Road Cycling in the Cevennes – Blog Post by Emma
We spent the first of our three weeks in France, during July, in the remote but beautiful region of the Cevennes. We have Phil Deeker of Rapha Cent Cols fame to thank for this, after we spotted some amazing photos on social media a couple of years ago, and also having watched Ray Meares’ ” Wild France” programme on TV. The region was described as being tranquil with a spectacular landscape; mountains, gorges and limestone plateaus.
This beautiful region of natural park is situated north east of the Ariege Pyrenees, and west of the Alps. It sits south of the city of Clermont Ferrand and north of Montpellier. We chose to base ourselves in a small hamlet, which sits above the town of Florac, and it turned out to be a perfect location. Florac itself was approximately 5 miles from our gite, so we stocked up at the local supermarket and boulangerie on Sunday morning, and by lunchtime we were keen to get the legs turning, after two long days in the car.
Day 1: 19 miles Les Bondons
We decided to do a short ride as we were tired from the journey. We cycled to a pretty village called Les Bondons, which involved a nice winding climb to get us started, leading to a striking plateau. The scenery, although you would not describe it as mountainous on this particular ride, was still spectacular with the “puechs” a distinct feature of this landscape. The roads were quiet and we descended back to our base on a very small road, with a rather bumpy surface.
Day 2: 65 miles Mont Aigoual
The weather was beautiful, and we were ready for a longer day in the saddle. Mont Aigoual was our destination, at 1567m, this was definitely a mountain as opposed to a hill! To reach Mont Aigoual from Florac you have more than one option due to the network of roads. We chose to ride through the pretty village of Vebron and then through the Gorges du Tapoul. This is probably one of the quietest roads I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding: so scenic and peaceful…..and also quite challenging with a good chunk of 9% as we climbed to the village of Cabrillac.
From there it was the final stretch to Mont Aigoual, the road was a constant, slight uphill, but never steep at this point. As we reached the road to the observatory, we saw a large group of cyclists. Up to then we’d not seen any other road cyclists. The views from the summit are simply magnificent, a clear blue sky, light winds and 28 degrees made this a pretty perfect day. We returned via a different road from Cabrillac, descending Col de Perjuret. Having ridden down this road, we decided it was a “must do” to ride up it during the course of our trip.
Day 3: 71 miles Riding above the Gorges
Another hot, blue sky day and we decided to head again towards Vebron to ascend the scenic Col de Perjuret, with its rugged cliff faces. Then came the descent to the town of Meyrueis. The start of this road was rather gravelly from recent road repairs, not ideal, but thankfully it was only for a short stretch. The town of Meyrueis was lovely, and we stopped to buy water and admired the town for a few moments. This would also be a nice place to stay in the Cevennes. From here we headed along the valley, along the Gorge de la Jontes, a wonderfully quiet, winding piece of road, with fascinating rocky features.
We could have ridden for many miles but we decided to turn around so that we could ride the other road out of Meyrueis, which takes you up above the Gorge de la Jontes, giving absolutely spectacular views. The valley road was pretty but this was magnifique! We soon came to a dramatic, open plateau, it seemed so vast.
A gradual descent to begin, as we followed signs for St Enemie and the Gorge du Tarn. After a long stretch, the road rose again for the small climb to Col de Coperlac, and from here the views became breathtaking again. Sweeping switchbacks with barely any cars took you to to the tourist town of St Enimie.
It was busy but the atmosphere was relaxed, it felt like a mix of locals and visitors all enjoying the sunshine, with many taking a dip in the river. The road back to Florac was mainly flat from here but with a slight but constant headwind, making the return feel quite challenging. The scenery, however, was beautiful making each pedal stroke worthwhile. Once back in Florac, the last climb awaited us, approximately 4 miles up to the gite.
Day 4: 61 miles More Quiet Roads of the Cevennes
Blessed again with sunshine and blue sky, we headed out of Florac onto the tremendously scenic Corniche des Cevennes. A gradual climb, not steep, very quiet, paradise on two wheels! After reaching Col des Faisses we descended to the village of Le Pompidou, where we stocked up on water at a small bar. Our next destination was Barre des Cevennes, via a network of “white roads” on the map.
We took a tiny road to the village of Gabriac, not the best surface but we survived! Next came the village of Sainte Croix Vallee-Francaise, very pretty and barely a soul around. From here we started the climb up to Barre des Cevennes. It was around 8 miles, with approximately 5 miles climbing at around 5% gradient. This was a real pleasure, sun on your back, ascending through the trees and rocky outcrops, up out of the valley.
More water purchased at Barre, then down to Saint Julian d’Arpaon and up to Col du Sapet. It was late afternoon by now and I was unsure how I’d fare on this last climb. Thankfully the legs got going and this turned out to be one of my favourite climbs of the week, the views across the dramatic Cevennes landscape helping to ease the tiredness away. After the climb came several miles of winding road as we headed to Le Pont Montvert, a lovely mountain town. Then it was pretty much downhill all the way for around 7 miles, back to our gite. A gem of a ride with around 6600 feet of ascent.
Day 5: Mont Lozere (Col du Finiels) 35 miles
The legs were getting tired, but another day of fine weather meant we just had to head out again on the bikes. So we decided on a shorter ride, but it still came with a challenging climb. We decided to follow the road that our gite was situated on, climbing up through several pretty villages to the town of Le Pont Montvert. This is where the climb to Col du Finiels begins, the name of the road that gives spectacular views of Mont Lozere, one of the highest peaks in the Cevennes, at 1541 metres. It is also famous from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes”.
We didn’t see anybody travelling with a donkey, in fact, we saw very few people at all, except for a small group of guys on electric bikes, enjoying the descent! The scenery was typical of what we’d become accustomed to during the last few days, stunning, vast, open landscape. Pretty wild flowers lined parts of the road, and we both agreed that although this was our first visit to the Cevennes, it definitely would not be our last.
We descended back to Le Pont Montvert and spent a little while admiring the town and taking photos. Finally, on to the sweeping descent back to our village, returning tired but happy with our fabulous five days of riding.