This is going to be a bit of a "blog" post rather than a more usual thread thingy. Hopefully it will provide a useful resource for anyone in the future searching for: Florac, Cévennes, Cevennes, Tarn, Route guide, trail, France.
Just had a great few days of riding around Florac in the hills that lie between the Cevennes and the Gorge du Tarn.
This is a family holiday, 2 nippers and Mrs S who also likes to ride/run, so like many of you guys in similar circumstances time to ride on your own is limited. We've come down this way a few times over recent years and in that time Ive built up a bit of an idea of some of the local trails. Around Florac there are no waymarked VTT routes unlike, say, Aude en Pyrenees where we were a week ago (although I also have a load of stuuff Ive found over the years that's not on the VTT maps). So I thought Id put some ride reports/route guides together for anyone else looking for a good family holiday spot like the Tarn.
Without things like VTT guides in the tourist office though it can be a bit tricky just hitting the maps and hoping to put together a rideable, 2-4hr loop from the campsite. Ive come here enough now, so Ive done it for you
Ive had a few chilled evenings to go back over the rides, make a note of tricky turns, and add some photos. So with all that you can either transfer the route with notes to your own maps, or just read the post because you're bored and the Mrs is watching the Olympics opening ceremony again.
There are of course VTT books, but they usually have longer routes than you can squeeze in in a morning before you have to get back on duty and save your exasperated wife/husband from giving your children away to a Frenchman.
This is very much mince-core ultralight XC riding. These routes arent for gravity junkies or you lot on mid-life crisis bikes who can go to Morzine for a week of uplifts, testing how your osteoporosis is coming on and your kids only know you've gone on holiday and left them because the fridge isnt getting re-filled. This is for young family mum's & dad's who want to be able to grab some independant fun for a few hours in between applying suntun lotion to Jr and picking wasps out of their petit filous.
A bit of preamble:
We have been staying (for our third visit) at Camping Pont du Tarn. It's the local "municipal" site located at 05472 49095. It has some river frontage to the Tarn itself, a swimming pool (for playing in, not lengths) and paddling pool for micro-mes.
1km from the town itself. It gets busy, but it's never rowdy. Free WiFi, natch. All routes start and finish from here.
It's not the most amazing campsite in the world but it's convenient and and a great location. There is another very pleasant "2-star" campsite 3km upstream on the bridge at Beddoues. No pool but better river frontage and very nice pitches as well as stone snack hut.
Topography & mapping
I'm posting four routes here. The shortest took 2:20, longest 3:30/4ish. The terrain is varied, so distances might be between 25km and 35km. Florac lies at the junction of three different geologies which makes for very different riding from the same spot. To the west is the "Causse Mejean". Flat-topped limestone slabs with clay levels that sometimes give up and leave little terraces. These Causse form the steep sides to the Tarn gorge and it's sister Gorge de la Jonte. To the NE are limestone and sandstone and shale beds that make for more traditional v-cut valleys but then go on into high plateaus with odd little hills on top. To the SE are sandstones that are covered in protected forests.
Florac itself is at 550m, the majority of cols and plateaus are at 1,050m although some of the peaks at Mont Lozere go up to 1,200m+. Generally each ride takes in a 500m climb followed by some contouring and then a 500m descent.
All waypoints are in UTM-WGS84 grid refs which are the ones used on the IGN Cartes 1:25,000. Unfortunately Florac is slap bang on the junction of four maps, and there's very little or no overlap on the cartes, so you can do two routes on one map 2640 OT), one on another (2739 OT), and potentially one on the same one if you follow my directions otherwise you'll need a third map for the route (2740 ET). I was really hoping to be able to link the grid ref to an online resource but geoportail.fr is such utter **** that I cant link to marks on maps, which is a real shame as you'll need the hard copy maps to follow the route guide. You can have a go at browsing around Florac on the Geoportail site of the IGN maps and see how you get on but Im sorry I'm not able to link to points like on Streetmap or even google maps (which doesnt recognise UTM grid refs).
Ive been riding my geared pompetamine, with 35c SB8s. We're over here for a month and while I can get to ride off road maybe a dozen times in all, for each one of those days I also need to be able to tow one or other of the boys by trailer or trailgator, as well as nip to the shops. The pomp has been brilliant for that - easy rolling on tow paths and with trailers, but just enough guts to deal with the off road stuff.
What became clear (and Im sure Ive read this somewhere else, shiggy's site maybe?) is that descending in drops is surprisingly stable and confidence inspiring. Your pivot point around the steerer is obviously a long way forward, akin to say a 180mm+ stem so that as you descend and "compress" forwards, you effectively stiffen up the front end steering, preventing much of the wheel deflection you expect otherwise. You also get "rammed" into the drops giving you a very secure feeling, and in conjunction with the excellent modulation of BB7s I was able to ride just about any descent and many of those would have made me think twice on the HT MTB, but not on the Pomp.
This route takes you north through woods and out onto the plateau known as La Champ des Bondons. A climb through these woods, and then around the ridge and back down the valley behind it.
Them thar hills (taken from Route Two /Four climb)
Starting from le Pont du Tarn follow GR43/GR68 up through the Puecheral woods and all the way to the fork at 05465 49157 where you take the right, in the Foret des Gorges du Tarn. This is a steady gravel road climb for the most part.
Looking back west over the Tarn
A bit trickier for the last km heading up to the col at 05466 49134 as it is a very loose baby-head sized rock field. I was originally planning on riding the descent from here NE to Malaval but there's a stile over into the meadow and the path was unidentifiable in the field. However, the path was clear as day seen from the other side of the valley so Im sure it's there for the taking. Instead though I continued on up to Les Puechs or "The two Titties" as I shall now refer to them
The fork right is easy to find, the trail is a similar gravel double track and it passes through an open gate. Climb on a bit further round the back of the odd looking hillock (tittie one) heading to pass around the back of the second tittie, until you come to the 1183m spot height on the map at 05485 49167.
Looking west at the backside of the climb
Turn right and begin a fast rocky double track descent. Bit of a challenge on the pomp to avoid pinch flats by staying on tip toes and biomechanically suspending me and the bike all the way down, as there's a big risk of pinch flats on the slabby surface and water bars. Plenty of shape to the track though to give anyone on an HT or FS a good grin too.
At 05482 49147 you have the choice of taking the road to Malbosc (05476 49132) or to Malaval at 05479 49155. If you're going to Malaval, at the second switch back go straigh on into a tree-covered trail through the removeable pole fence. You are now going to pick you way along livestock tracks down the tree-covered tunnel. It is not particularly well defined, but youc an work it out. Eventually you come to the end of the field where the fenceline meets the stream and you need to go through the wire gate into what looks like a very overgrown track, but go with it, it's only short. In less than 50m you join a proper double track that fords the stream from the west and that double track now takes you into Malbosc with no problems.
Take the climb out of Malbosc towards Chadenet (05473 49126). Take the road until it passes round the back of the farmstead. A short steep path then drops you onto the redline marked PR path.
The start of the ST descent
Sweet wooded trail
This is a lovely, shaded, mix of medium and fast single track of stone, gravel, rocks and wooded path that rattles along until you come out on to some double track at about 05486 49109 when it becomes a steep and loose gravel service track, ravaged by water. Gulleys, waterbars, lumps and bumps all the way down untilyou pop out at the campsite I mentioned on the north side of the river from Bedoues. Facing the campsite go right down the tree lined track (if you end up on the road over the bridge youve gone too far) and follow this entertaining mix of rolling singeltrack/doubletrack along the riverside back to Pont du Tarn effectively following GR70.
A steady ride out that takes about 1.5hrs to climb and another 1.5hrs to come back in.
A hefty road climb up on to the Causse Mejean straight above the town, then a tight, steep switchback descent down the face of the gorge before a rolling off road return along the riverside.
From the northern bridge into town at 05472 48089 take the route towards centre ville before cutting right up the D16. Wind your way up from 550m to c.980m at 05454 49089, take the road that cuts up behind you and keep on spinning for a few more kms until up on the top.
the switch back climb up the face of the causse (taken from Route Three descent)
Stay on the tarmac'd road as it bobs along the top of the causse until you begin to drop into the hamlet of le Tomple. As you approach the houses there is a bright gravel track that forks off to the right at 05432 49102, take this fork and follow it around 90degrees right in a further 50m. A dusty gravel road now dips, rolls and climbs up towards the edge of the escarpment. As the climbing slows you will be able to see the pylon ahead of you at 05433 49118. YOu will probably miss it the first time, but you want to cut back behind yourself at 05434 49115, dont worry if you do miss it as it's worth just riding along to the pylon at 1055m. The turning is hard to see as you head north but blatantly obvious once you've turned round. Follow this less distinc (but clear) double track up over the heath and down a loose broken descent to the "drop in" of the singletrack at 1000m, 05438 49109.
The Drop in
The first stage of the descent is very narrow stony singletrack thorugh the undergrowth. At the fork in just 50m in, take the left (I reckon the right hand track is fine, but havent done it yet) and let it take you down the hill via switch backs and a proegressivley more forgiving track surface. It's tight and stony and takes some concentration but I came down it gingerly on the brakes on the pomp with no problems.
The track will spit you out under some powerlines onto a service road at 05437 49116. Take the left onto this service track and it steepens and becomes very loose, with stones, rocks and pine cones rolling arodun you. In 500m the final drop in to the last stretch of singletrack appears. It looks steep, but is only for the first 10m so walk down if you want, and then it starts shaping into a neglected ST descent. There will be lots of weaving livestock trails and meadow margins and walls coming and going, but follow your nose and you will eventually end up at a solid track where to your right is a farmstead and your left just 50m further on the tarmac'd road at Bieisette 05440 49128.
Turn right and follow the road south to Bieisses where you will find an unorthodox sign nailed to a tree directing you to Florac via a gravel track up to your right, take it. Take this track and keep on it all the way until you find tarmac again at Salieges and you will end up back at the roundabout on the road into town.
About 3hrs depending on your skill/bike capabilities on the descent. I had to come down on the brakes, but cleared the lot even on the CX.
A 500m road climb then a contouring exploration of the Foret Domanale de Ramponenche before a tricky little singletrack descent back into town or an easier bailout.
This one has some great views and wonderful feeling of being out there, but is no means a technical ride except for the very end which can be avoided.
The route drops on to the southern map 2740 ET, but you dont need this map if you follow these instructions. From the Pont du Tarn take the N106 south. It's a wide main road, with not too much traffic, plenty of visibility for the cars and also refuge on the nearside of the white lines if you need it. After about half an hour (for me) you will have steadily climbed up from 550m to 630m and then started a short descent at the bottom of which take a turning left signposted St Julien d'Arpon, and Col de Sapet.
Follow the D20 round to the left after the bridge and start your climb. Keep on winching up to the Col. At the fifth switchback or so, be careful to follow it round and not go straight on through the 6t limit sign. Follow the signpost to Grand Ville. You will pass thorugh the hamlet of Grand Ville and at a switch back, this time make sure you take the road off to the right signed to Pont du Montvert. Another 2km of climbing and you come out at the Col du Sapet. The total climb is proabably about 7km, for 400m from the bridge, so averaging less than 6%. Not a killer, but the last few km do drag out a bit.
But it's worth it. You now turn left at the col along the clear dirt track. Signposted GR68 & 70. A word of warning here. GR70 as a route was based on Robert Louiis Stevenson's trip through the Cevennes in 1878. He walked across the mountains in 12 days with his donkey, Modestine, in a bit of a flounce after he was stood up at the alter by his squeeze, Fanny Osbourne. He wrote about his trip "Journeys with a donkey in the Cevennes" and it was published in 1879, so GR70 became the Chemin de Stevenson. This does mean that there are quite a lot of people recreating his walk during the season....complete with donkeys. So do watch your speed on some of the later singletrack descents as it's considered bad form to smash the back doors in of a donkey without asking the owner's permission first.
great views, big hills
The GR route is very well waymarked with traditional GR white & red lines and crosses. I took GR68 all the way back to the Florac bridge at 05472 49089, the split between the two tracks at 05497 49093 is clear as day.
Where the GRs split
This whole section is broad dirtrack - this isnt a woody gnarlfest of a route, but a wonderful chance to get into the high forest and explore with some amazing views.
However, at 05476 49089 GR68 drops onto some singletrack - part gravel switchbacks, part wooded swoops and part rocky tighter switchbacks, a bit of a laugh for anyone with the bike for it.
The drop in, dont miss it
Looks good to me[b]
[b]Gets a bit techy
GR70 comes out at the bridge at Bedoues and although I didnt ride it I can only assume it's a solid doubeltrack all the way down for those who dont want the tricky ST descent of the last km of the GR68.
A great morning ride into the top of the hills and to explore the old Cevennes forest and follow Stevenson's footsteps. 30mins to the start of the big climb, about an hour to clear that at a gentle pace (about 7kph) and another 45-60 mins to come down. 2-2.5hrs all in. Really inspiring ride.
Well this was going to be a route taking in the side of the gorge to the south of Florac, but is instead an illustration why it's handy having someone else do some research foor you! Taking the climb up on to the Causse Mejean, the D16, from the back of Florac again as you did for Route Two. The idea was this time go all the way to the top at 05453 49085 and take the waymarked (green marker) Tour du Causse Mejan sentier route to the south as far as 05464 49050 and then returning to the top of the D16 climb along the path that runs parallell with the edge of the escarpment, a few hundred feet below the lip.
But it's unrideable. I had rather committed 20 minutes of hike a bike before coming to the conclusion it wasnt going to improve. Razor edge wide track in fairly dense bush, and steep 10ft rolling climb & descents - it was tought pushing the bike, let alone riding it. I struggled on, but it was clear it was going to take well over an hour to get to the end. Fortunately I did manage to escape at a break in the cliff edge below La Bastide at 05467 49062 and climbed, with my hefty bike on my back, up the steep escarpment face and 30ft of cliff back on to the top and return the way I had come.
Win three, lose one I say.
Anyway, I got back to the top of the climb to drop on to the long diagonal descent that runs from the Dolmen at 05453 49087 north to the little road off the D16
Drop in to the St starts behind the crash barrier
It then joins the D16 road descent for a few hundred metres and a switch back before you take the gap in the road barrier off the side and follow a gravel trail down the escarpment face at 05456 49088. It's a combination of fast flowy singletrack, broad gravel singletrack and also tighter with rocky juttings, tight flicks right and left and occasionally very badly worn very steep gulleys.
A chilled bit
I was tired from my lost hour or so in the hot wilds so came down it like a sack of poo with as much grace. Pinched and decided to retire to the road when the trail crossed it at 05460 49083. But if youve got the bike and a bit of skill it's a very rewarding descent.
First one to say "I struggle with long sentences" owes me a pint when we get back to blighty.