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Gorges du Tarn, accommodation & Activity recommendations

Gorges du Tarn, accommodation & Activity recommendations

Dec 4th, 2016, 01:48 AM
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Gorges du Tarn, accommodation & Activity recommendations

We are hoping to spend 4 nights in the Gorges du Tarn region in July 2017.
We will have a car. Hope to spend some time wandering the villages, driving, maybe a kayak and would like to visit the Millau bridge.
At the end of our stay we will visit friends in Sommieres.
Does anyone have any recommendations for a 4 night stay to use as a base? And sightseeing, activities?
aussie_10 is offline  
Dec 4th, 2016, 02:13 AM
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I spent a happy day following the Tarn by google and looking at locally rented gite up the valley (it was wet outside and nothing else to do), needless to say the Tarn is littered with French second homes (or multiple family shared homes, see Napoleanic law) which act a second source of income.

The house came with kayak. But there are so many places renting them it is a joke.

Things to do, well the Millau bridge centre is a must (see the franco-world view of civil engineering is a real experience, (hint Newton and Hooke are not mentioned))

The Bridge itself

The eco-friendly centre against the bridge is still in existance (to the South East in the hills) think Pink Floyd and your mind will be there.

The Rochefort cheese caves is a major visit and worth half a day if you french is up to it, very funny as the guys take it very seriously.

We stayed just west of La Rozier so that the jog to croissant and coffee wasn't too far. Lots of little restaurants along the road so no need to cook at home

Millau itself is a bit of a dump, the town has not recovered from the French Army no longer needing shed loads of kid-gloves.
bilboburgler is online now  
Dec 4th, 2016, 03:01 AM
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Thanks for your reply.
So did you feel that La Rozier was a good base?
I love cheese, so the Rochefort cheese caves should go on the list.
Millau bridge has been on our list for a while. So the centre is worth a visit?
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Dec 4th, 2016, 03:23 AM
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There is nothing in any of these small towns, and La Rozier is restricted in size by the gorge, but yes I would say it or nearby is a good base. With some fine walking and enough tourist type shops to keep you supplied.

The centre is underwhelming, but having visited as part of a 4-engineered car we had to see it and basically I think the BBC/French film on the technology was better than the show they put on.

The Gorge makes driving a bit of a faff, as you just have to follow the gorge and one caravan makes everyone drive at 30mph. Still the walking is fine if you can manage the shear hilliness of everything.

Other sights need a lot more driving, but of course you can always go walking with a donkey (RLS's famous book is lived out here at just about every farm)
bilboburgler is online now  
Dec 4th, 2016, 06:20 AM
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This is from my 35 page Languedoc itinerary:

Gorges du Tarn***

Tuesday

Head west on the D999 (you've been on this road before). If you did not visit La Couvertoirade yesterday - visit it now.
Just after the D999 crosses into the Aveyron department, it will turn right/north towards St Jean du Bruel. Then take the D999 west to Nant, then the small and scenic D991 to Cantobre*. This village sits entirely atop an interesting rock formation. My wife took many pictures from the roads leading to the village. Explore Cantobre on foot. It's a short visit. If you are short on time, the "interior" of the village (walk thru) could be skipped. It's actually more remarkable to see from a distance.

Then drive northwest along the Canyon de la Dourbrie**. Next, visit Chaos de Montpellier le Vieux***-. We spent several hours there in 2003. See the GG under Montpellier le Vieux. If you have trouble walking, perhaps this is not for you. The most spectacular places to view the rock formations require some walking over rocks, boulders, stairs, etc. My wife “opted out” (bad feet) for the walk to the best viewpoint. There is a “petite train” that will take you to a good viewpoint, so it’s possible for some in your party to see the best sites while others take the less strenuous option. Here is my recommendation for exploring this area. When you enter the Chaos, you will pay a fee & get a map at the entrance. Proceed & park your car in the big lot. There are lunch facilities there and also a good WC. Both the Green Guide and the map you get describe the various walks you can take (strangely, the map you receive at the entrance gate has north at the bottom in '03). All the various walks are very well marked. The Petite Train has a lunch break. Inquire about the next departure time for the train. If it departs soon, hop on it (don’t know the fee – we didn’t take it) and explore the area reached by the train (I’ll explain later). After returning from the train trip, or if the train does not depart for an hour or so, take the red “main route” to the Douminal. The view from the Douminal is by far the best, although it’s the difficult one to get to that I described earlier – especially the last one-quarter of the walk. After viewing the panorama from the Douminal, return to the parking lot and either take the train or leave the Chaos. For the train ride, it is kinda bland. They stop at the Belvedere, let you get out, view the panorama, and then return to the train. The train continues and then stops at a roundabout (see the map). I recommend getting out here and walking the “yellow” walk until you tire or things become a little repetitious. Find out the time of the return train, plan your walk accordingly, & take the train back to the parking lot. Here is what we actually did. We walked to the Belvedere. It is not a difficult walk, but it’s not that scenic either. We took in the view at the Belvedere, & then proceeded along the red “main route”. It immediately became difficult. Instead of following the red “main route”, we walked down to the paved train road, saw the signs that said “no pedestrians”, and proceeded along this route to the roundabout. It was the lunch break & we knew there would be no trains. We did the yellow walk & returned to the train road & proceeded back to the car park. The lunch break was over while we were on the road, so we hid in some bushes when we heard the train coming.

After the Chaos de Montpellier le Vieux, take the small D29 north to le Rozier.

Here are three options for staying in the Gorges du Tarn area - depending on your budget. Stay for 4 nights to explore this fascinating region.
1. In la Rozier, at the Hotel de la Muse et du Rozier. http://www.hotel-delamuse.fr/ This hotel/restaurant is the most "centrally located" of the three options. We had a very nice dinner here in 2015. I don't think it has Air Conditioning (in '15), however. We dined here during the record heatwave in July, and we did not need AC in the interior dining room.
2. Just northeast of La Malene is the gorgeous Chateau de la Caze. It is actually a 1 star chateau in the green guide. I’ve never stayed there, but we have walked the grounds & toured the castle – it’s quite remarkable. It has a pool, nice grounds, but as you might expect, it costs more. We had a fabulous dinner there in '15. http://www.chateaudelacaze.com/
3. In the middle of the Tarn Gorge in Ste Enimie, at Auberge du Moulin. http://www.aubergedumoulin48.com/
We stayed in this hotel on our very first visit to the Gorges du Tarn area in the mid 1990s. We were planning on dining here in '15, but when we "checked out" the posted menu - it was very bland (we're foodies) so we dined elsewhere.

There are many, many "tourist" restaurants in this area. However, when we stayed here for 2 weeks we had excellent meals at Capion in Millau, Chateau de Creissels in Creissels just west of Millau, Chateau de la Caze, Hotel de la Muse et du Rozier, and La Lozerette just outside of Florac in Cocures at the east end of the Gorges du Tarn (also a hotel).




Wednesday through Friday night.

Touring the Gorges de la Jonte** and the Gorges du Tarn***.
Please don’t try to see these gorges in 1 or 2 days. They are remarkable, and the gorge walls appear different at various times of the day with sunlight patterns shining on the ochre colored faces of the cliffs. The roads through these gorges are at the bottom of the gorge. When driving from east to west, you will see different things than what you saw driving west to east. There are many lookouts you can drive or walk to, that give you panoramic views of the Causes (Causse in French) (see description below), and the canyons – don’t miss these lookouts. There are also many medieval villages & castle ruins scattered here & there. You will take a lot of pictures. The roads are excellent, and often include spots to pull off to the side of the road so you can slowly enjoy the scenery.

Here are some geography terms.
1. Gorges/Canyons. These are obviously the gorges & canyons "cut out" by rivers. Unlike many gorges in other areas in France (Verdon/Ardeche), in the Gorges du Tarn region you can actually drive a car along the base of the gorge rock walls next to the river, and encounter medieval villages, castles, views across the river, restaurants/hotels - in addition to the panoramic views from above the gorge. I think views of gorges are much more interesting from the base of the gorge, than from above the gorge.

2. Causses. This is the (usually) flat plateau above and between the gorges. For example, the Causse Mejean is between the Gorges du Tarn & the Gorges de la Jonte. The Causse Noire is between the Jonte & Canyon de la Dourbie. These causses are quite arid and sparsely populated. They remind me of the Central California valleys - lots of "dried grass" in the summer/fall months. We didn't find them to be very interesting - but driving across them will consume less travel time then driving through the gorges.

3. Cevannas. This is the mountain range and national park that surrounds the Gorges du Tarn area - mainly the eastern section of the Gorges du Tarn. We took several drives into the Cevannes mountains. The Corniche de Cevannes* and the D907/D996 between Florac and Meyrueis are both quite scenic.

4. Aven/Grotte. These are the caves with stalactites & stalagmites. The four "biggies" in this area are Aven Armand***, Grotte de Dargilan**+, Grotte de Clamouse***, and Grotte de Demoiselles***. An Aven is a sink hole - usually one large cavern. A Grotte is normally a series of caves carved out by rivers. On our 2015 trip, we visited Clamouse on Saturday, Aven Armand on Monday, and Dargilan on Tuesday. Each cave had some elements that were unique to only that cave. We especially liked the 107 meter "petrified waterfall" in Dargilan - the largest "wall" of "waterfall/curtains" in Europe. Both this wall and the magnificent "clocher" are on the "lower" level of Dargilan in the latter part of the tour. Also, Dargilan has astonishing views of the Gorges de la Jonte from the Belvedere near the ticket office. This recent trip was our second visit to Aven Armand, Clamouse, and Dargilan - prior visits were in the late 1990s. We've visited Demoiselles twice - once in the 90s & again in about 2002.


Visiting the scenery and sites in the Gorges du Tarn*** area

My wife & I spent 2 weeks in this region in early July 2015. We spent one week at the east end of the Gorges du Tarn in Quezac, and one week near the west end - almost directly under the Millau Bridge. The section of the Gorges du Tarn you'll want to explore the most thoroughly, is between Ispagnac and Le Rozier. Other sections along the Tarn river are not nearly as dramatic as the Ispagnac/Le Rozier section. Our gite was directly on the Tarn River when we stayed in Quezac, so we would often just "head out" and drive along the Gorge at different times of the day so that we could experience different sun exposures on the breathtaking multi-colored cliffs, castles, and medieval villages. The Gorges du Tarn pretty much runs east to west from Ispagnac to St Hilaire (St Hilaire is between La Malenee & Les Vignes). Then it runs north to south from St Hilaire to Le Rozier. I think the most scenic section with the most dramatic rock formations is at the west end of the gorge between La Rozier and La Malene. This La Rozier/La Malene section mostly runs north & south, and because the road is on the west side of the Tarn river, the best time to visit this section of the Gorge is in the mid to late afternoon when the sun is fully illuminating the cliffs. In the morning, this section is mostly hidden by shadows and is not nearly as dramatic as it is in the mid/late afternoon. The best time of day to visit the section of the Gorge that runs east to west (between St Hilaire & Ispagnac) is in the morning when driving west, and in the afternoon when driving east - because the sun will be behind you and shining on the cliffs. There is a very dramatic view of the small village of Castelbouc from the "lookout" (well marked). Don't miss the ruin of the chateau looming over the village, if you are fascinated with ruins, as my wife is. However, the village has the sun shining on it only in the morning - so that's the best time of day to visit the area between Ste Enimie and Ispagnac to appreciate this view of the village. My wife took lots of pictures of this scene. When we drove by this "lookout" in the afternoon and witnessed many tourists stopping to view this scene, we often felt like shouting out "the views are better in the morning".

The Gorges de la Jonte** also runs east/west - so a morning drive heading west and an afternoon drive heading east is best. There is a dramatic view of this gorge from the ticket office at the Grotte de Dargilan. This view is best in the morning.

The Canyon de la Dourbie** is best mid-day or in the afternoon when the sun is shining on the remarkable village of Cantobre* My wife took lots of pictures from the access road.

Here are some sites not to miss on the Tarn Gorge:
1. Ispagnac+ Northeast end of the Tarn. Very appealing "practical" town with a smallish town square. There is a large Romanesque church, which is worth a visit. To the right as you enter, you can punch a button to get an “audio” guide from speakers in the church. Also, lights focus on the various things described in the audio.
2. Quezac. Stop & explore if you are planning on visiting the gorges area for more than 2 full days. Drive over the Tarn River on the 1-lane narrow 14th Century bridge. Don't park the car when you get near town - instead turn right when the road sign instructs you to do so, & then follow the signs to a B&B by turning left at the fence, then left again to the side of a church. Park the car near the church, visit the church, then walk through town. When you have finished with your visit, drive around the church, take the acute left turn, then follow the signs out of town.
3. Castelbouc* Old castle ruins with a small village at it’s base. Park the car along the road & try to limit your pictures to only 10. This is best viewed in the morning
4. Chateau de Prades. Lovely chateau in an attractive setting. Not open for visits
5. Ste Enimie* This is probably the only village worth spending some time in, and it’s classified as one of TMBVoF. It’s a great village to explore the nook & crannies. There are several places where you can get a bite to eat or pick up a sandwich to eat on the run. However, on our '15 visit, it seemed that Ste Enemie was more "touristy" with more "trinket" shops than we remembered from past visits. Restaurants didn't look too interesting either.
6. Cross the river at Ste Enimie & take the D986 south. Drive for a while & you will be rewarded with a fantastic view of the Gorges du Tarn, looking down on the village of St Chely du Tarn and the Cirque de St Chely*. Retrace the route back to Ste Enimie.
7. St Chely du Tarn+. Drive into the village, admire the waterfall on the way in, and walk around the village. There are a couple of cafes for lunch or a coffee/coke break. In '15 we actually enjoyed St Chely more than Ste Enemie - less touristy and a beautiful setting.

8. Chateau de la Caze* If you are not staying here, at least explore the chateau as much as they will let you. We had a fabulous dinner there in '15.
9. Haute Rive - village & chateau view
10. Les Detroits**
11. Point Sublime***
12. North/south run of the Gorge***
13. Le Rozier - it seemed a little touristy - so we've never visited this village on foot.

Here are three "outings" you can follow to explore "the best" of the Gorges du Tarn region.

1. Around 3:30 PM, get to Le Rozier . Drive along this lovely section of the Gorges du Tarn*** to St Hilaire. Do a U-turn at St Hilaire and drive back to Les Vignes. Look for the signs to Pt Sublime at Les Vignes, and take the switchback roads west, then the D46 north to admire the views of the Gorges du Tarn from Point Sublime***. Return to Les Vignes and back to le Rozier along the Gorges du Tarn. This outing should take about 2 hrs from Le Rozier.

2. Around noon, get to Le Rozier and then drive along the Gorges de la Jonte** until you get to Meyrueis. Then follow the signs to Grotte de Dargilan**+ for a visit. Admire the views of the Gorges de la Jonte from the ticket office. The Dargilan tour is about 1 1/2 hrs. Return to the hotel in Ste Enimie/Ch Caze by driving on the D986 over the Causse Mejean, or to Le Rozier along the Gorges de la Jonte.

3. In the morning (for views with the sun in the best position) drive to Les Vignes and take the D16 east of Les Vignes up to the Causse Mejean. There are fantastic views from the D16 up to the Causse. Drive to Roc de Hortous** for even more views of the Gorges du Tarn. Then take the D16 east to the D986 & head north on the D986 towards Ste Enemie - but only go as far as the "view" icon (on the Michelin map) - slightly southeast of Cirque du St Chely* & the town of St Chely du Tarn+. Admire these fantastic views++. Do not descend to Ste Enemie or to the Tarn River road. Instead, do a U-turn at the viewing point on the D986 (fast road) and go to Aven Armand*** for a visit. It closes for lunch (except July & Aug), and tours are on the 3/4 hour. The tour is about 1 hr. Return to the hotel using the same route you used in #2 above. You'll see the views from D16 again - but with a different sun perspective.

The Roc de Serre**- is close to the Roc de Hortous, but it requires some walking and navigating to get there. The sign at the place where you park your car says it is a 10 min walk to the Roc. The Michelin guide says it is a 15 min walk there. I walk fast & it took me 15 mins to walk to the Roc. It took my wife 20 mins. There is initially a paved road to walk on, then dirt, then a few rocks at the end. Veer to the right at the two "Ys" you'll encounter along the way. If you are "short on time" - skip this walk/view.

Additional destinations
Severac le Chateau*. This is a very interesting medieval village. Mass tourism has not discovered it yet. Park "below" the medieval village and get a walking itinerary from the tourist office there. The castle ruins (some "restoration" in progress in '15) looms over the town. Only my wife went there (loves ruins) and felt it was worth seeing - plus views across the countryside

Millau*
We actually enjoyed Millau more than we thought we would. It is the most interesting "city" in the Gorges du Tarn region, IMO. Follow the walking itinerary in the Michelin Green guide - except just stay in the "old town" section and don't walk along Quai de la Tanneire or go to Ganterie Causse (except if this place interests you). Make sure you also see the fountain and the shops in the Pl du Mandarous area. The Les Halles market is open Thurs to Sat. until around 1 pm.

Millau Viaduct ***
My wife was fascinated with this bridge. I was slightly less fascinated. There is a free visitor information center off the D992 roundabout directly under the viaduct, which provides some "down under" views of the viaduct. If you continue north on the access road to the visitor information center, and drive over the Tarn River and then go west, you will drive to the picturesque perched village of Peyre*. Parking is difficult, so we didn't visit it on foot. There is also an autoroute "aire" (rest stop) which offers walking access to a lookout and provides yet other views. This "aire" in only accessible when you drive north to south on the A75 over the Millau Viaduct.


Ste Eulalie de Cernon+. Get a walking itinerary from the tourist office. Visit this interesting medieval village. It's about a 30 min visit. The D999 between St Rome de Cernon and the road that branches off the D999 for the #46 exit off the A75, is quite picturesque.

Do Not Include:
Visit to a Roquefort cheese cave.
We've done the Societe tour twice - and found it "hokey" and tedious. Unless you are huge fans of Roquefort cheese - skip it. My wife, however, enjoyed driving past all the cheese shops. The town of Roquefort itself is kinda plain.

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Dec 4th, 2016, 06:39 AM
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We enjoyed our time touring the Tarn; relied heavily on Stu's itinerary. I'd write more, but couldn't improve on the above.
tomboy is offline  
Dec 4th, 2016, 09:50 AM
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We stayed at the Chateau de la Caze several years ago. Excellent, although a 4 night stay might be too much.
historytraveler is online now  
Dec 4th, 2016, 12:41 PM
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We also stayed at the Chateau de La Caze. We spent 3 nights. One more night would certainly have been enjoyable. With Stu's itinerary, you will not run out of things to do. Make sure you check out You Tube for the documentary on the engineering feat of the Millau Viaduct. It is fascinating. My trip report has a link to the documentary, but I am not sure it works anymore. A beautiful area of France!!
kansas is offline  
Dec 4th, 2016, 12:52 PM
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Thank you all for your replies. I appreciate it.
I will look up your accommodation suggestions. The Chateau de la Caze does seem nice but for 4 nights may be out of our range.

Thank you Stu for your excellent and comprehensive itinerary of things to do whilst staying in the Gorges du Tarn area. So much wonderful information. We have used your guides in many areas of France before.
After reading your suggestions I am very excited about our visit to the area which wasn't on our agenda originally for this trip to France.
Some reviews of the scary drives had me a little worried originally but it seems that driving slow will be the normal anyway, (we do drive on the other side of the road here, although we had driven in many areas of Europe).

I have to confess to being a cheese lover, so like sampling many different French varieties.
aussie_10 is offline  
Dec 4th, 2016, 12:54 PM
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"... of course you can always go walking with a donkey ..."

I always love your posts, bilboburgler. I once thought that I would trace RLS through France; it would have made a great trip report, even without a donkey.

We also stayed at Château de la Caze. Two nights, as best as I can recollect, but it was more than a decade ago, so no telling what it is like now.
AnselmAdorne is offline  
Dec 5th, 2016, 04:45 AM
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Aussie-your caution on driving slowly is warranted.
We were amble-driving on the road next to the Tarn when, rounding a curve, I saw ahead that about twenty feet of my lane had been taken out by a boulder from above. Luckily we drove into the left lane and went around the hole. I suppose that's not an isolated experience.
tomboy is offline  
Dec 5th, 2016, 05:24 AM
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anselm
bilboburgler is online now  
Dec 5th, 2016, 08:30 PM
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Yikes! tomboy.
Hoping our drives will be less eventful.
aussie_10 is offline  
Dec 6th, 2016, 06:09 PM
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I was driving about 30 mph/48 kph, admiring the scenery, the river, the geology, so when I first saw the hole, it was perhaps 200 feet ahead...plenty of time to stop. Had I been going twice that, there might not have been time to stop.

I think the town we spent 2 days at was Florac.
tomboy is offline  
Dec 7th, 2016, 10:52 AM
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We will be driving from Beaune to the Gorges du Tarn area. Unsure whether to do this in 1 day or stop along the way in Salers or Saint Flour for 1 night. Or push on to near Millau as we want to visit the Millau Bridge.

I think to drive from Beaune to Le Rozier (if that is our base stay) is too long a drive.
Staying in Le Rozier or Sainte Enimine for 3 or 4 nights. Can't decide which would be the best base.

The more I read the more confused I get.

Is it possible to drive from west to east just along the bottom of the Gorge without having to drive up the narrow winding roads. The more I read about them the more I am fearful? At the end of our stay in the Tarn we will head to Sommieres
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Dec 7th, 2016, 12:05 PM
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I didn't consider the roads at all 'fearful'. They had shoulders, the "windings" were gentle, and not narrow at all. I've had somewhat the same trepidations about driving along the Gorge du Verdon, but we found the drive along the Tarn and Cevenne (and I think there was a third river) quite relaxing. We also drove some roads in the "outback" between the rivers; the only incident was halting for a
'sheep crossing', which took perhaps a 12 minute wait.

If you decide to make the drive from Beaune with an overnight, you could do worse than to stay at the hotel we stayed at in Florac. Hôtel des Gorges du Tarn. Good restaurant, altho a little pricey (maybe 4 euro more than usual).
tomboy is offline  
Dec 7th, 2016, 12:18 PM
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I am not a totally confident driver, and I've never felt fearful driving around the Gorges du Tarn except for the day we encountered a "convoie exceptionelle"-and WTF was it doing on that road anyway? We had to scoot the car WAY over to the right under a rock ledge and wait for the convoie to pass with maybe an inch cleraance on our left. Just don't take any of the Michelin "hazardous" routes - marked with red dotted lines - inland. Did that too and ended up having to back down a winding dirt road about a kilometer so another car could pass.

Stay in St-Enimie.
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Dec 8th, 2016, 02:57 AM
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Thanks for your replies.
Ok I will be brave. Husband is the main driver in France as I am the navigator. I do most of the driving in Australia.
He is not keen on driving all the way from Beaune so we may stop overnight at Saint Flour. That will make it a short trip the next day to see the Millau Bridge, before we head to Gorges du Tarn.
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