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  • Writer's pictureAndy Marks

Exploring Southern France By Motorcycle - The Millau, Mont Ventoux and the French Gorges

Updated: Mar 14

Following my ride to, and day out at, Magny-Cours I continued south with no firm plans. If you would like to read about the first part of my solo road trip, you can do so here.


Day 4 - Monday

242 miles

Nevers to Gorges du Tarn

After looking at the map last night I decide to head for the Millau Viaduct. It's the tallest road bridge in the world so should be worth a visit and it gives me a direction. I also decide to get there via the Gorges du Tarn because Google says it's a great area to ride a bike. Good enough for me.


Early starts are easier said than done when camping, especially as I have been here a couple of days and my kit seems to have spread around the tent and various boxes. A bowl of Muesli for breakfast, I brought a bag with me so that should be a couple of weeks worth of breakfasts covered for just a couple of quid - it's hardly gourmet when prepared with powdered milk and water but it'll do the job. Two cups of coffee on the stove, one for now and one in the thermos for later. Wash everything up; pack the tent, sleeping back and matt away; load the bike up - you get the picture... I was up just after 7 and am on the road about 8:30. I find this a little frustrating and, as I pull out of the campsite, I have to remind myself I'm not on a schedule so it really doesn't matter. Maybe I'll get quicker with practice.


The first 60 miles are mostly N (Route Nationale) roads so only take 90mins, they're ok but getting a bit repetitive now. For the first hour I can look to my right and see black clouds and heavy rain, or look to my left and see blazing sun and blue skies. Fortunately I stay dry. By 9:30 it has all cleared up and is starting to get warm again.


Loaded motorcycle next to a picnic bench and a lake
Coffee stop on the outskirts of Billy, France
Tipper truck in front of a pile of gravel
Not quite the quiet coffee stop I had hoped for

As I continue south the farming switches from arable to livestock and we're starting to get into the rolling hills which is a very pleasant change. I stop on the outskirts of Billy, next to a small lake with a picnic bench. It's a peaceful spot in the shade, it's getting hot now, and looking up at a Forteresse de Billy. I have the coffee and a snack I bought with me but don't stay for very long, although peaceful when I first stop there is a building site opposite and there is a steady flow of tipper trucks coming in and depositing mounds of dirt - as well as being very noisy the dust is pretty unpleasant so I drink up and move on. At least my coffee was hot today.


I had picked out Vichy for a lunch stop. The historic spa city is a UNESCO world heritage site and I am familiar with the name because they have an Ironman here every year. That's enough for me to head there, however as I get closer there is a mass of road works and I am redirected onto the ring road. There's a lot of traffic about and I decide it's a bit early for a lunch stop anyway - I'll come back some other time. The temperature is ramping up now and the slow traffic around Vichy makes it uncomfortable in all the riding gear, I am relieved to get clear and start moving again. I can also see mountains, or at least big hills, on the horizon and in the direction I am travelling now. I'm heading the right way.


The next big town I come across is Thiers. Another beautiful old town, France is full of them, with an enjoyable twisty road up to it - it's on top of a hill. I have a quick stop and a photo from the viewpoint and read the sign telling me Thiers has been a major centre for knife and cutlery manufacture for hundreds of years. According to this sign over 70% of French pocket, kitchen and table knives are still made here. There is a museum nearby which sounds interesting but I am keen to continue heading south.


Thiers in the foreground and mountains on the horizon
Looking across Thiers towards the mountains on the horizon

Once on the road again I start ignoring the sat-nav. It's directing me onto a major N road straight towards my destination but I've seen a smaller twisty road on the map and it heads towards those hills I can see in the distance. The D906 turns out to be mile after mile of sweeping bends that undulate through forests and up into the hills. I'm feeling comfortable with the bike now and this is just the type of road I love riding along. I have to be careful not to get carried away, it would be easy to get caught speeding on a road like this.


A motorcycle and a bench in the trees
Lunch top in the shade

Another stop for fuel in Courpière and I buy a baguette in the local patisserie before carrying on to a picnic area in the forest to eat my lunch. It's only 1pm and I've done 145 miles so far. While eating my lunch I consider looking for somewhere to stay tonight, this is the first day I haven't had something organised or even a plan and the nerves are starting to creep in again - I've never been in this position before. I consult the map again and decide to push on towards the northern end of Gorges du Tarn. It's another 100 miles but I'm really enjoying being on the bike today.


Gorges du Tarn Causses
Gorges du Tarn Causses




This turns out to be a good call, the roads just keep getting better and better as I climb switchbacks and ride through gorges. I get to the town I've been aiming for, Gorges du Tarn Causses, at about 4pm and try the local campsite. Plenty of space so I book in and set up. A big sigh of relief that 'winging it' has worked out ok, this really helps to settle those nerves.








A motorcycle in Gorges du Tarn
It's worth pressing on the get into Gorges du Tarn

The showers here turn out to be powerful and hot. I do some washing as well before taking a look at the route to Millau and the forecast for tomorrow. I decide to book an extra night on this campsite so I can make a nice 4hr round trip to Millau and be back before the rain sets in. Sounds better than riding and setting up camp in the rain.


A tent, motorcycle and camping setup
Dinner on the stove and clothes drying in camp

I call home to check in while on the 10min walk into the town. It turns out to be well worth the walk, the oldest parts are over 1000 years old and the narrow alleys and steep hills are enough to get lost in. I bypass the line of cafés and restaurants, it's obviously a tourist trap now, to buy some fresh sausages and a cold drink to take back to the campsite for dinner.


Narrow streets in Gorges du Tarn Causses
Narrow streets in Gorges du Tarn Causses
The church in Gorges du Tarn Causses
The church in Gorges du Tarn Causses

A Citreon car in a garage
Can you think of a more French scene?
A sticker stuck on a menu in French
My French isn't the best, but this makes me chuckle

Today was just the kind of day I've been hoping for on this trip, I get an early night hoping for more of the same tomorrow.


Day 5 - Tuesday

131 miles

Millau Viaduct

Last night was the best nights sleep I've had so far. My ribs are improving and it also helped that it was a lot cooler, I expect I'm also just getting used to the inflatable matt.


A river through the trees
Room with a view? My campsite overlooks the River Tarn

Not having to pack my camping kit away makes an early start easier and boy is it worth it. By 8am I've had a coffee, a Pain au chocolat I bought in town yesterday, and am climbing the switch backs out of the gorge.


A Honda motorcycle in a mountainous area
Two nights at the same campsite allows me to leave the luggage behind

I come round a corner to find three dogs ambling about in the road in front of me. They don't seem in any rush to move so I stop. I notice they all have harnesses with cow bells and aerials, presumably for GPS, attached. As I set off to ride past them a van comes flying round the corner and a very relieved looking man loads the three dogs back into the van. Further up the hill I pass a matching van next to a sign that, even with my dodgy French, I can see says 'Mountain Rescue Training'. I think the dogs need some more training and I ride on laughing to myself inside my helmet.


A motorcycle with the millau viaduct in the distance
First glimpse of the Millau Viaduct

Not much later I am riding across high roads with views for miles, if I stop at every view point I'll never get anywhere but I take my time. Soon I start descending towards the town of Millau and I get my first glimpse of the bridge. Even at this distance it's impressive. After a fuel stop in Millau I ride out to the base of the bridge. There's a car park here so I stop to take some pictures, they don't even begin to do the size of this thing justice.


A motorcycle underneath the Millau Viaduct
It worth the time it takes to ride under the Millau
The millau viaduct over a small river
That's a big bridge for a small river!

I bump into a Brit on a GS. He's a tour guide on day 14/16 down to Sardinia and Corsica. Only problem is he's lost his group! He gave them the choice of going over or under the bridge, they'd split into two groups and now seem to be spread out all over the place.


I climb out of the valley and park up near a viewpoint above the bridge, its a bit of a walk from here up to the top of the hill but well worth it. It doesn't seem to matter what angle you look at this bridge from it is breath taking. I call in at the visitor centre on the way back to my bike and watch a couple of videos on the bridge itself.


The Millau Viaduct from the viewpoint next to the motorway
The Millau Viaduct from the viewpoint next to the motorway, it's worth the walk if you can

Designed by a British architect, Norman Foster, the bridge was opened in 2004 and is still the tallest road bridge in the world. I attended a lecture on it when I was studying engineering at university and, although I've forgotten most of what I learnt at uni, the desire to visit this bridge has stuck with me. I amble back to my bike feeling satisfied to have finally fulfilled the ambition.


Back in the car park I meet a group of riders and decide to go and ask if they have lost their tour guide. I cant do anything to help but I am intrigued. Turns out not to be any of the lost group but I do know one of them, Alan, from local vintage motorcycle events. What's the chances of coming all this way and bumping into someone you know! As I ride out of the car park the tour guide rides in on his GS, still on his own.


A motorcycle on a gorge road heading towards a tunnel
The ride back to camp is miles of twisting roads and rocky arches

Back down into Millau and back to the campsite through the gorge for a totally different riding experience. The road winds it's way along the side of the gorge and through some spectacular rock tunnels, the likes of which I have only ever seen on TV. I get back to the campsite where I make lunch with some supplies I picked up on the way.


A Honda motorcycle parked on stones next to a river
Gorges du Tarn really is a stunning place to ride

No sign of the rain yet so I jump back on the bike and go out for another 40 mile loop in the opposite direction to this mornings ride. It stays dry again but the ground and my tent are soaked when I get back to my campsite, there has obviously been some rain while I was out but I've been lucky again.


A gorge road in France with a rock tunnel ahead

There are a few showers in the evening and some mighty rumbles of thunder echoing off the rocks before the heavy rain finally sets in at about 8pm and I get an early night. This area is stunning and I am sure there is more to see here, but I go to sleep knowing it's time to move on for something different tomorrow.


Day 6 - Wednesday

162 miles

Gorge du Tarn to Mt Ventoux

The rain last night was biblical but the tent held and I wake up in the dry - phew! The early night means I am wide awake by 6:30, it's still dark and raining so I lie there listening to my audiobook for a couple of hours. The rain finally stops and everything is loaded, tent still wet, for me to be away by 9:30. The plan today is to head east and see how I go. The forecast is for it to be wet so I'll probably get a hotel tonight rather than set up in the rain with all my wet gear on.


A damn across a river in France
One last stop on the way out of Gorges du Tarn
Gorge do Tarn, France

The first 10 miles are the reverse of what I did yesterday afternoon but look totally different with the low clouds rolling through.


By 10:30 the sun is out and I stop at a patisserie in Le Collet-de-Dèze to get some bits for lunch. It's also time to get some more cash out, most places take card but the campsites prefer cash and I'm running a bit short. The only machine I saw yesterday wanted €6 commission for a €50 draw. No thanks, this one is free.


My route east takes me through Alès. It's manic with horns blazing and cars coming from everywhere. A car pulls up behind me at a junction and immediately the horn is going. Next thing I know he's 'gently' driven into the back of me. I'm not sure if he's trying to squeeze past and misjudged it or is giving me an intentional nudge. I turn round and teach him a few new English words, he just shrugs and I get out of there! I pull over at the first opportunity and check the bike, fortunately it seems no harm was done.


A motorcycle on the side of the road with mountains in the distance
Heading back towards the mountains

It's a relief when I get back into the countryside. The rocky gorges are behind me and now it's mile after mile of vineyards with mountains looming on the horizon again. Before I know it it's lunchtime so I stop at a fuel station, fill up and grab a drink from the fridge. A couple more miles and I find a nice car park by a church to stop for lunch.


A loaded motorcycle parked next to an ivy covered building
A peaceful spot in the shade for lunch

I check the map and decide to do Mt Ventoux before looking for somewhere to stop. The forecast rain hasn't materialised and it's a beautiful day now, if it stays like this I'll be camping again tonight.


A french road sign indicating and open mountain pass
Ouvert = Open!
The top of Mt Ventoux, France
It's barren at the top of Mt Ventoux

What can I say about Mt Ventoux? Epic road that just climbs and climbs. Up through the clouds and the views from the top are breath taking, even with the limited visibility through the low cloud. It's the highest mountain in the region, it has no greenery at the top and you are looking down on other, green, mountains. This is a unique experience on this trip but it's quite cold up here so I don't stay for too long.


A motorcycle at the summit of Mt Ventoux
Mt Ventoux is spectacular even with the limited visibility

Down the other side and it's time to find a campsite. The first two I find look to be closed, I'm not too worried as it's only about 3pm. The nerves of a few days ago have gone and I'm confident something will work out. 3rd time lucky, I find a quiet site surrounded by vineyards and with a perfect view of Mt Ventoux. It's only €10 for the night, it should be €10.50 but I don't have any change and she can't be bothered to go and get the change from the €15 I offer her.


A motorcycle covered in clothes and a tent
My Honda doing a good impression of a clothes horse

I have dinner on the stove as the sun sets and I sit under the clear sky with crystal clear views of Mt Ventoux. My bike does a good impression of a clothes horse drying out the last of my damp kit from this morning. The only downside is the donkeys wandering around are noisy and seem to attract the flies. By 8:30 it's dark so I get another early night ready for tomorrow. I might make it to Nice tomorrow before starting to turn north up through the Alps.


Day 7 - Thursday

152 miles

Mt Ventoux to Le Lauzet-Ubaye

I'm in no rush today so although I'm awake early I pack up slowly and have some breakfast. I'm really starting to relax into the trip now, the earlier frustration of slow starts has gone and this just feels easy. When I load todays route into my satnav it informs me that the first fuel stop is 57 miles away. Not a problem today but I'll need to keep an eye on that now I'm in the more rural areas.


Two donkeys behind an electric fence
It's a pretty campsite but the neighbours are noisy, smelly and attract the flies

I'm on the road about 9:30 and immediately on twisty D roads with Mt Ventoux crystal clear on my left. I consider going back up it to see the full view, but it's the 'wrong' direction and I have plenty more to see.


A Honda motorcycle next to a mountain road
Straight onto perfect riding roads today

Before long I'm riding though Les Gorges de la Nesque. It's totally different from Tarn the other day but if anything even more stunning with views for miles up the gorge. At the viewpoint, I chat to an Irish couple who are here cycling, and watch the vultures circling overhead. Apparently they get vultures, falcons and eagles in the gorge - I can't tell the bloody difference but it's nice to see them whatever they are.


Motorcycle parked in Les Gorges de la Nesque
Les Gorges de la Nesque

I loop back and onto another D road that takes me to a view point where I can see the gorge in the foreground and Mt Ventoux in the distance. I sit here for a while drinking my coffee, marvelling at the scenery and taking some time to appreciate the trip so far. It's far too easy to spend the entire time chasing whatever's next and forget to stop and enjoy what's happening now, I can't keep the smile off my face!


Les Gorges de la Nesque in the foreground and Mt Ventoux in the distance
Les Gorges de la Nesque in the foreground and Mt Ventoux in the distance

From here I'm onto the first of several cols today. A col is a mountain pass, it is the highest part of a road, in between two higher mountaintops. The French Alps are littered with them and they are some of the best roads you will ever ride.


I stop at the supermarket in Peipin for some tinned food for the next couple of nights, petrol and another patisserie for lunch. I manage to order a ham roll, chocolate brownie and a Pepsi in French. The guy hands them to me and asks if I'm English. I say yes, he smiles and tells me that my French is very good, but can we carry on in English. That suites me because I've pretty much exhausted my entire French vocabulary ordering my lunch. As I ride away I'm not sure if he wanted to practice or was politely pointing out his English is a lot better than my French. If it's the latter I can't disagree with him.


An empty road heading towards the mountains

While I am eating my lunch at an Aire just outside of town a French couple who speak no English offer me a coffee from their stove. I have my own but appreciate gesture and after the lad in the patisserie I'm left thinking about how much meeting locals is a part of my trip and, other than the mad driver yesterday, all of my interactions have been very positive ones.


A coffee cup and a motorcycle
Even a quick coffee stop can turn into an opportunity to interact with the locals

Whilst sitting here I consult the map again. Nice is another days riding towards a very busy and built up area. England are playing in the Rugby World Cup in Nice on Saturday and although I am tempted to find a bar in the city to watch the game, I decide it will just be too busy and not really what I am here for. I opt to head east and spend more time in the Alps. I'm really enjoying my riding now so why go for something else. A change of plans mid afternoon... I must be getting the hang of unplanned solo touring!


I'm just about to leave the Aire when there's an almighty bang and clouds of black smoke coming from just across the fields. My first thought it that it must have been an explosion of some sort. Once I set off again I see the obvious signs of quarry equipment on the sides of the road. Looks like it actually was an explosion. The French couple with the coffee didn't even blink, I guess they are local and it is a regular occurrence here.


Lac de Serre-Ponçon
Lac de Serre-Ponçon

Onto more Cols in the afternoon and the rain starts. I pull into a layby to put my waterproofs on but it stops before I've even got them out. I carry on to Seyne and stop in a bar for a drink. While I'm stopped I check the forecast, it's going to rain again tonight, and it's going to be heavy!


Lac de Serre-Ponçon with a motorcycle in the foreground
Lac de Serre-Ponçon, this time with a bike in the way

I decide it's time for a proper bed and some shelter from the forecast rain. I find a room above a restaurant on booking.com for €37/night. One more pass, we're definitely into the Alps now, and I find the hotel. I hadn't bothered to book it online so go into the bar and ask for a room. The manager has no English and this is outside the French I have practiced so far. We manage to get by and I book a room for the night. Once in my room I spread my damp kit out to dry and go downstairs to enjoy the relative luxury of a bar and restaurant. The weather sets in and boy, am I glad I'm not in a tent tonight. I order another beer and book breakfast for tomorrow, I'm on holiday after all...


Le Lauzet-Ubaye
The view from my balcony in Le Lauzet-Ubaye

The Route

This is only an approximation of my actual route which shows where the main stops were. I'll upload the GPX track of the complete route at the end.


A map of France showing a route with stops
1) Nevers - 2&4) Gorges du Tarn - 3) Millau - 5) Mont-Ventoux - 6) Le Lauzet-Ubaye

I hope you have enjoyed this post. In the next part of my journey I start riding north again via the Route des Grandes Alpes and Switzerland. You can read what happened next here.


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