched the video film in French, and as it was still raining, watched it again in English!! Still raining so decided to just get wet and explore the amazing place, magnificent – would have been better in the sun but we had good views the last few days so resigned to watching the clouds roll in! Got some mean and moody pictures anyway!! Stopped raining as we walked back down and then drove to the same campsite in Le Rozier (Camping Municipal de Brouillet – 18.20 euros) hoping to use the free wifi! Unfortunately it started raining again and wifi doesn’t work in the rain!!

Going to the bar to watch the football final tonight Spain v Italy so should be a good match.

2nd July 2012

What an amazing day! I’m glad to say that the weather was cloudy with sun and no rain forecast, so a big improvement on yesterday! The Gorges of Tarn are definitely not to be missed – there is so much to see! We started the day by driving up the 11kms to the Panoramic Du Point Sublime as they say this was the best view of the gorge....and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The gorge is huge!! Watched the vultures flying below us around the gorge before retracing our steps and then we took all day meandering slowly along the side of the gorge, on quite a narrow road.

The road weaves in and out of tunnels cut through the rock (the lowest I can remember seeing was 3.5 metres) and parts of the road travel underneath overhanging rocks. Its a fairly twisty road but lots of places to stop for photos and just loads of different places to see. There are villages on the other side of the Tarn that have now been renovated, but can only be reached by boat – Hautervives was my favourite, or maybe Castlebouc although you can reach this village by car! Stopped at Belvedere Du Pas de Soucy where for 50 cents you can climb to a viewpoint and see where there was a serious rockfall and the River Tarn is forced through narrow channels.

Brilliant views all along the gorge of the river below and canoeists racing through the white water, or drifting along in the deeper blue water and resting on the rocky beaches and then towering above us the strange rock formations. The Gorge is actually the deepest in Europe and certainly spectacular enough to make you want to visit again! I think next time we would drive from Ispagnac to Le Rozier, as I think the sun would be behind you and would make for even better views!

I think my favourite village was St Chely du Tarn which is reached by a narrow road twisting down to a bridge, after going through a low tunnel on a bend! There were no other campervans down there!! But such a pretty little village with a church and a couple of waterfalls, a beach, and a cave shop, where there is a source of water and wide channels of rushing water actually through the shop. Walked to the little chapel where people leave little notes on the altar, and then just had a little wander around.

Other places of note are St Malene, where we had lunch, and the cliff village of Pougadoires, where we had a wander along the paths between the old houses perched high above the river. Last main stop was at Sainte-Enimie, which is the biggest tourist town along the route, and had a stroll through the ‘old’ renovated Medeival part, before driving onto Ispagnac where we camped for the night in the Camping Municipal Le Pre Morjal (20.40 euros) (52 miles)

Had a lovely evening walk between the 'two bridges' and Ispagnac, which is another pretty medeival town with a 12thC church.

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