Hiking to Langogne in Lozere and joined them on the GR72 which took us through the spa resort of St Laurent Les Bains in Ardeche to the Railway station at La Bastide-Puylaurent along the Allier River.
A week on the GR4 trail in mountains of Southern France
Brian M., Aukland, New Zealand
Auckland New Zealand to the Ardeche Gorges seems a long way for a walking holiday, but I fell in love with the Cevennes after spending two weeks travelling in Cathar country around Herault and Lozere in 1999 and determined if I ever came back it would be on foot.
I used the Cicerone Guide, Walking the French Gorges, by Alan Castle as my bible, and decided to pick up the GR4 at Pont St Esprit as it was relatively easy to get there by bus from Avignon, the nearest TGV stop, to the Ardeche Gorges. I reckoned on walking for a week and connecting with a train back to Paris at Langogne.
Arriving on the 20 th August in the South of France from a New Zealand winter, I was totally unprepared for 30 degree centigrade (86 degrees F.) temperatures and the trail from Pont St Esprit to Labastide was a long learning curve.
The GR4 winds up through scrubby garrigue and pine plantations. A stony reflective trail and a pitiless sun soon made me realize that a half litre water bottle wasn't
going last for the estimated 11 hrs to Labastide. Fortunately I met a four wheel drive picnic party at an abandoned farm and refilled my water bottle.
This and a diversion to the camp site at Mas de Seret for an ice block and more water made me realise that you need to set off every day with at least 2 litres of water. The gite d'etape at Labastide proved comfortable and welcoming but had been considerably upgraded since the publication of my guidebook. It no longer provided meals and was now really a rather superior chambre d'hote with a pool and all mod cons.with prices to match. Labastide had a very agreeable and moderately priced restaurant, La Vielle Porche, and an excellent display of the history of silk farming in the district on display in the "Bastide" tower.
The trail from Labastide to Salavas passes through neglected vineyards and lavender fields, fragrant in the early morning.
Easy walking on overgrown country lanes and minor roads. Salavas to Comps is more of a challenge, heading up steep hills with views across the Ardeche river to Vallon.
The abandoned Hamlet at Chastelas is worth exploring for the feeling of being in the company of past generations of villagers who quarried these hills and scratched a
living from the stony terraces. Down to a pristine blue pool at the foot of the hills and easy walking to the next gite d'etape at Comps.
This was a 17th Century farmhouse with a warren of outbuildings in the centre of the village.
The rooms, cavelike with thick walls and hung with lithographs, the work of the owner of the gite. No food available in Comps and too far to walk to Grospierres, the next town. A pack of freeze-dried food would have been a useful thing to have had for an emergency meal.
Comps to Les Vans a delightful ramble through vineyards and stony fields heading towards the gorge of the Chassezac River. The rock formations on the gorge track are like Inca ruins emerging from the undergrowth. The gite at Les Vans is 30 mins walk past the town but worth the extra effort. A comfortable bunk room, good showers and well stocked kitchen with a supermarket quite close.
An alternative route was advised for the next day. The GR4 has a long stretch on sealed road after Chambonas and a much more scenic alternative proved to be a trail winding down the side of the gorge from Les Vans and climbing to the Eglise St Saveur at Les Sallelles, rejoining the GR4 at Luminiere. Well into the mountains now walking through forests of chestnut, oak and beech and hardly another person on the trail.
Up over the hills and down to Thines, the "jewel of the Cevennes," but preceded by another treasure, Chez Nathalie at La Blacherette, serving wonderful icecreams and cold drinks to tired walkers. Thines boasts a wonderful 12th Century Romanesque church and cottages of split stone which have survived centuries of harsh winters. The gite adjacent to the church is comfortable and has an amazing view of the mountains. Food was available at the alimentation-gift shop and the food at the restaurant is plentiful and cheap.
Thines to Loubaresse was a steady climb up to high country farmland on a Roman road with curb stones holding as firmly as the day they were laid. The chestnut forest changes to pine plantations with purple heather and wildflowers on the verge. Loubaresse a sleepy village with a tiny alimentation and a wonderful gite d'etape seving fabulous country food al fresco on the lawn.
It is possible to wash clothes in a communal stone tank fed by a spring in the centre of the village.
Heeding the advice of a party of experienced French walkers, I opted to avoid the long stage to Langogne and joined them on the GR72 which took us through the spa resort of St Laurent Les Bains to the Railway station at La Bastide-Puylaurent. High country walking with some long testing climbs and spectacular views. The gite d'etape L'Etoile at La Bastide was particularly hospitable and allowed us to shower and repack before boarding the train. Connections from this line allow a rapid return to the Rhone valley to change to the TGV at Nimes.
Overall this route had everything that one thinks of as representing the depthes of rural France: trails through forests, over high country, charming old villages, basic country food and a sense of profound isolation.
I only wish I had had another week to just keep on walking.
This report from Brian about his week in the Cevennes is so complete that it could be printed out and used as a guidebook by anyone wanting to duplicate his walk.
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Old romantic Hotel, L'Etoile Guest-House is a mountain retreat in the South of France. With a beautiful park along the Allier River, L'Etoile Guesthouse is located in La Bastide-Puylaurent between Lozere, Ardeche and Cevennes. Many hiking trails like GR7, GR70 Stevenson trail, GR72, GR700 Regordane way, Cevenol, Allier river, Roujanel, Margeride, Gevaudan, Ardechoise. Many hiking loops around L'Etoile Guesthouse. The right place to relax.
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