At the south western point of the Massif Central, the River Tarn flows through breathtaking scenery and deep dramatic gorges for 48km. In this landscape carved between the Causses (limestone plateaux) of Mejean and Sauveterre the waters of the Tarn alternate between turbulent rapids (rajols) bubbling past sheer cliffs rising to 500m and stretches of calmer water known as planiols. The gorges are a Mecca for white-water rafting, boating, canoeing and kayaking. Swimming and fishing are also favourite pastimes. There are climbing sites for all levels near Millau and many walking routes along the cliffs start from here. A road for cars follows the river’s right bank. Look for long abandoned cave dwellings and crop terraces along the way. The Tarn gorges stretching across the border into neighbouring Lozere are a delight to visit from spring through to autumn, their micro-climate providing a cool haven from the heat of the Grands Causses in high summer.
Parc Naturel des Grands Causses is made up of 4 different limestone plateaux rising from 700 - 1,250m in the southern Massif Central. The Causses Mejean, du Larzac, de Sauveterre and Noir range over 3 departments including Aveyron. The park is an area of natural caves and sink holes - a well-known area for potholing. Sheep graze the often barren landscape where water erosion on limestone has caused a chaos of jagged rocks and the most naturally formed arches in Western Europe. Houses here called maisons caussenardes were built entirely of stone to withstand the hard winters. Affected by mountain, continental and Mediterranean climates the valleys separating the plateaux support a huge variety of fauna and flora to delight visiting ramblers and riders. The Causse Noir (Black Causse) in Aveyron is encircled by the overhanging cliffs of the Jonte, Dourbie and Trevezel gorges. Visit the dry rock sculptures at Montpellier-le-Vieux www.montpellierlevieux.com and spectacular rose coloured caves of the Grotte de Dargilan. http://grotte-dargilan.com
In the twelfth century, the Knights Templar took over the huge Larzac plateau. The land provided revenue and the inhabitants’ security was maintained by specially formed command units for each of the communities of Sainte Eulalie de Cernon, La Cavalerie, la Courvertoirade and le Viala du Pas du Jaux. After the Knights Templar were suppressed by Papal Bull in 1312, the Hospitallers order fortified the towns and administered them for the next 5 centuries. Visit this medieval heritage by following the Circuit du Larzac Templier et Hospitalier. Audio guides are available at each site.
The high plateau of Aubrac in the south Massif Central is a land of forests, lakes and gorges. The isolated farms which dot its boulder strewn hills are famous for honey-coloured horned cattle good for both meat and the milk used to make delicious AOC Languiole cheese. Spot burons or mountain huts used by herdsmen in summer and enjoy the rich traditions found in friendly villages. In the past, winters here have been Siberian in their harshness but now skiers come to enjoy Aubrac’s winter landscape. Spring and the melting snows signal the blossoming of 1000s of wildflowers like yellow gentian and the rare carnivorous drosera to delight those walking and riding around the high plateau’s scenic trails. Make time to visit the cutlery factory at Laguiole which produces, amongst other handmade knives, a now famous farmers or shepherd’s knife with a distinctive shape and bee signature on the handle.
Aveyron provides 20% of France’s hydro-electric power and many of its dams are located on the River Truyere which rises at 1,450m in Lozere and flows into the River Lot at Aveyron’s Entraygues. The dams are all spectacular feats of engineering and the lakes they form make wonderful sights in the remote wooded valleys and gorges. Sarrans dam, built between 1929 and 1934, is a great tourist attraction in northern Aveyron. Its 35km lake flooded nearly 1,000 hectares. Swimming from the Laussac peninsula jutting out into the lake makes a romantic experience. The thin arch concrete Couesque dam built between 1945 and 50 has a height of 70m and is a key link in managing the waters of the Truyere. The lake at Couesque also serves to replenish the waters of the Montezic reservoir when levels are low and conversely water from Montezic is sent to Sarrans’ turbines in times of high energy consumption.