Gorges du Tarn

La Malène and Sainte-Enimie

La Malène and Sainte-Enimie – Gorges du Tarn Part 2

La Malene and Sainte-Enimie

Welcome to our Summer 2022 travel diaries series, where you’ll now find us meandering through The Gorges du Tarn. Today it’s the 1st August and we’re about to explore the gorgeous historic villages of La Malène and Sainte-Enimie.

First of all, here’s a bit of background info on this stunningly beautiful region.

The Gorges du Tarn is located in an incredible and relatively unspoiled region of France. Roughly about an hours drive from the Millau Viaduct. It’s location on the Tarn River and stretching for 53km, makes it a truly magical destination.

La Malene and sainte-Enimie

La Malène

Last night we choose a municipal campsite at La Malène, called La Pradet, where a waterside pitch was a welcome sight. Today we want to a walk to a tiny chapel above this picturesque village, but because temperatures are high, we need an early start.

We’re leaving the campervan on the pitch, so we know we have to be back before midday in order to vacate. Hopefully, this will give us enough time to see what we want to here in the village area.

The cooler air of the early morning means exploring on foot is so much easier. First, we leave the campsite via a riverside path directly to the village centre, literally only a few minutes away.

Next door is a grassy parking area where canoe hire operators gather and it’s already really busy. From La Maléne there are various options for the canoe hire and trips, offering different journey lengths and starting points.

It looks really tempting and with the river being so clear and shallow, I don’t think we’d be too nervous if we wanted to try it out.

Camping La Pradet

Vines and Views – La Malène and Sainte-Enimie

Our walk takes us over the village bridge towards a tiny chapel perched on a hill, but with a difference. This chapel is actually built within a cave

The walk takes us along a path running parallel to the winding mountain road, on the opposite river bank to La Malène. Soon, we arrive at a small gate, where a level grassy viewing area provides spectacular views. Nigel takes a look at the display boards which give good information about the Gorge du Tarn region.

It makes an interesting read, first describing how the Gorges du Tarn was once a thriving wine growing region, predominately during the 19th century. Then, came Phylloxera, a disease killing the vines and the locals livelihood with it. Finally the First World War took many young men. Nowadays, there’s only a few remaining vines, along with almond and walnut trees and some agriculture left.

Looking out across the hillsides, we can just about make out some remaining stone terraces. Although tourism is the big player in today’s Gorges du Tarn, the fact that it’s so untouched is a major influence.

From there, there’s just one thing we can do – admire those views because they are superb. Below us flows the River Tarn, by now carrying numerous canoe trips down stream in the shallow water.

The little chapel in a cave

Across the river is La Malène village, with its stone buildings blending into the cliffs. Now though, it’s time to walk up to the chapel in the cave, so we’re off up some steps to the top point of this religious structure. First we come to a monument towering above the river for all to see. The views across the Gorges du Tarn and La Malene are just beautiful, providing a breathtaking mix of drama and romance.

As the steps wind round the cliff, we arrive at the entrance to the little chapel within a cave. Lo and behold, there’s even a bell to ring, so whilst Nigel gives it a couple of tugs, I take a peak through the metal fencing. Beyond the railings lies an alter, wedged between rocks in the narrowest point of the cave.

It’s a beautiful sound as the bell rings out. Above all, this magical place at this prestigious hillside location, really seems to be a little piece of heaven on Earth.

The village of La Malène – Gorges du Tarn

The village of La Malène itself is a picture postcard kind of place. Not only does it have quaintness in bucketloads, but it’s rustic appeal and intimate feel bring an added charismatic pull.

Best of all, as we arrive back from the cave on the hill, we find ourselves amongst market stalls next to the river. Oh, who doesn’t love a French market? Just as we inspect the vast array of home grown vegetables, we notice a walking route through the village.

Yes, this signed route is also in English. Thankfully, this means we can follow the signs without having to rely on our poor translation.

Before we know it, we’re walking through the narrow alleyways and tiny streets. Soon, we find ourselves above the stone coloured buildings, where the most fascinating find awaits.

The Church of Sainte-John Baptiste

Walking down the terraced path above La Malène village brings us to the entrance of the church of Sainte-John Baptiste. This ancient village church holds a fascinating find. Unbelievably, here hangs a very famous and expensive painting. Not only is it by the 16th century artist, Greco, but it was only discovered in the year 2000.

This wonderful painting was accidentally found in an attic, then lovingly restored and re-hung back in this historic church. What’s more incredible to us, is the fact that it hangs there unprotected for all to admire – Wow!

To give you an idea, all other works by Greco hang in The Louvre. Today, we stop and admire this work of art, a wonderful painting which looks so true to life. We admire the colours and the detail, allowing our imagination to run away with us back to medieval La Malène.

Can we really imagine the drovers routes, bringing flocks of sheep across the gorges? How life has moved on to an almost unrecognisable parallel universe. Our world being so easy yet utterly so much more complicated than the simplicity of yesteryear.

How this piece of art can bring out the most vivid imagination and transport us to another era. Of course, this is just another testament to this famous artist – the skill in this masterpiece is breathtaking.

Greco La Malene Church

Sainte Enimie – Gorges du Tarn

We’re sorry to leave La Malène but Sainte Enimie is calling, which is located a little further along the Gorges du Tarn. Once again, we opt for a campsite as we arrive at possibly the most well known village in the region.

This time, it’s Camping Gorges du Tarn where we almost get refused a pitch with a “complet” from the receptionist. Then, she takes a look at the campervan, asks the length and offers a space under a tree for a couple of nights stay.

It’s not so much a pitch, but more of a favour pitch! In other words, we take a spot before the pitches start, otherwise reserved for parking if anything at all.

We don’t care, it’s a perfect place to park and the shade is so welcome. Not only that, but this site is next to the river and just a 10 minute walk from the village.

Temperatures are still in the 30’s, so any walking is best left until after sunset. Now, that means only one thing – a river dip in the nearby swim hole.

Camping Gorges du Tarn at Sainte-Enimie

The River Tarn Beckons – La Malène and Sainte-Enimie

Our campsite stay allows for one luxury that just feels so quintessentially vanlife and that’s our hammock! There’s no better way to relax, feet up swaying under the trees with a book in hand.

However, it’s not long before itchy feet and sweaty bodies kick in. So, that means a visit to the big attraction – the river.

It’s now late afternoon, and we’re so ready for a dip. Fortunately, the river is shallow enough to wade into from the stoney shoreline but deep enough to swim in as we wade further out. Not only is it crystal clear, but it’s also warm and benefits from some very large rocks.

I spend over an hour swimming up and down the river, before taking a breather on one of the rocks protruding out the water. There’s children playing and people passing in canoes, making a great atmosphere in this peak season of high Summer.

A woodland walk into Sainte-Enimie

Just before darkness falls, we take a woodland path over a bridge beyond the campsite. It’s marked with a red and white walking path marker and takes about 20 minutes to reach the centre of Sainte-Enimie.

This is the longer walking route to the village, but it’s the one that’s traffic-free. The other route takes you along the main road, which can be busy with passing traffic.

We arrive in Sainte-Enimie as night falls, so only take a quick look around tonight. It’s positioned on the river and consists of a few restaurants which are filled with outdoor diners on this warm evening.

The shops are closed, so we’ll return in the morning for a closer look. Across the road from the village is a large car park which actually does have an Aire.

However, the area for motorhome parking is up against a very tall wall within the mixed parking, so it doesn’t look too appealing. Having said that, it’s a good option for those that prefer it or even if the campsites are all full.

Another downside is lack of shade, aswell as having nowhere to sit out. Perhaps in cooler months it would be a better option for an overnight stop. For now, we’re heading back along the quicker roadside route back to Camping Gorges du Tarn.

Daytime Sainte-Enimie

Well, we have just about the worst night sleep ever, all thanks to the rowdy neighbours on the pitches next to us. My goodness – is there no manners any more in campsite land?!

As daylight peeps through the blinds, we rise to make the most of the cooler time of day. Now, we’re walking back into Sainte-Enimie to see this bustling medieval village in daytime.

First, I have to say the campsite is really good, having a modern amenity block with super hot showers and extremely clean loos. Add to that the fact that it’s only 20 Euro a night and we think it’s quite a bargain considering.

Sainte-Enimie is a really delightful village and once again there’s plenty of signs giving information in English. There’s the usual narrow streets and quaint arcitecture as well as floral displays and intimate little squares.

This little place, which once thrived on the land has signs of its bygone days in every nook and cranny. We can’t help admire the history on display here. Everything from the old shop doorways to iron hooks in the stone walls, once home to the slaughterhouse.

After exploring the tiny streets, we settle for a coffee on the outside terrace of a cafe. Here, we overlook Sainte-Enimie’s pretty bridge and river outlook, home of course to canoeist’s enjoying the water.

This is a beautiful place and one that attracts more visitors perhaps, although it’s just a nice atmosphere and nothing too crowded.

Now it’s time to think about that afternoon swim back at the campsite river. Oh the joys of travel and perfect Summer days – the world truly is a wonderful place.

Thanks for reading La Malène and Sainte-Enimie, don’t forget to like, share and comment!

If you enjoyed reading La Malène and Sainte-Enimie, then look out for the next part of our Travel diaries. Next time: we continue through the Gorges du tarn on the last section of this region before reaching the cevennes mountains.