The Grande Traversée de L'Ardèche (GTA) mountain biking route, yet again showcases just what a fabulous country France is for adventure. The scenery, the freedom, and the culture, never disappoints. What is so special about the GTA, is just how diverse the spectacular landscape is in such a relatively short distance. The 310 kilometre route links Annonay in the north to Bourg-Saint-Andéol in the south.
The route starts in the pretty rolling hills of the Cance Valley, a mix of lovely woodlands and broom heathland on undulating trails, passing through the most picturesque and quintessentially ‘French’ villages and hamlets. As you climb higher you reach the high volcanic plateau of Le Mézenc, where the riding changes to a mixture of pastureland alternated with pine forests.
You continue to rise into the Regional Natural Park of the Monts d'Ardèche, where you will pass by the volcanic domes of Mont Mézenc and Mont Gerbier-de-Jonc, cone-shaped mountains (sugar loafs) caused by phonolitic eruptions. You are surrounded by spectacular panoramas as far as the eye can see.
Continuing to stay high (between 1000 - 1600 metres in altitude), the route continues over undulating heathlands before arriving at the Col du Bez, where you pass the watershed. When it rains here, the water flows either towards the Mediterranean or towards the Atlantic.
Next, you pass through the high Tanargue range, offering magnificent views of the Cévennes, but it’s not long before you start to leave the heather and broom behind, the granite changes to limestone, and things quickly become very ‘Mediterranean’. You lose height quickly, the route plunges down through chestnut woods on awesome singletrack. The increase in heat hits you like a wall, and the smell changes to cade, rosemary and thyme. Next, it’s through the Païolive woods, limestone ruiniform rocks dotted throughout shrub oak forest, and on to the famous Gorges de l'Ardèche.
Here we took some time off the bike to enjoy the gorge by kayak. Being early spring and not peak tourist season the river was incredibly peaceful. We never once had to share our stretch of water with other paddlers, and just enjoyed the nature reserve in all its glory, teaming with wildlife. The route finishes by cycling through the vineyards and olive groves on the banks of the Rhône.
We took four days (not including our river kayak interlude) to complete the GTA, which made for long, tough days in the saddle. In hindsight, I would recommend between 5 - 7 days for more of a ‘holiday’ pace.
The rock is rough and sharp, or large and loose in places, so I would highly recommend at least a hardtail mountain bike to enjoy this route. It predominantly follows parts of the GR4 & GR7 national hiking trails and stays off the asphalt as much as it possibly can. Be prepared to push your bike uphill and downhill at times; not always because the terrain is too steep, often because the terrain is too rough (well it was for us, but then we are ‘roadies’ transitioning to bikepacking)! The loose rock can hamper you from getting a rhythm on some of the climbs, where I often resorted to walking. Regardless, there aren’t many hike-a-bike sections that feel too long or arduous.
Navigation is incredibly easy, as the route is so well marked with red arrows (from north to south), that you could almost leave your navigation devices at home (but don’t, just in case)!
There is plenty of accommodation on route if you don’t fancy camping. Gîtes are abundant along the way. As is water, pretty much every village we went through had a water pump or fountain for you to replenish your bottles. Many of the villages have a cafe or restaurant, so having a meal is fairly easy, and you don’t have to go very far off-route to access other villages, giving you more options for places to eat or stay. There is also a large number of places where you can buy regional products directly from local producers, especially if you are a lover of cheese. However, supermarkets are very limited. You need to think ahead about purchasing your food for the trail, as many of the villages don’t have a bakery let alone a little supermarket. The three main towns where you can find a supermarket are; Saint-Agreve, Le Vans and Vallon Pont d’Arc (just off the route). With access to plenty of gîtes along the way, this would make this route possible with electric mountain bikes.
When to go? In winter the high sections of the route do receive a fair amount of snow, so I would suggest from early spring to late autumn. Spring is mild and tourist-free, which is why we chose mid-May. Our visit coincided with a mini heatwave, with blue sky all week with temperatures sitting around 34 degrees Celsius. If visiting in the quieter shoulder seasons isn’t practical for you, then I still believe most of the GTA route would feel quiet and wild even in the middle of summer. Those stony tracks will keep away the masses! Although, if you wanted to experience the Ardèche Gorge by kayak as we did, then I’m pretty sure the river would lose all its serenity in July and August!
To get to the start and finish, St-Vallier-sur-Rhône is the closest train station to the town of Annonay (23 kilometres away) and Pierrelatte is the closest train station to the town of Bourg-Saint-Andeol (6 kilometres away).
Do leave a comment if you have any questions about the route.
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Last updated: June 14, 2022
Pretty pretty pretty!
Spring had well and truly sprung, as we peddled through rolling hills of lush green vegetation, peppered with sunshine yellow Broom flowers. We didn’t see another hiker or cyclist on the trail all day, but we were met with wonderfully friendly locals as we weaved our way in and…
We were now up on the Monts d’Ardèche high plateau, and the terrain alternated between pastureland and pine forests and was fairly easygoing. It wasn’t long before the volcanic landscape of Mont Mézenc started to come into view. Mont Mézenc is a complex phonolithic dome formed by the coalescence of several…
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Despite a 7.30am start to beat some of the heat, it was still hot work climbing up, up, up out of the village. Once over the summit, it was straight down the other side to Mazan l'Abbaye. The artist Felice Varini has created an interesting work on the ruins of the Mazan Abbey, built in the 12th century…
It was a nice easy climb out of Le Vans on a quiet tarmac road up to Les Grads de Chassagnes, with beautiful views looking back over the town below. It wasn’t long before we were on a fun, but challenging in places, singletrack trail through the low canopy woods of Holm and White Oaks. It was like we…
After a brief interlude on the river, we were back on the bikes. We headed out early to try and beat the heat, going was slow, as the trails were filled with rough loose rock again. The area was arid, and the Cade Juniper was scratchy on our bare arms and legs. We hadn’t really had any views for several…
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