The Gorges Du Tarn Part 1
It’s the last day of July 2022 and our travel diaries series reaches the incredible sights of The Gorges du Tarn. At last, almost 20 years after a motorhome friend recommended the area, finally we’re here!
For one reason or another, despite driving close by a few times, we haven’t managed to tour the Gorges du Tarn area. So, this year, we’re just a bit excited to find out exactly what’s in store.
First of all on this trip, our campervan wheels have taken us to some long overdue re-visits. These include well known locations such as Sarlat and Rocamadour in the Dordogne, as well as The Lot Region.
Giving Millau a miss – The Gorges du Tarn
The drive towards The Gorges du Tarn, takes us below the mighty Millau Viaduct. Today, temperatures are high, but by now we’ve acclimatised.
Millau itself is a large town, which has built upon the success of the incredible bridge spanning the Tarn valley. For us, despite there being a good Camping-Car Park Aire here, we choose to drive on by. Instead we prefer to reach the solitude of the natural landscapes which hopefully await a few miles further on.
Of course, another deciding factor is that we have been to Millau and the bridge visitor centre before. If you haven’t been, then it’s well worth a stop. Primarily to see up close, this engineering masterpiece that’s world famous.
A perfect riverside campsite
By the time we reach the rustic hamlet of Boyne, at the start of The Gorges du Tarn, we’re ready to pull over and stop. Although it’s only 2pm, we choose a campsite beside the river Tarn, which gently flows along the campsite.
We’re noticing options to park up in non-designated areas are really limited so far. On top of that, there only seems to be campsite stays available. Ultimately, this region appears to be strict on both wild camping and Aires, preferring us motorhome folk to be on a campsite.
However, this suits us fine, because when you find a campsite like this, found on the Camper Contact App, then we’re only too happy to stay.
Soon, the friendly staff of Camping le Moulin de la Galinere greet us. Then, lo and behold, the best is yet to come, because soon enough they offer us the most fabulous riverside pitch. Well, that’s it, we’re in!
Ankle deep river and waterside pitch
We’re so lucky to bag this riverside pitch, which is simply beautiful. Our campervan sits perfectly parallel to the ankle deep water of the Tarn river. Now it’s time to wind out the awning and just watch the world go by amongst this fabulous setting.
By the way, this pitch is only 20 Euro for the night. Wow, this seems like a bargain to me. Not only is the pitch spacious and the view superb, but the facilities are spotless. Finally, there’s even a small bar and restaurant on site, so this place has everything you could want from a low-key campsite.
A little further upstream from our pitch, we notice a swim hole, where several people are taking a dip. As the heat of the day becomes too intense, the crystal clear water gets the better of us.
Next, we’re wading through the ankle-deep shallows towards the swim hole, which is more than welcome. It’s worth pointing out that canoes also pass downstream, with many hire companies ferrying people between drop off points along the river.
A small hamlet – The Gorges du Tarn
After drying off, our next thoughts go to the adjacent hamlet of Boyne itself. Maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye, but on first glance, this small hamlet looks uneventful.
Despite a walk through the centre of this pretty little place, there’s really not much going on here. Then, because of the location beside the main road, access beyond the village along the river looks a bit difficult on foot.
We could stay at the riverside pitch for longer, but this is our first day in The Gorges du Tarn. Something is telling us to move on tomorrow, further on along the river route, through what’s hopefully some dramatic landscapes.
Tonight, we’re happy to listen to the live music playing from the campsite terrace, whilst relaxing under the moon lit sky. When all the joys of nature under the great outdoors is this special, then lapping up the surroundings is one pleasure not to be taken for granted.
Limestone Cliffs and Dramatic Scenery
Leaving our first campsite stop behind, our driving route now leads deeper through the Gorges du Tarn. This dramatic scenery is simply breathtaking. So much so, that we think it’s one of the most spectacular routes we’ve been on in a long time.
There’s the steep limestone cliffs which reflect off the river that winds through the base. Then, the crystal clear and often turquoise water makes the appearance even more astonishingly good.
At Les Vignes, a small village on the banks of The Tarn is a winding road, leading to a plateau. This is Point Sublime, a spectacular viewing area and visitor centre providing incredible views across the gorges.
Point Sublime View Point – The Gorges du Tarn
Our route up the mountain eventually arrives at a large parking area, for us, all that’s on our minds right now is shade. The heat is on again and a few trees provide a small degree of protection at our parking spot. After a coffee, we make our way towards some display boards, providing all the information we need to explain about the gorges and the area.
At the visitor centre, the helpful staff speak some English, which is better than my French. This provides an insight into some walks available both from the plateau and down the gorge cliff itself to the base.
There’s similarities here to the Gorges du Verdon, except the Gorges du Tarn is far less touristy and much more “undiscovered” or so it feels.
There’s no crowds like you have at the Gorges du Verdon’s equivalent Point Sublime viewing area. Yet, the views and landscapes are equally impressive.
We don’t know whether to stay the day and do a walk here, but after taking in the views from the viewing areas, we decide to move on instead.
Speaking of views, it’s everything we’d hoped for and more. Not only are there superb panorama’s, but the landscapes of sheer cliffs, sparkling river and winding formation are fabulous.
A Brilliant lay-by
Our decent back down the mountain is one of mixed feelings. In some ways, we think we should have stayed the night, after all there’s a campsite just round the corner from Point Sublime and plenty of walks. However, there’s no overnight parking allowed otherwise in these parts and we feel we want to move on along the gorges still.
Next though, we do come across a brilliant lay-by along the riverside route through the gorge. At last, because this whole stretch along the river road is so difficult for parking. Access is narrow and those few spaces that are found are taken by canoe companies. In other words, there’s just no choice left for us mere campervan mortals.
Eventually, we find the long, wide and shady parking area, located next to the river or lay-by in less romantic terms. There’s just one space left for us to squeeze into, the rest being taken by motorhomes – what are the chances?!
We sit out for lunch and watch the constant activities on the water, which is a few feet below us. It’s filled with canoes, passing by in their droves. Everyone looks so happy, merrily splashing around through the extremely shallow river. Once again, it’s ankle deep in places, yet a few pools of tempting deeper sections, allow for that ideal swim option.
No Wild Camping
Initially, we think, we may be able to stay the night here – could this be possible at last? Then, our neighbouring motorhomer, a Spanish couple bring bad news. Maybe they read our minds, but they’re quick to inform us that patrols by officials on motorbikes swiftly move on those that try.
They also confirm, what we already know so far. Unfortunately, there’s no wild camping allowed in any parts through the Gorge du Tarn.
Although, they do say, if you drive up into the mountains above then it’s tolerated. Well, hey ho, I think I’d rather pay for a campsite, than waste time driving out of this gorgeous gorge.
One thing we see frequently here are chains, blocking any form of access. Probably, these were once sneaky little overnight pull-ins for wild camping. Now they spell out the obvious – no overnight at all.
A swim and a gorge drive
Back to the river and for us we leave the Spanish neighbours in the river with their dog, whilst we take to a swim hole. Despite the barrage of canoes gliding through the water, we manage to avoid a collision on this busy stretch of water.
Surprisingly, the water is quite cool, unless its our bodies that are too hot! Hmm..this can go either way!
At the end of the day, the river is beautiful, idyllic, clean and clear. It’s everything a river swim should be and with pebble beaches along the route, there’s no shortage of places to plonk.
Leaving the parking spot behind, we drive a little further along this fascinating gorge route. Here, every bend in the road brings another view of the mighty cliffs. Then, there’s inviting beaches and yes – more canoes. Inevitably, a colourful display of various canoe and kayaks meander through the shallows.
Occasionally, we hear the grinding and crunching as they touch the river bed. Followed by heaving motions from the occupants as they try to manoeuvre out of the gravel.
Camping La Pradet at Malène
If nothing else, this route provides great entertainment, just watching the fun on the water. For now though, our thoughts go to finding a place to stop for the night.
Fortunately, the picturesque town of Malène approaches, where another campsite springs in to sight. This time it’s the municipal campsite of Camping La Pradet.
The entrance is tight and steep, made worse by a trio of VW’s blocking the way. All of the occupants are waiting to be seen in the small reception area, oblivious to us, now blocking the road as we have no place to move.
Soon, the campsite staff come to the rescue, asking the VW drivers to move along the site driveway to allow others to enter. Now, we make our move, only to be told the site is full.
Then, there’s a bit of whispering banter between staff at the reception desk, before announcing – “hold on”. They ask our van size, yes 5.93m long. Somehow it always sounds better giving exact measurements in these circumstances, after all, it sounds so much smaller than 6m!
Great value and perfect pitch
Anyway, it works, because they offer us the last pitch beside a caravan, which they describe as looking awful but having ok occupants. To be honest, we’re glad to take anything on offer.
Best of all, it’s only 17 Euro a night and as we soon find out, it’s also a riverside pitch. Blimey, things are reasonable in these parts.
We take the opportunity to do all our laundry, mainly because the washing machine is also really reasonable. Then as the hot evening air dries our clothes, we set about relaxing amongst the washing which by now is dangling off every inch of the awning.
It seems the site attracts lots of backpacker types, with tents outnumbering vans. The place is buzzing and not just from flies that are out in force this trip. No, actually the atmosphere is rather good too.
So, tomorrow is another day and we’re going to set out early on foot, because Malène looks absolutely breathtaking.