Gorges du Tarn – An Active Holiday Guide
From the village of Ispagnac to Millau, the Tarn river has carved a precipitous trench 500 m deep through a limestone plateau creating the spectacular Gorges du Tarn. Sheer cliffs, warm, fast flowing water and a myriad of hiking and biking trails make the Gorges du Tarn a great destination for an active holiday.
Rock climbing, via ferrata, canyoning, paragliding, kayaking, hiking and mountain biking – you name it, you can do it in the Gorges du Tarn! Located in Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, you can expect hot, dry summers, cool but never freezing winters and plenty of sunshine throughout the year.
Gorges du Tarn Map
From the village of Ispagnac, between Mende and Florac, the spectacular Gorges du Tarn wind south-west for 50 km ending north of Millau. Along the way are two villages, ancient Sainte Enimie (a good base for canoeing and hiking in the Gorges, and a bit further downstream, La Malène.
Gorges du Tarn tourist map | © cevennes-gorges-du-tarn.com
Getting to the Gorges du Tarn
Ispagnac and Sainte-Enimie both make good bases for a visit to the Gorges. Bigger and less attractive, Millau is considered an outdoor sports capital of south-west France. Depending on where you’re staying, the Gorges du Tarn are approximately 3 hours drive from Marseille, 2.5 hours from Montpellier and 3.5 hours from Lyon. There’s a train from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to Millau with a change in Rodez. Nearest airports are Montpellier (1 h 30 min), Toulouse (2 h 30 min) and Marseille (2 h 50 min).
Active Holidays in the Gorges du Tarn
We’ve teamed up with the best active holiday companies to help you organise an unforgettable trip to the Gorges du Tarn:
Gorges du Tarn Activities
The Gorges du Tarn region is a top destination for active holidays and outdoor sports.
Canoeing and Kayaking
Canoeing down the Tarn river near Millau | © millau-viaduc-tourisme.fr
A canoe trip is a really fun way to explore the Gorges du Tarn. You can organise descents from a few hours to a multi-day adventure. Take your time, enjoy the scenery and pull up on a beach for a picnic and a swim. Canoe rental companies will provide everything you need including a lifejacket, a waterproof container for your gear and some valuable paddling tips. Au Moulin de La Malène based in La Malène 13 km downriver from Sainte-Enimie is one of the first companies offering canoe trips down the tarn. A 9 km descent costs 18 €.
If canoeing is too tame for your tastes, you can also rent stand up paddle boards. Much trickier than it looks, you balance standing up on a big surfboard and paddle your way down the river. Expect a wipeouts!
Serious kayakers should head to Brassac and paddle the Upper Agout. Each autumn (usually at the end of October) the town hosts a 2-day whitewater festival. The river is dam released and the authorities play ball to make sure there’s plenty of whitewater for a few kilometres. Just south of Brassac the Agout turns a bend and drops suddenly at a section called the Escalier de la Peyre. It’s a popular spot with experienced kayakers who challenge themselves to make it down without getting stuck in a hole and having to swim.
Hiking near the fortified town of Cordes-sur-Ciel in the Tarn | © Flickr – Tarn Tourisme
The Gorges du Tarn is superb walking country. Hilly, but not as hilly as the Alps or the Pyrenees, you can cover good ground in a day. In the hot summer months you can always work a refreshing swim into your itinerary. All you need is a pair of walking shoes and you’re all set for an excellent adventure!
The region is criss-crossed with waymarked walking trails taking you from the banks of the river, through forests and high onto rocky escarpments. You’ll find everything from short 2 to 5 hour hikes to multi-day GR (Grande Randonnée) routes.
Two of the area’s most famous long distance walks include the GR70 also known as the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail and the GR60 which links the vast wilderness between the departments of Lozère and Hérault. However, there are many other standout walks. Highlights include the Sentier Linéaire du Tarn, a picturesque 53 km trail along the left bank of the river from Florac to Le Rozier, and the 115 km Tour of Mount Lozere (GR68).
Canyoning in the Gorges du Tarn | © OT Mazamet
If you like being soaking wet, but want to ramp up the thrills, a canyoning trip is the way to go. Jumps, slides, whitewater swimming – you’re in for a wet and wild ride.
About an hour’s drive upstream from Sainte-Enimie is the village of Le Pont-de-Montvert. Here there’s easy in and out access to the gorge of the Upper Tarn making it a great descent if it’s your first time canyoning, or if you’re in a mixed ability group.
The water is crystal clear and you’ll make your way down through huge granite slabs with water pouring over smooth boulders. Kitted out with a thick wetsuit, buoyancy aid and helmet, you’ll jump, swim and slide your way down through the gorge. Big smiles guaranteed.
Real canyoning enthusiasts should head an hour’s drive south to the Canyon du Tapoul at the foot of Mont Aigoual. Complete with huge 10 metre jumps, this is one of France’s best canyoning descents. The jumps, slides and abseils come in quick succession and the setting is spectacular.
Via Ferrata du Boffi in the Gorges du Tarn | © gite-namaste.fr
The Gorges du Tarn has 2 standout via ferratas – Via Ferrata de Liaucous and Via Ferrata du Boffi. Both are within 20 minutes drive of Millau. Via Ferrata de Liaucous is more challenging than Boffi.
Via Ferrata de Liaucous
Located at the entrance to the Gorges du Tarn, Via Liaucous is 1000 m long with 230 m of vertical ascent. There are 2 routes – an easier blue and a more difficult red. The nice thing is that they criss-cross each other a few times so you can split the group according to ability but still enjoy the activity together.
The more difficult route shouldn’t be tackled lightly. There are some sections where you really need to reach for the holds. That said, you can always swap over to the easier route before the most difficult sections.
The Liaucous Via Ferrata is in a spectacular setting and the walk in and out along the cliffs of the Corniches du Causse de Sauveterre is really special. The rocks and tumbledown Troglodite dwellings are worthy of a visit in themselves.
The last obstacle is a zipline that requires a cable pulley to use. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to use the walking trail instead.
La Terrasse des Agudes opposite the car park does nice lunches and also rents out via ferrata gear.
Via Ferrata de Boffi
Located 5 km from Montpellier-le-Vieux along Le Causse Noir road (D110), the Boffi via ferrata is 800 m long with 80 m of vertical ascent. There are 2 possible routes, both reasonably easy although the vertical rock face provides plenty of knee-trembling exposure. The main difference between the 2 routes is the length. You’ll need about 45 minutes for the shorter course and 1 hour 15 minutes for the long course.
The longer, more difficult route includes what has to be the highlight of the Boffi via ferrata – a cargo net dangling from an overhanging cliff-face. There’s also a high traverse, a rope bridge and 2 ziplines, one 70 metres and the other 90 metres long.
Rock climbing in the Gorges du Tarn | © Flickr | Helen Cassidy
Arriving in the Gorges du Tarn as a climber feels like a homecoming. You enter a kingdom of big limestone walls pocketed with holes of all shapes and sizes and you can’t help thinking, this is where I’m meant to be. The setting is spectacular, the rock is beautiful and the climbing is superb.
Although the Gorges du Tarn is known for its super-hard big-wall routes, there’s climbing for everyone from little kids and total beginners to seasoned pros. In total there’s around 700 routes graded from 3a to 8c. All the many climbing spots in the area are worth a visit, but the Cirque des Baumes, Tennessee or Oasif have something extra special about them.
The climbing is accessible all year, but in the depths of winter, the bottom of the gorge doesn’t get any sunshine. From March to November, you just need to pick a spot that’s either in the sun or the shade depending on what you want. In the height of summer, it’s nice to climb in the sun in the morning and evening, but seek out a shady wall in the heat of the afternoon.
Most of the climbing in the Gorges du Tarn can be found between Les Vignes and La Malène. Approach walk-ins are rarely more than 15 minutes and you can often just park and climb. Accommodation close to Les Vignes can be hard to find in summer, so you may need to look towards Le Massegros, Millau or Sainte-Enimie for a place to stay.
Mountain biking in the Gorges du Tarn | © Tarn Tourisme
The Tarn has nearly 2000 km of waymarked mountain biking trails. The Sentier linéaire des Gorges du Tarn runs along the left bank of the Tarn river for 53 km from Florac to Le Rozier. It’s promoted as a walking trail, but bikes are permitted and the riding is really good and varied. In summer, there are a lot of walkers so you need to trim your speed. At Le Rozier the valley widens and if you want you can continue the ride to Millau.
The Grands Causses Natural Regional Park extends to the north and east of Millau and offers 11 cross-country routes from 1 hour to a full day. The riding is varied, there’s vertical drop up to 600 m and the scenery is spectacular. A highlight is the 16 km blue trail from the village of Saint-André-de-Vézines, 25 km east of Millau. You’ll cover 450 km of vertical and ride past weird rock formations and enjoy stunning views over La Dourbie river.
Further west in Gaillac, the Bastides et Vignoble du Gaillac FFC trail centre has 18 waymarked cross-country itineraries totalling 460 km of riding. The rides are graded according to difficulty from green to black with a good spread for all abilities.
Paragliding in Millau in the Tarn | © PixelJHoldrinet
When you talk about paragliding in the Tarn you really need to talk about Millau. There are 4 official paragliding sites within 5 km of Millau, each with its own charteristics. Whatever the wind direction you should be able to find somewhere to fly.
Pouncho d’Agast is the classic Millau site. A meringue-shaped ridge topped with a radio mast and sprinkled with bright coloured canopies, it’s a Millau icon. You can fly here in both southerlies and northerlies. There’s 3 take offs and 3 landing sites – Millau Plage opposite camping Campéole, Le Golf, La Graufesenque which is the biggest landing area. In summer, a shuttle bus runs uplifts 6 times per day.
When the southerly wind is blowing too strong for a launch at Pounch d’Agast, head to Le Pic d’Andan further north where the takeoff is bit more mellow.
For flights over the Millau viaduct, seek out a site called Brunas. To access the takeoff, follow signs for the Aire de vision du Viaduc and continue along the road to the summit. The takeoff faces north, north-west and it’s not advised to take off in a cross-wind (north-easterly or westerly).
Here’s a few recommendations for places to stay near activities in the Gorges du Tarn. Sainte-Enimie, Le Rozier, Les Vignes and Millau are all ideally located with easy access to the river and gorge.
Camping Huttopia – Millau
From 35 € per night
Camping in the Grands Causses Natural Regional Park, just a stone’s throw from The Gorges du Tarn! An ideal destination for families or groups of friends, Huttopia Millau campsite is set in beautiful countryside and a great location for outdoor sports, including hiking, climbing and canoeing.Check availability | Go >
Domaine Saint Esteve – Millau
From 79 € per night
Located just 5 minutes drive from Millau town centre, Saint Esteve offers self-catering chalet accommodation in a peaceful setting. Besides the warm welcome, a highlight has to be the infinity swimming pool with views of the Millau suspension bridge. A great location for visiting the Tarn Gorge.Check availability | Go >
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Please leave a comment below if you need specific advice for your holiday to the Gorges du Tarn, or if you have any recommendations to help us improve this article. Bonnes vacances !