Southwest France offers splendid natural landscapes, wild places, a rich architectural, gastronomic and human heritage, as well as numerous prehistoric sites. In this 16-stage Collection, you visit ornate caves with parietal cave art.
Your journey starts in the Rhone Valley, passes through the Ardèche Gorges, crosses the Cevennes Mountains, explores the regions of Lot and Dordogne and heads south to the peaks of the Pyrenees. From there, you travel east along the massif through the regions of Ariege and Aude before ending your journey in Perpignan, the Catalan capital of France.
This Collection is for both cycle tourers and bikepackers. The stages vary from 26 to 136 kilometres (16 to 84.5 mi) in length. Per day, you average 78 kilometres (48 mi). The route is challenging when it crosses the Cevennes mountains from stages 2 to 4. There’s a lot of climbing. However, thanks to the diverse landscapes, the rides are still wonderful. There are numerous gastronomic specialties and local produce to try on the way too.
These circular routes take you to different places each day. For example, you discover cave art in Chauvet and Lascaux, and explore impressive but unknown places such as Pech Merle, Cougnac, Gargas and Tautavel.
Although some sections are more remote than others, you’ll always find something to eat and drink along the routes so you don’t need to carry much food.
The arrival and departure cities of Pont-Saint-Esprit and Perpignan are well served by public transport, especially rail. Regional trains carry bicycles free of charge and have a dedicated carriage for them.
I recommend picking up a copy of the Pocket Guide to Prehistoric France by Philippe Boitel. The book will help you to deepen your understanding. At the end of your adventure, you finish close to the Mediterranean Sea – don’t forget to take full advantage of this!
Please note that the sites and museums along the way mostly charge entry fees. They’re usually open from mid-April to mid-November and are all easily accessible by bicycle.
The Chauvet cave, whose parietal paintings date back to 38,000 years ago, is one of the four most important prehistoric sites in the world. This discovery, which dates from 1994, called into question everything we knew about art. You will visit an exceptional replica of cave paintings.The itinerary for this first day leaves from Pont Saint-Esprit station and ends in downtown Vallon-Pont-d'Arc.
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From Millau and its highest viaduct in the world - a feat of modern technology - to Sainte-Cécile d'Albi cathedral, splendor of Gothic architecture, the imposing buildings are impressive.Between the two towns you continue to follow the Tarn valley between typical villages and natural curiosities such as the "raspes du Tarn", steep-sided and relatively wild defiles, where the Tarn winds its way.
You leave the Lot today to arrive in the department of France which has the greatest concentration of prehistoric works: the Dordogne.Sarlat is one of the most beautiful towns in the region and it is also your base for this evening. Medieval city par excellence which deserves to be known and explored, Sarlat-la-Canéda is the homeland of the philosopher Étienne de La Boëtie, precursor of enlightenment and free thinker. This city is also a Mecca for gastronomy.
Step eight is short. Many discoveries will be in your path today; starting with the meticulously well-made replica of the Lascaux cave located in the village of Montignac at the start of the Vézère valley and also known by its nickname "Valley of Man".The new "Lascaux 4" building is well integrated into the landscape and was completed a few years ago. Lascaux is a reference and even visiting its replica is a must for anyone interested in prehistory.
A fairly short and easy stage to get to your next destination: the city of Bergerac.The departure is given at the entrance of the cave of Font-de-Gaume at the exit of the village. To visit this decorated cave and its parietal paintings, you must book by phone, if possible a week before if you come to the region during the tourist season.
Today's stage is relatively short with very little difference in height and will allow you to recover from your efforts. The route follows the Gers at first and goes around the hills of the Pyrenean foothills that you can see in the distance.The route uses cycle paths on numerous occasions. You will pass through the town of Saint-Gaudens. The ideal place for a picnic along the river.