600 million years ago, much of what is present day France, was covered by water. Vast plains of limestone sediments formed, then to the east tectonic forces were forming the Alps, and to the northwest, the volcanic mountains of the Massif Central began lifting the underwater rock. The soft limestone began eroding, creating deep gorges. These gorgeous gorges are the inspiration for this amazing bicycle tour.
There are many gorges in southern France and we will visit many of them. Our route is designed around the three largest gorges, the Gorges du Tarn, the Gorge de l’Ardeche, and the Grand Canyon du Verdon. These gorges are spectacular, with vertical cliffs up to 1600 feet high. Sometimes we will be cycling along the top edges of the cliffs looking straight down and other times winding along the bottom where often the light of day is rarely seen. A myriad of rivers, including the Tarn, Aveyron, Lot, and Ardeche originating high in the mountains, cut these deep gorges, and their steep rocky cliffs provide perches for some of the most beautiful villages in France.
Erosion of the limestone cliffs has formed many caves, one of the most famous is the Chauvet Cave which is directly on our route, situated at the head of the Gorges de l’Ardeche. Discovered in 1994 it contains the earliest and best preserved prehistoric cave paintings in the world. The cave is unavailable to the general public, but a very detailed replica should be finished in early 2017 and give us a great opportunity to experience this amazing historical location.
We’ll ride hard, but rest, relax, eat and drink very well, as only we cyclists can! Most of you have done bits and pieces of this tour, but our ‘Special Collection’ of routes and places will make for a great ride.
August 26 - Albi, Arrive Toulouse Loop rides for early arrivals
Arrive Toulouse, France, we will meet you at the airport in our van and transport you to our hotel in Albi, a commute of just over an hour. Jewel of the Midi-Pyrenees region, Albi is one of the most attractive of
Frances small cities. The center, with its remarkable mediaeval brick cathedral, and Toulouse-Lautrec museum is a UNESCO world heritage site. Albi is a great town for walking and exploring, and there are numerous bars, restaurants, and pastry shops to taste test. With great views of the countryside, and a mosaic of tiny roads Albi is the perfect setting for the start of our tour of this beautiful region. We’ll gather tonight for our welcoming dinner and an overview of the tour.
This is a great area for bike riding with lots of small roads for exploring. There is very little traffic, the occasional farm vehicle, and a few tourists looking for a lunch restaurant being your only competition.
The dashed route on map #1 is XYZ to ABC miles is flat or rolling. Each village has at least one or two small restaurants for lunch.
Feel free to explore any of the roads, villages along with the amazing country side.
August 27 - St Martin des Faux 59mi, 3400ft or 44mi, 3000ft
Albi is a fitting place to start this tour as the Tarn River runs directly through the center of Albi. At this point the lazy Tarn River meanders slowly across the flat lands towards Toulouse and beyond, but soon the terrain changes dramatically as the Tarn enters some of the deepest gorges in Europe.
Beginning the ride, we cycle gently up the Tarn River, ridding alongside a road tightly hugging the winding river. This allows us a gentle warm up, spinning towards the big hills, and deep gorges ahead. This first day of cycling still has plenty of climbing, giving us over 3000 feet of elevation gain by the time we arrive at our rural hotel.
August 28 - Meyrueis 62mi, 3000ft, or 70mi, 4000ft
After a few rolling hills, we begin a long descent back down to the Tarn River. After a few miles of beautiful cycling up the Tarn River we are presented with a most impressive sight. Looming high above us is the towering “Bridge at Millau,” the tallest bridge in the world at 1125 feet - 69 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower. After enjoying a nice lunch in Millau we soon enter our first real gorge, the “Gorges de la Jonte.” This takes us to Meyrueis and our secluded Chateau hotel. Another option is just after leaving Millau we can climb up into the Parc Regional Des Causses. This is the high plateau above Meyrueis, not only are there great views but also there is some extraordinary fun cycling on the rolling twisting, recently paved roads. The Chaos de Montpellier le Vieux has some amazing rock formations and a couple restaurants to help enjoy the view.
August 29 - Meyrueis 37mi, 3000ft, or various loop rides
The Cevennes, in a remote and largely ignored part of the south of France, is a unique landscape for cycling. Riding here is beautiful but unremittingly hard. Geographically the area is defined by a series of spectacular deep gorges, separated by high plateaus. The climbs are steep and the 'cols' are often described as being ‘upside down’. You descend first into the gorges and then immediately start climbing. There is no relief at the summit, just a grind over the windswept ‘Causses’. This is a unique and wonderful cycling area.
There is an abundance of small, no traffic roads, heading off in all directions from the hotel. Our favorite option is to climb directly out of Meyrueis to the Causse Noir, from here we have a long winding descent down the Gorges du Trevezel to the Canyon de la Dourbie. Back over the Cause Noir and descend into town for a late lunch. If you want a big climb, Mont Aigoual, the tallest mountain in the area, offers a 2900 foot climb.
August 30 - Mende 52mi, 3000ft, or 61mi, 3000ft
The Gorges du Tarn is the most famous gorge of the region, mostly because of its length (33 miles) and depth (up to 1600 feet), and the many castles and beautiful villages built along the gorge. This morning our first gorge is the Gorges des la Jonte. 21 km of gradual downhill surrounded by high cliffs makes this the easiest and one of the most beautiful morning rides of the tour. In Le Rozier the Jonte River empties into the Tarn. From here we head up the Tarn gorge to Sainte Enimie. From here the long route continues up the Tarn for another 10 miles as both routes then climb the Causse de Sauveterre.
August 31 - Mende 43mi, 2500ft
Sitting in the beautiful Lot River valley, the small town of Mende is beautifully situated. It is a great town to explore, with an extensive pedestrian walkway, plenty of shops, exquisite patisseries, great restaurants, bridges, and lots of interesting architecture, including the magnificent Cathedral, a real must-visit. Anyone could spend the whole day here including a leisurely lunch and maybe some relaxing at the hotel. But as always there is a good reason to get on your bike for some great cycling. This area is covered in a blanket of small undulating high plains, with constant up and down on small one lane roads. Perhaps the best is the wonderful Gorges of the Crueize River. We will spend the rest of the ride exploring many of these small roads as we cycle through meadows and forests, from farm to hamlet, and finding almost no villages of any size, and no traffic. Certainly this is one of the more leisurely rides of the tour.
September 1 - Sanilhac 70 mi, 3500 ft
Today there are no deep gorges, no towering mountains, no long climbs, no thrilling descents, and nothing very spectacular. However there are forests, meadows and long stretches of farm land. There is no traffic, only gentle climbs and descents on meandering small roads. There are two small cols about 1000 feet of climbing, and an easy climb up into Sanilhac to our beautiful ‘Bastide’ hotel. The hotel sits high on the hillside where the views go far across the Rhone River in the distance.
Sept 2 - Vaison La Romaine 70mi, 3300ft
One of the grandest, most famous Gorges in Europe is the Gorges de l’Ardeche. An easy downhill ramble, a couple small gorges, and several river crossings brings us to Vallon Pont d’Arc, and the head of the gorge. Now open to the public, a visit to the Chauvet cave might be a possibility. This is probably the biggest and grandest of all cave art, definitely worth the time and effort. As for the ride the Gorges de l’Ardeche is one of the best in France. The road winds alongside the river climbing and falling along the way. Soon we leave the Ardeche, cross the Rhone River and head to Vaison la Romaine. Looming in the distance is Mont Ventoux, we will wait for another day for that challenge.
Sept 3 - Orpierre 67mi, 5400ft
Today’s route has no big name cols, though lots of climbing, it has no tourist attractions, but still incredible scenery, there are no big cities, only small villages, all in all one of the best days of cycling in a tour of great days of cycling. Still we are a tour of gorges, so we have included two small but beautiful gorges in the hills just after Buis les Baronnies. Our route goes through one of the more remote areas of Provence. There are almost no restaurants so we have planned a nice picnic (dotted route only). There are even fewer hotels, so our wonderful little country hotel is quite a surprise. After a swim in the pool, be sure to try the excellent craft beer and if we are lucky the owner will prepare homemade potato chips.
Sept 4 - Digne-Les-Bains 71mi, 5600ft
After an early morning climb and a fun descent we head down the Gorges de la Meouge. This time of the year there is not a lot of rain, so the flow of water is small, but still the ‘swimming hole’ still has plenty of water in the deep pools for the big jumps and enough sun to get a little sunburn. After a nice lunch in Sisteron, we have one of the greatest rides of any rides we do. We begin the afternoon riding with a somewhat rigorous climb, following an ancient Roman route up to a series of three alpine valleys. We’ll pass a Latin inscription chiseled into the rock wall (look for the road sign saying ’Pierre Ecrit’), telling the history of this route in Roman times. Among other things, it tells of an ancient city called Theopolis, which was built somewhere in these mountains. Not to be out done by the climb, the descent is totally awesome, finally sweeping us into Digne les Bains.
Sept 5 - Digne-Les-Bains loop ride 50mi, 3800ft or rest day
A gorge a narrow valley between hills or mountains, typically with steep rocky walls and a stream running through it and is often miles long. Closely related to a gorge is a Clue. When there is a steep ridge that is cut through by erosion, usually from a high valley to a lower valley, and is short, 3 km or less, it is called a Clue. Our main reason for staying an extra day in Digne is to visit two impressive Clues, Clues de Barles and Clue de Verdaches. A mile or two heading out of town, keep an eye to your left for a wall of fossils called l’Ichtyosaure. After lunch in Seyne we complete the loop with a long gradual descent back to Digne.
Sept 6 - Castellane 60mi, 3500ft
We have a leisurely 26 km ride to warm up, then we start climbing up to a plateau where the lavender grows deep as far as the eye can see. We arrive in Moustiers in time for lunch. Moustiers sits at the base of two sheer cliffs, whose summits serve as a springboard for many colorful parapenters. This village, designated one of the most beautiful in Provence, is well worth exploring, including the hike up to the small chapel on the cliffs above town. But with limited time we still have another big challenge, the spectacular ride along the Grand Canyon du Verdon. The 45 kilometers from Moustiers to Castellane is one of the most staggeringly beautiful rides you will ever have the pleasure to experience. The long route loop, from la Palude, is totally awesome, cliffs the whole way. It adds 14 miles and 2000+ elevation gain for a day’s ride of 70 miles and 6800 feet of climbing.
Sept 7 - Castellane loop rides 77mi, 7000ft or 45mi, 4000ft or 27mi, 2000ft
The Grand Canyon du Verdon is one of the most impressive natural wonders of Europe, yet it was not discovered until 1905. Of course the locals knew it well, but its remoteness kept it hidden from the world. Agriculturally useless, and almost inaccessible, the 13 mile gorge has sheer limestone cliffs 1000 to 3000 feet high and less than one-half mile apart. First we descend through the canyon with the vertical cliffs towering above us. Soon we climb out of the gorge and our views become huge. There are many stunning viewpoints of the deep gorge and the Verdon River snaking its way westward. A number of our clients have stated that the ‘Grand Circuit’ is the single best day of riding on any of our tours. Another option is to ride the back roads to Trigance. The large castle sitting majestically on the hill is a perfect place for a multi course excellent meal.
September 8, Castellane to Vence 43mi, 2300ft or 56mi, 2800ft or 68mi, 4800ft (Col de Vence 69mi, 6000ft)
Choose from three wonderful routes and three great lunch stops, each with unique character and charm. One of the shorter routes climbs three small cols and three alpine valleys before swooping down to the village of Gourdon, which is a must for lunch. Perched high on the cliffs of the Gorges du Loop, it has a most impressive view out to the Cote d’Azur and the Mediterranean beyond. If you want a quick and easy ride with great scenery, and a great lunch in Greolières, we have a great ride for that too. The long route climbs high out of Castellane to the Col de St Barnabe, and we spend most of the day descending small roads, along cliffs and thru clues roads to Vence. The uplifted limestone slabs create a beautiful mountainous route with immense views for the entire day. Lunch will be at a small restaurant with the tables in the street. The ride from here to Vence is one of the best of the trip, fitting for the final day. After lunch, if you would like a little extra climbing, there is the option to finish the day descending the Col de Vence. Whatever the route, one has the feeling of reluctantly leaving the mountains, but eagerly anticipating the warmth and brilliance of the Mediterranean. Farewell dinner will be at our hotel’s patio.
Sept 9 - Departure
Our van will transport you to the Nice airport for your flight home, or onward to continued travels.