amazing Tarn Gorge
helps you discover the parts of
France that most tourists never reach
The Gorges du Tarn route, from Sainte Enimie at the top, to Millau at
in 1905, in the very early days of motoring, the "route des Gorges du
Tarn" was one of the very first specific tourist roads to be built in
France, on the instigation of the young "Touring Club de France" which
had established a purpose-built hotel, the Grand
Hotel de la Muse
, at Mostuéjols, near le Rozier. And ever
since, it has remained
one of France's most spectacular touring routes.
In 2015, it
will be showcased as never before when the riders of the Tour de France
cycle up through the whole length of the gorge, on July 18th.
The tunnels and rocky overhangs along the route will be hazards to
negotiate with care, notably for all the accompanying vehicles with
cycles on their roofracks. Just as they are every day of the year for
the tourists who venture along this twisting road at the foot of one of
the longest and deepest gorges in Europe.
The Gorges du Tarn, and of two tributaries la Jonte and la
Dourbie, cut through a high limestone plateau area known as Les
Causses, which is classed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Though the river Tarn is
a tributary of the Garonne, and its waters eventually flow out into the
Atlantic ocean, the Tarn Gorge is part of the Mediterranean hinterland
of southern France. Millions of years ago, if the waters that wore
through the limestone of the southern Massif Central had chosen a
different route, they might have flowed out into the Mediterranean; but
that did not happen.
But the hills through which the
gorge winds its way, known as Les Causses, are definitely
the South of France, part of the limestone fringe that borders the
Mediterranean basin from Gibraltar to the Alps. The gorge enjoys a
microclimate that can make it very hot in summer, relatively mild in
winter. Around Millau, the valley is famous for its cherries and its
vineyards, and as far up as Saint Enimie, small vineyards cling to the
valley sides, and in summer the air can be full of the cheeping of the
"cicadas", the emblematic crickets more generally associated with
A journey through the Tarn gorge can start
and finish anywhere, but what better place to start than the small town
of Roquefort, home of the world's most famous blue cheese, just south
of the Tarn valley, to the southwest of Millau.
visiting the cheese cellars or caves in Roquefort, take the D31 then
the D993 to the small town of Saint Rome du Tarn, where you actually
join the Tarn and start your journey up the valley and the gorges. This
is a very pretty part of the Tarn valley, but not the actual "gorge";
the road up the river valley, on the north bank, is small and twisting;
but follow the D96 until you reach the D41, signposted for
Comprégnac. Shortly after Comprégnac, the very
village of Veyre, built into the rock on the north side of
The pretty village of Peyre, near Millau, in early spring.
is a "plus beau village de France", and worth a visit. Unlike
of the "plus beaux villages", Veyre is not too over-touristy. Shortly
after Veyre, the road passes beneath the spectacular Millau viaduct on the
A75 motorway, before reaching Millau, the "capital" of the
du Tarn, and of the Gorges de la Dourbie, a tributary.
The Millau viaduct, from Peyre.
From Millau, the route turns north. Leave Millau on the D809
(former N9) as far as Aguessac; it is here that the proper "Route des
The route through the Gorges is the D907,
which in the Lozère department becomes the D907bis.
Thirty-two kilometres north of Millau, you reach Les Vignes.
it is worth taking the steep twisting road up out of the gorge towards
Saint Rome de Dolan, then turning off to a stupendous viewpoint known
as La Pointe Sublime, dominating the deepest part of the gorge. Then
back down to Les Vignes, from where you'll now follow the narrowest and
most impressive part of the gorge - the section with the tunnels and
the overhangs, as well as spectacular views of vertical rock faces,
cascading waterfalls, and even a historic village on the other side of
the river, Hautesrives, that has no road access.
The northern end of the classic "Gorges du Tarn"
route is at the small town - or is it a large village - of Sainte
Enimie, from where it is either possible to continue up the Tarn valley
as far as Florac, or turn north towards Mende, or south to the Causses
and on down to the Mediterranean coast.
cling improbably between rockface and river, near Sainte Enimie.
Canoes and kayaks can be hired at numerous points in the
Tarn Gorge, and notably at Sainte Enimie, La Malène, les
Vignes and le Rozier. At la Malène, there are also boat
trips on the river for groups of up to 8 people.
While driving, hiking, cycling or canoeing through the
gorge, visitors should look out for the area's impressive bird life,
which includes France's largest population of griffon vultures, as well
as many other birds of prey. Large clusters of vultures, among the
largest of European birds of prey, can often be seen wheeling on the
thermals that rise up from the warm floor of the valley. Towards
Florac, lammergeiers, another type of large vulture, have also been
successfully reintroduced in recent years – not to mention
the eagles for whom this rugged terrain is perfect territory.
Access to the Gorges du Tarn
Millau lies on the A75
running from Clermont Ferrand to Béziers and Montpellier.
Easiest access to the deepest part of the gorge is to leave the A75 at
exit 38, follow the N88 east in the direction of Mende, then turn south
at Chanac or Balsièges, following signs for the Gorges du Tarn
and Sainte Enimie.
Alternatively, leave the motorway at
Severac le Chateau (exit for Aire de l'Aveyron); the exit for Severac
is actually 1 km along the N88 dual-carriageway in the direction of
Rodez. From Severac, after visiting the mediaeval château, follow
signs for the Gorges du Tarn and Saint Rome du Dolan. The descent from
Saint Rome to Les Vignes is breathtaking.
When to visit
time from March to November.... but avoiding busy holiday weekends and
if possible the peak weeks between mid-July and mid-August, when the
road through the gorge can get a bit congested
In the vicinity of the Gorges du Tarn
sites to visit.
Armand : Amazing natural cavern, with superb stalacmites
le vieux :
a karstic chaos of limestone rock formations, said to resemble an
ancient ruined city. The site is accessible along well marked, but
quite rocky, footpaths, but also by "petit train touristique"
those who prefer a more leisurely visit. Spectacular views over the
Gorges de la Dourbie.
le Château : great mediaeval fortress on an outcrop of rock
Couvertoirade : minute walled Templar city, on the barren
Causse du Larzac, south of Millau.
: Visit the underground caves and cellars where the world's most famous
blue cheese is matured.
more of France off the beaten track .....
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