The Cirque de Navacelles France
It’s the first week of August 2022 and this years vanlife travel diaries arrive in the most spectacular location. It’s here where a vast circular and most importantly, natural phenomenon occurs and it’s incredible. The Cirque de Navacelles, here in Southern France is situated in The Cevennes region.
First and foremost, not only is it 300 meters Deep, but it was once a lake. The present landscape was formed after the River Vis changed course, leaving an 8m high waterfall in its wake. As you can image, we can’t wait to take a look, after first hearing about it in a walking book!
Now then, it’s no surprise that The Cirque de Navacelles is specially recognised here in France. As a result, not only is it UNESCO listed, but it’s also one of the official Grand Sites de France.
Reaching The Cirque de Navacelles
Let’s begin with the nitty gritty, first of all our route has taken us from The Gorges du Tarn then into The Cevennes. Along the way have been dramatic landscapes, ultimately revealing miles of seemingly untouched terrain. It’s a reminder of how much open space there still is in the world, France being no exception to the wild aspects remaining.
To be honest, the route through the Cevennes mountains has been intensely beautiful. Although the heat of Summer is intense and the arid, parched landscapes reflect this time of year.
Dotted between the open swatches of countryside are small hamlets, bringing no doubt to the rural aspect of these parts. Now, we arrive at another small village called Blandas. This hamlet is situated just before the main visitor centre complex for The Cirque de Navacelles.
Parking the campervan
At this point we’re not really sure what we’re doing in terms of parking overnight, but we can tell options are limited. With this in mind we decide to check out the visitor centre itself, along with the parking area provided there.
Inevitably, this is one of those parking places on Park4Night and it’s listed as “daytime only”. However, when we read the reviews, peoples comments suggest they’re staying overnight, so which is it – allowed or not allowed? Unsure, we park in a large stoney area which is ideal for campervans and choose a spot just incase overnight is permitted.
The Visitor centre and Useful Information
It’s just a few minutes walk from the campervan to the modern visitor centre complex of The Cirque de Navacelles. Here we find an information desk with some English speaking staff to provide the answers to all our questions.
First up, can we stop overnight in the parking area? Unfortunately, the answer is “no”, simply because this is a protected area and like all similar regions, The Cirque de Navacelles is no exception. However, the friendly lady, soon tells us about a little campsite just up the road, which sounds perfect to us.
We also check out the options for access to the area beyond the Visitor Centre. First of all, it’s worth telling you that the main area of Navacelles which sits deep within the Cirque, is a few km further on. Now, that’s all well and good, but the road is apparently long, narrow and winding with few passing places, hence the shuttle buses.
But, the lady suggests if we arrive early, before 7.30am, then we can take the road all the way down to the bottom. Ultimately, parking should be easy at that time and the access route really quiet. This is great news, but once again, there is no overnight parking permitted, which is obviously no surprise.
The Three Viewing Areas
From the Visitor centre, there’s three stunning viewing areas and we’re about to check them out along a series of linked paths.
First though, we grab a cheeky iced lolly from the visitor centre restaurant – yum! Then, with a fresh zest in our step, we head out to see those views for ourselves.
Wow! There’s no denying, this place is absolutely beautiful. Not only because it’s so vast but because the huge, circular landscape which is a vast hollow is just incredible. From each viewing area, we look down into the dry mass which extends out across the land for miles around.
Unbelievably, this area was once covered by the sea. The Causses, as they are known, were originally formed from ocean mud, accumulating over 200 million years ago. Well, some sights are worth seeing and this is certainly one of those moments.
By the way, we think the first viewing area, that’s the one closest to the visitor centre is the best. At the end of the day, the views here are so good, we don’t want to leave at all!
Tomorrow, we’ll be driving down the mountain pass into the main Cirque de Navacelles section, where hopefully a superb circular walk awaits.
A Cute Campsite stay
Just as the information office suggest, on the drive back towards Blandas, we find the cutest little campsite.
Just a word of warning, because on our visit, there’s no campsite sign. Luckily, we catch a glimpse through an open gate of a few campers between trees. Then, with a quick right turn we come across the owner, in his brand new office. Before we know it, we’re booked in at a really reasonable 18 Euro a night and shown a choice of pitches with shade.
It turns out the campsite is brand new, hence the lack of signs. For us, it reminds us of an Aussie campsite, low-key and rustic with a quirky appearance. In other words, it’s just the way we like it!
I hate to say it, but I don’t know what the campsite is called. However, for anyone en-route to the visitor centre, it’s just a few minutes drive away and probably the last property on the left with a wide gate, slightly set back off the road. You’ll find the visitor centre entrance a little further along on the right hand side of the road.
Not only are there super powerful and hot showers, but the freestyle type of pitching, makes us feel right at home.
An Early Start
Today we’re up early, at 6.30am for our walk at the incredible natural phenomenon of The Cirque de Navacelles. Skipping breakfast a the campsite, we choose to make the 10 minute drive along the narrow route into Navacelles village.
Not only is it perfect timing, because the road is empty, but it’s also a chance to see the new day dawn across the spectacular setting.
At this time in the day, the air is clear and cool, whilst the views are just breathtaking. In front lies the circular landscape, slowly surrounding us as we drive, before the sheer scale of this place overtakes us.
Finally, we reach the bottom, where an empty parking lot awaits. Despite no overnight parking, there are signs for motorhome’s and we easily choose one. It’s worth mentioning that these spaces are both narrow and short, so don’t get too excited by the option.
Next, it’s time for a spot of breakfast before heading on our way on this 10km circular walk, which starts here.
The Cirque de Navacelles Ciruclar Walk
The stone buildings of Navacelles bring a charming aspect to the already spectacular location. Soon we find beyond the parking lot are numerous walking routes as well as the most beautiful river setting.
Our route leads us off beside the riverside path, through a wooded glen for most of the first section of the walk. The path is empty, just us and the birds tweeting, making it a perfect time of day.
In addition, the sun hasn’t reached the path, making it cool, in fact the temperature is perfect too. Actually, the lady in the visitor centre mentioned doing this walk early, so as your’e not on the the exposed, open section of path at the hottest part of day. This is the last section of the walk, so we’ll hopefully miss the midday sun.
Soon we pass tempting swim holes, as clear and blue as any we’ve seen before. For us, we don’t feel ready for a cold dip right now and we’re conscious of finishing the walk and avoiding that heat spot later.
So far, it’s a relatively easy walk, taking us though a winding, stone path towards the main attraction – an historic mill complex.
The Moulin or Mill
Now if you don’t want to do the whole cirucular walk, apparently there is a short cut to the Moulin, but we didn’t look into this option.
Nonetheless, because of this, by the time we reach the ancient Moulin or mills, undoubtedly, there are more people around. However, it’s still early, so we’re guessing as the day goes on, this must get quite busy.
The Moulin is actually not just one, but a complex of 3 mills. They are set beside the river and are shaded from the sky by plenty of trees. Best of all, these pretty little stone mills, dating from the 11th century are just so interesting and intact. Actually, I tell a lie here, because one of the mills was destroyed during a massive flood in 1741. Therefore, there’s two mills to see not three!
Anyway, we wonder inside the dimly lit buildings, which have windows looking out towards the river. Inside is a picnic bench, perfectly placed for lunch whilst away from the heat searing outside. Another fascinating sight are ciruclar, stone holes in the floor. Inside are the gushing water’s of The River Vis, which flows from an underground channel beneath our feet.
The noise of the water is fast and furious, but quite sooting somehow.
The Clearest Pools of Water Imaginable
A little further on beyond the mills is a narrow, rugged path leading down to the river. We follow the rocks, not really knowing where we’re going. Then, before we know it, appears the most spectacular pool of water ever seen.
This plunge-type pool of aqua marine and deeper shades of blue is beyond beautiful. Incredibly, there’s no one else here, so we have the place to ourselves to take in the beauty. To be honest, it looks a really good place for a dip, but a quick hand check reveals an icy cold water. That’s because it’s coming straight from underground here, bubbling up into the open air for the first time.
Despite the Summer heat, the river is very full, one thing’s for certain, there’s no shortage of water where this is coming from.
The information reports otherwise though, because in years gone by, this river has run totally dry. Today, in the Summer heatwave of 2022 it’s hard to imagine a river so full being so empty in yesteryear.
The Hot section of path – Cirque de Navacelles, France
Now, it’s time to cross the river and make our wave back on the sunny, exposed path which takes us on the hardest stretch back to the start.
This part of the walk takes us on a narrow, gravel path, high above the village, providing super views but little shade. Then there’s a few moments where watch our footing, inparticular, one section where the path narrows across a steep slope. Overall, there’s nothing too daunting and fortunately, the route is still quiet, although possibly behind us are the crowds beginning the route.
Finally, the end of the path is in sight, as we re-join the riverside path beside the village. However, by now this little hamlet of Navacelles is bustling, both with people jumping off the waterfall into the river and those out walking for the day.
A Quick Coffee at Navacelles
By the way, the walk takes us about 4 hours, so by the time we arrive back at Navacelles we’re ready for our morning coffee.
Fortunately, not only is Navacelles popular with walkers, but it also has a few eateries. For us, refreshments are the name of the game and after walking along the narrow streets, we come across the perfect Gite.
As coffee beckons in the open air, we take a moment to watch the world go by. Then it’s time to reflect upon this superb walk and fascinating location.
Last but not least, in our opinion, The Cirque de Navacelles, is one of the best kept secrets in France. Not only is it different, but it’s natural, historical and very well maintained for visitors.
At the end of the day, if it’s not on your “to go to list”, then now’s the time to add it. For now, it’s time for us to move on.
Next, we’re driving off through more unspoiled countryside to another incredible sight, just a short, 40-minute drive away. Yes, our route is now heading towards the plunging pools of water known as The Gorges d’Heric and we can’t wait to explore.
On that note, we’ll see you next time, when another unbelievably beautiful natural site awaits.