Languedoc, Cevennes & Ardeche

Walking around France

The region

  • An ancient language lies behind the name Languedoc; literally it was the southern third of France where the inhabitants used to speak different versions of the tongue of Oc, as opposed to the Langue d'Oil of the north. The various dialects of Occitan are still widely spoken but the numbers are in decline.
  • Many visitors think of the Languedoc as a land of sun-drenched vineyards, crumbling castles, sandy beaches and rocky hills known as garrigues covered in heavily scented bushes and wild flowers.
  • The Languedoc experiences strong winds between 100 and 200 days a year. The northern wind from the mountains in central France, the Tramontane, is the most frequent.
  • The word Cevennes provides an important clue to the landscape. It means seven veins, because seven rivers flow east to the Rhone cutting deep into the mountains. From a vantage point on one of the Cevennes' great mountains  the ridges above these seven valleys look like the waves of a mighty ocean.
  • The landscape of the Cevennes is varied-limestone gorges; schistous mountains with acid loving plants; forests; arid plateaus known as causses where the thin topsoil lies above a thick layer of porous limestone. Rain permeates the rock creating spectacular underground grottos.
  • Up to 500 metres in the Cevennes small evergreen oaks flourish; between 500 and 1000 metres chestnuts as well as oaks which shed their leaves in winter; between 1000 and 1500 metres beech.
  • The limestone cliffs of the Gorges de L'Ardeche are about 900 feet high and honeycombed with caves. There are a number of huge meanders in the river as it flows towards the Rhone.
  • The signs of change over the centuries are obvious. Terraces created to sustain agriculture on inhospitable slopes have fallen into disrepair. The peasantry used to be some of the poorest in France. The chestnut trees provided the Cevenol farmers with their staple diet of bread and soup. Old factories which used to spin and weave silk can be found in villages and towns across the Cevennes.
  • Raising sheep used to be very important and the old drove ways used by shepherds to move their flocks are a boon to the walker.
  • The national trail known as Le Chemin Stevenson was created in 1878 to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Robert Louis Stevenson's journey which he recorded in Travels with My Donkey in the Cevennes. Today 10,000 make the journey on foot, many accompanied by donkeys.
  • Stevenson was fascinated by the history of the Protestant revolt in the Cevennes which led to bloody conflict with Louis XIV's soldiers. Protestants were persecuted here until the eve of the French Revolution.
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Diary extracts

Montagne Noire

Crossing the moor land towards the sumit of the Pic de Nore, the wind rushed at me from the north and I had difficulty battling forward. I turned right into the swirling mist and reached more woods on the far side. Suddenly the tempest ceased and all was calm. The Refuge du Trilby brought a pleasant surprise. A group of horse riders had stopped for lunch and a log fire was roaring in the hearth. To one side was a large Land Rover full of food and eight horses were tethered in the clearing. Spirits were already high. "Venez boire un coup avec nous!" Someone poured me a glass of red wine and then another. Eventually they left a bottle and said "help yourself."  The group came from Toulouse and were spending a long weekend riding in the hills. The men's flushed faces betrayed the effects of fresh air, exercise and too much wine. There was much shouting and laughter and although city dwellers with the smell of affluence they spoke with a slight Midi twang. "What is an Englishman doing walking around France on his own? We will have to find you a French woman for ompany." I declined their bibulous offer.

 A hostel in the Languedoc

The hostel at Les Cledes was deep in a beech wood. Christian, who lived alone with his huskies and twenty eight cats, was a quirky character. He immediately took me on a tour of the house stopping in front of a old metal barrel with a chicken inside. "This is my special one," he said. "Why?" I asked. "Because he scratches forwards rather than backwards."He then introduced me to his cockerel Albert. Christian had an amazingly mobile face. His sing song voice recounted each story in a stream of slurred Midi French, moustache twitching as he spoke. He delivered the punch line with a dead pan expression and waited for a reaction from the listener. Then his face creased into a smile and he would start laughing at himself. He lived alone and obviously liked an audience but I was not surprised to learn that he had been in "le showbiz" in Paris for twenty five years. I could imagine him in a revue in some smoke-filled night club.

 Mont Lozere

I first saw Mont Lozere close up as I approached Pont de Monvert from the south and I felt a sense of elation. A high plateau opened up with clusters of huge rounded rocks which looked as if they had been scattered at random from a plane. Stone walls divided this lunar landscape into fields of mown grass over which skylarks sounded their warning cries. A hawk hovered in the distance. The plateau on which I stood was like the stage in a vast amphitheatre of mountains, with the slopes of Mont Lozere as the upper rows of the circle. To reach it the walker ascends a horseshoe valley. If you want to grasp the scale of la France profonde you should stand on this mountain's summit. The arch of the heavens on a clear day is immense.

 Refugees from Marseilles

I ran into two interesting characters who saw the Cevennes as an escape from Marseilles. Monsieur Dennis was a France Telecom employee who was planning to retire soon in Barre des Cevennes. "I can't wait to leave Marseilles. It is crowded, polluted and full of undesirable foreigners from all over the world. Some of them mug you for your money at red traffic lights." Everything was dingue,  a forceful French expression meaning "nuts". What chance was there of any change for the better when all the politicians were corrupt. "Every politician is trying to grab a slice of the cake. When they have done that they argue about the crumbs!" Monsieur Dennis was clearly a man with traditional French tastes. American hamburgers were also dingue. "People must eat proper food," he said.


On the outskirts of Chasserades I asked an old man chopping logs the way to the centre of the village. One of his daughters had married a local peasant farmer. He had worked in a laboratory in Marseilles with psychologists who were all fada or mad. He made this remark pointing to his balding head. He wanted us to know he was an educated man who read a lot and that some of his grandchildren had attended the college in Le Bleymard and the lycee in Mende. He said all this to contrast himself with the local peasants - "They only think about meat and milk, " he said, "les sous et la terre (money and land). that is the peasant spirit!" He continued - "One peasant woman kept boasting to my wife how much land she had. My wife said to her 'you only need two metres long, one metre wide and one metre deep for a grave.' That shut her up!"

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The Walk

 This walk took me back across the garrigues along the Sentier des Cathares as far as the chateau of Peyrepertuse, where I joined the GR36 (36B through Villerouge Termenes) through the Corbieres to Carcassonne. Here my path crossed the Canal du Midi to ascend the Pic de Nore, 1211 metres, on the Montagne Noire and descend to Mazamet. I continued north on the GR36 for a few miles before turning right onto the GR71 to walk through Angles and Salvetat-sur-Agout to the summit of Espinouse, 1124 metres, (short stretch on GR7 from Col de Font-Froide). I pursued the GR71 north and then east, leaving it at the Col de Marcou to use a reseau vert in order to join the GR653 to le Bousquet-sur-Orb. From here the GR653 and a short stretch on the D35 road east of Lunas got me to Lodeve. All of this was hill walking on good paths with no particularly strenuous sections. From Port-La-Nouvelle to Lodeve the distance is 199 miles.


From Lodeve I walked into the Cevennes along the GR7 as far as Barre-des-Cevennes, traversing the Gorges de la Vis to the Cirque de Navacelles, crossing the Causse de Blandas to Le Vigan, climbing Mont Aigoual, 1565 metres, and walking north from there on a long ridge. At Barre I left the GR7 to take the GR72 down to the valley of the Mimente at Cassagnas, and then climbed the Montagne de Bougues to the north (Col de la Planete 1292 metres), joining the GR70 (Stevenson trail but in the wrong direction) to Pont de Monvert. From here the Chemin Stevenson took me across the Mont Lozere (1699 metres Sommet de Finiels) and the Montagne du Goulet, 1497 metres, to La Bastide-Puylaurent on the River Allier. Again the paths were well marked but the climbing more strenuous on the Cevenol hills than in the Languedoc. Care should be taken on the path along the Gorges de la Vis. There is some slippery shale and one section near the edge.

From La Bastide I crossed the wind swept plateaus of the Ardeche on the GR7 to Le Bez and from here south on the GR4 through Thines and Les Vans to the Ardeche river at Vallon Pont d'Arc. From Vallon the GR4 follows the right bank of the famous Gorges de l'Ardeche descending eventually to the Rhone at Pont St. Esprit. The path through the Ardeche is gentler than the Cevennes. Unfortunately the walker cannot see the Gorges from the GR4 as it runs through the forest some way away. From Lodeve to Pont St. Esprit the distance in 209 miles.


View more details.

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Maps and Guides

Port-La-Nouvelle to Lodeve: Le Sentier Cathare. Rando Editions. IGN 1:25000 maps 2447OT, 2446O, 2346E, 2345E. Topoguide FFRP GR7-71. Traversee du Haut-Languedoc. Ref. 716.  IGN 1;25000 maps 2344ET, 2543OT, 2643OT.


Lodeve to Pont St. Esprit: Topoguide FFRP Traversee du Haut-Languedoc. IGN Map 1:100,000 Parc National des Cevennes. Topoguide FFRP Le Chemin Stevenson GR70. Ref. 700. Topoguide FFRP GR7-72Du Pilat aux Cevennes. Ref. 704. Topoguide FFRP Des Gorges de l'Ardeche a la Margeride GR4. Ref. 402.

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In the summer it can be very hot in the Languedoc and walkers are advised to take plenty of water and a good sun hat. Rainfall is heaviest in Spring and Autumn. In the depths of winter there can be snow in the Cevennes and on the plateaus of the Ardeche.

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I list below places where I stayed which I can particularly recommend. I have not covered every stopping place on my route. I had some difficulty finding accommodation in the remoter hills of the Corbieres. Originally I had planned to cross the Haut Languedoc on a more southerly ridge using the GR7. I had not booked hostels in advance and it was a holiday weekend. I discovered by phoning that all the places were taken and I decided to follow the northern route I have described, where I had no problems.



Hotel du Port

6 quai du Port

11210 Port-La-Nouvelle

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 68 48 65 59


Ann Castany

Zenaide-Chambres d'hote

27 rue des Chasseurs

11540 Roquefort-des-Corbieres

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 68 48 66 09


2km to north-west of village

Gite d'etape ancienne bergerie a Saint-Roch

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 68 45 47 91 or (0)6 60 77 13 89


Auberge de Peyrepertuse

12 rue Blanche de Castille


Tel/fax 00 33 (0)4 68 45 40 40

St. Pierre-des-Champs

Helene Carreaud

3 et 8 rue du Porche

11220 St. Pierre-des-Champs

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 68 43 39 07 or (0)6 88 46 83 54


Hostellerie des Corbieres

9 boulevard de la Promenade

11220 Lagrasse

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 68 43 15 22

Fax 00 33 (0)4 68 43 16 56


Veronique et Philippe Pujol

La Maison-Chambre d'hote

17 rue Frederic Mistral

11600 Conques-sur-Orbeil

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 68 26 98 18 or (0)6 11 92 47 35


Gite les Cledes

34610 Castanet-le-Haut

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 67 23 65 16

Le Bousquet-sur-Orb

Christine et Thierry Soriano

Gites de Fontenille

34260 Le Bousquet-sur-Orb

Tel/Fax 00 33 (0)4 67 23 75 01 or Tel (0)6 87 46 11 21


Hotel de La Paix

11 boulevard Montalangue

34700 Lodeve

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 67 44 07 46


Gite d'etape Le Mas Guilhou

30580 Navacelles

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 67 81 50 69


Near Mont Aigoual

Hotel du Parc et de l'Esperou

Carrefour des Hommes de la Route

30570 Esperou

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 67 82 60 05

Aire de Cote

Near Mont Aigoual

Gite d'Etape Aire de Cote

48400 Bessurels

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 66 44 70 47

Barre des Cevennes

Gite d'Etape La Croisette

Jean-Claude Combes

48400 Barre des Cevennes

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 66 45 05 28


Annabel et Luc Chauvet

Relais Stevenson-Espace Stevenson

48400 Cassagnas

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 66 45 20 34

Pont de Monvert

Auberge des Cevennes

48220 Pont de Monvert

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 66 45 80 01

Le Bleymard

Hotel La Remise

48190 Le Bleymard

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 66 48 65 80

La Bastide-Puylaurent

Philippe Papadimitriou

Guest House L'Etoile

48250 La Bastide-Puylaurent

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 66 46 05 52

Notre Dame des Neiges (monastere)

Possibility of silent retreats

Phone Pere hotelier on 00 33 (0)4 66 46 59 13


Mme. Francoise Skouras

Gite d'Etape Loubaresse

07110 Loubaresse

Tel./Fax 00 33 (0)4 75 88 99 38

Les Vans

Hotel Le Carmel

7 montee du Carmel

07140 Les Vans

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 75 94 99 60

Vallon Pont d'Arc

Le Manoir du Raveyron

rue Henri Barbusse

07150 Vallon Pont d'Arc

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 75 88 03 59

Fax 00 33 (0)4 75 37 11 12


4 km from Labastide

Guido et Marie-Rose Goossens

Chambres d'hote Le Mas Reve

01750 Labastide-de-Virac

Tel. 00 33 (0)4 75 38 69 13



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Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images with captions.

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