A look at the many outdoor leisure activities to be found in Lozère, an area rich in natural beauty as Roger St Pierre discovers…
Take to the waters in Lozère
The 2,700 kilometres of first-class rivers and streams that run through the department of Lozere in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, southeast France, make for an angler’s heaven. Conserving stocks to ensure a healthy future, the number of ‘no kill’ areas has steadily increased. Specially built hides on the riverbanks enable nature lovers to observe heron, waterfowl, woodcock and other birds at close quarters.
The mirror-like surfaces of glacial lakes high in the Aubrac, the lakes at Naussac and Villefort, with their sailing and bathing facilities, and the web of waterways provide a feast of superb activities, both on and beside the water.
Health-giving spa waters spring from the ground at places like La Chaldette, on the Aubrac plateau, and beside the Lot at Bagnols les Bains. Simple to access, with no massive impersonal clinics this is thermal health treatment on its most natural and human scale.
Thundering over cascades or flooding along the gorges of the Tarn, the Jonte and the Dourbie, water has carved the history of the entire Lozère territory.
Take your time, go on foot – in the gently paced manner of the time-honoured pilgrims or with purposeful strides, along the crests or through the valleys, alone or with the family, accompanied or not by a gentle donkey (in the manner of Robert Louis Stevenson).
Some 2,450km of classified randonnées (hiking trails) await your walking shoes and are ready to delight the eyes. Some 1,950kms of these routes are rated as ‘Grandes Randonnées’, ready to guide you from the Causses to the Cévennes, from the flatlands to the gorges.
Long distance hiking routes of France
Of the four long-distance routes that quarter the territory, two have earned legendary status: the Chemin de Saint-Jacques de Compostella (www.chemins-compoststella.com) pilgrim trail and the GR70 Chemin de Stevenson (www.chemin-stevenson), which follows in the tracks of the great 19th Century Scottish writer and his faithful donkey, Modestine. A local politician and historian at St Germain de Calberte told the contemporary Scottish writer, Alastair McIntosh, in 2007: “We revere Stevenson because he showed us the landscape that makes us who we are.”
Two more also follow the traces of mediaeval pilgrim routes, leading hikers to the great abbeys of the Midi at Saint-Gilles de Gard and Saint-Guilhem du Désert. The Régordane trail, coming from Puy-en-Velay, rejoins the first of those routes to traverse 55kms of remarkable countryside while the Chemin de Saint-Guilhem is an abbey to abbey trail, crossing from the Aubrac to Aigoual before plunging down to the River Ardeche via the appropriately named Bonheur Valley.
Cycling in Lozere
For touring road riders or mountain bikers alike, Lozère is also wonderful cycling country. If the challenging 678km grand crossing of the Massif Central by mountain bike or the 600km cycle tourist Tour de la Lozère itinerary seem a bit daunting, the local cycling clubs and the Fédération Française du Cyclisme (www.ffc.fr) can produce a host of alternatives for hard riders and more leisurely pedallers alike.
Equestrianism is also popular: Arabian breed horses are raised in Lozère, which is wonderful country for horse trekking. The department is host for several major equestrian events – including the annual staging of the renowned 160km de Florac (www.160florac.com) endurance test, also known as the Trevis Cup Américaine.
There are numerous riding schools and stables locally and several of Britain’s European champions train in the region. Beginners, enthusiastic amateurs and skilled horse riders can all find terrain to suit them – all set to a magnificent backdrop. Besides day rides, Lozère offers extended horse riding holidays through outstanding scenery.
This is a land of sweeping views and the great outdoors, with first-rate facilities for a comprehensive range of other sports, leisure and adventure activities. Canoeing, kayaking, wild water rafting, wind surfing, climbing, caving and pot-holing can all be on the agenda, as well as 500 kilometres of skiing routes when the winter arrives and the church steeples on the mountain flanks look like buoys floating in a sea of snow.
Read more about this spectacular area:
Lozere – a Foodie’s Paradise with a rich culture of cheese production, honey, fruit and a tradition of Transhumance
The last wild horses in France – the Cévennes National Park
Despite his French name, veteran globetrotting writer Roger St. Pierre is proudly British. He is, though, passionately Francophile and has been to every one of France’s 94 metropolitan departments – Lozère is amongst his favourites.
This article is reproduced courtesy of www.allwaystraveller (the International Alliance of Travel Writers website) and Lozère Tourism.