Haut Languedoc

Haut-Languedoc, high or upper Languedoc, is indeed just that. Deeper inland, it's also nearer the clouds and a whole world away from the busy coastal corridor of Bas-Languedoc. Much is green, cloaked in pine forest and chestnut woods. On the high limestone plateaus, by contrast, thin grasses whisper in the wind, offering sparse sustenance to the flocks of sheep that are likely to be your only companions.

Two splendid parks offer protection and nurturing to these lands, much abused in the past by overlogging. Within the Parc National des Cévennes, over 2000 plant species thrive, and deer, beavers and vultures, long absent from the park, have been successfully reintroduced.

Vistas are broad on the high plateaus of the Parc Naturel Régional des Grands Causses. Water, percolating through the soft rock over millennia, has honeycombed the hills with underground caverns and natural galleries. Splitting plateau from plateau are three gorges, sliced through by the rivers that give these sheer clefts their names: the Tarn, Jonte and Dourbie.

Two human achievements stand out, one prehistoric, the other strictly contemporary. Little-visited Cham des Bondons has Europe's second-largest concentration of menhirs -more than 150 of them, heaved into place around 4000 years ago by sheer muscle. In our own day, the Pont de Millau road bridge, slung like a gossamer thread across the wide Tarn Valley, is both a technological miracle and a dazzling 21st-century icon.

Haut-Languedoc is shared between Lozère, France's least-populated département, the I western, wilder part of the Gard - and, in this chapter, a fragment of Aveyron that belongs I here, both culturally and geographically.

HIGHLIGHTS

■ Hire a donkey and walk a stage or two of the

Robert Louis Stevenson trail (p146)

■ Survey 13 départements from the tower of

the observatory atop Mont Aigoual (p149)

■ Follow the spectacular Corniche des

Cévennes route from St-Jean du Gard to

Sublime Corniche des ir Cévennes

■fc Aven Armand ^

■ Fly over the Pont de Millau (p166) in an

ultralite plane

Mont Aigoual ♦

■ Drop into the cool of one of Haut-

Millau *

Languedoc's many caverns, such as

Aven Armand (p152)

■ Get butterflies looking down at the Gorges

du Tarn from Point Sublime (p154)

■ Thrill at a glimpse of the rare Przewalski's horse or takh (p153)

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