Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gorges du Tarn part deux

Breakfast in our castle was simple, a buffet with fruit and pastries, and coffee served with hot milk. We packed the car and crossed the street for our next adventure. Les Bateliers de la Malène (Malène being the name of the town) was touted online as a good way to see the gorges from yet another angle. Small, flat-bottomed boats can take on four grown-ups, and after an hour-long tour with narration (seulement en francais) down through the narrowest sections of the gorge, everyone is delivered safely back to the boat launch. Despite the cold weather I was extremely happy that we made the trip, the guide was knowledgeable and the scenery fantastic. We were able to see portions of the gorge not visible from the road and scenic overlooks, and everything looks grander when viewing from the slight rapids or peaceful flow of the river. Many of the rock formations resembled people and objects from this angle; we saw Yoda, a man and woman who I think resembled Latvian folk dancers with full folk costume, several mushrooms and a wolf howling to the moon. The rocky stream bottom provided a good backdrop to see every trout in the cold clear water, and I’m pretty sure Roberts’s mind was on fishing for big bass back in Michigan. We traversed the river all the way from Malène and its hydroelectric damn to the Pas de Soucy, the point where the Tarn disappears beneath a rockslide, and then our batelier expertly steered the boat ashore where a van with driver and boat trailer awaited our exit. The ride back to the launch site was fast but anxiety-filled as our driver navigated the narrow, winding road with the confidence born of a hundred trips up the same route. Once buckled back into our little rental car, we crossed the river and again headed up the southern cliffs of the Tarn.

After continuous hairpin turns we stopped at the cave chapel and statue of the Virgin Mary that provided an excellent view of Malène and its surroundings. Originally we were going to continue on to two cliffs with reportedly excellent views of the gorges, but with the drizzle and cold we decided to skip the 30 minute hike and instead continue on down the river. Our team also appeared to have had its fill of excellent views for the morning! We wound our way back down through the town and headed west, pausing several times at viewpoints to snap some photos and peer down into the gorge. We passed the Détroits, or narrows, of which the view was much better from boat, then stopped to climb a lookout tower overlooking the Pas de Soucy. The most recent rock slide was due to an earthquake in 580, but the legend behind the giant boulders in the bed of the Tarn is as follows; the devil was fleeing from Saint Énimie and when she realized she would not catch him, she called on the rocks for help. One particularly large rock, the Roque Sourde bruised Satan but he managed to escape through a crevice in the river bed to return to hell.

Upon reaching the town of Les Vignes we turned north, climbing up the Causse de Sauveterre to reach Point Sublime. This lookout overlooks the Tarn from a height of more than 400m/1,312ft. A quick glance at the clock reminded us that if we waited too long we would not be able to eat lunch at one of the local brasseries (a lesson learned on previous trips – serving stops at exactly !) and we jumped in the car and wound our way back down to Les Vignes.

Roberts telling a fish story
After lunch (and yes, we did try aligot, the local specialty of a mixture of mashed potatoes, local cheese and cream) we crossed the river and wound our way back up the opposite side. Following signs to La Bourgarie we found the trailhead for the Baousso del Biel trail. The drizzle had stopped and the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds, so we prepared our hiking gear and set out for yet another way to experience the gorges: on foot. Lauris was quite content in his baby carrier, and we were in high spirits as we set off along the edge of the Causse Méjean south. Our first small detour from the main path came soon, to see the pas de l’Arc, a natural pointed arch formed by erosion of a large rock jutting from the main cliff. We soon discovered this was not a trail for someone outfitted with a baby carrier, and so Roberts and Lauris waited up top while the rest of us made the trip down and back up. Once reunited (and I have mixed feelings whether or not the climb back up was worth the view of the arch) we continued on, eventually arriving at the namesake of the hike. This giant arch measures 40m/131ft to the arch roof, and is the largest natural arch in the region. It was worth the hike – look close to see the blue, white and black specs in the picture below!  We learned later that its magnificence was not as admirable when viewed from the road. After a fruitless search for the connecting path that would lead us in a loop back to the car, we finally retraced our steps along the top of the gorge with Lauris fast asleep in the carrier.

Tired from the 8km hike, we watched the last section of the gorge through the car windows, stopping only a few times for pictures before le Rozier which marks the end of the Gorges du Tarn. But our journey was not yet complete; first we stopped in Millau for a quick coffee and a glimpse of downtown, then we drove to the Millau viaduct. Roberts, Lauris and I had seen it from a different angle as I wrote about in Week in Motion, but this time we approached it from the bottom. Preparing and eating our sandwiches while watching the sun set under the bridge was a memorable moment and a good way to end this tour in the Languedoc region.

Our guests kung fu fighting by the Viaduct


  1. Tad ir forss bildes; es esmu greizsirdigs.
    Allen from Troy Michigan

    1. I had to look very close to see the ''blue, white and black specs'' (people) in the arch photo. Wow, that is one big, big arch!


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