The Grand Traverse of the Massif Central
by mountain bike, road bike or on foot
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A guidebook to mountain biking, cycling or walking the 700km GTMC, Grande Traversée du Massif Central, in southern France, from Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne to Montpellier and Sête on the Mediterranean. The long-distance route is described in stages for walkers, and mountain bikers, with on road alternatives for road cyclists.
- spring and autumn recommended; summer can be very hot and the route could be very hazardous in winter conditions
- Clermon-Ferrand, Saint-Etienne, Aurillac, Nimes, Montpellier
- one of the most challenging mountain bike routes in France, but technical sections can be avoided by pushing a short distance or taking the on-road option
- Must See
- Auvergne; Puy de Sancy; Margeride; Mont Mouchet; Mont Lozère; Cévennes; Tarn Gorges; Mont Aigoual, Trèvezel Gorges
Mountain Biking – This guidebook divides the Grand Traverse of the Massif Central (GTMC) into 17 stages, each of which the average mountain biker should accomplish in a day. Those who wish to sample only a section of the GTMC can do so by making use of the railway stations en route.
Road Cycling – A traverse of the Massif Central, following the line of the GTMC very approximately, can also be made by road cyclists. This visits all the major places through which the GTMC passes, but keeps to roads – for the most part relatively quiet ones. Such a road route would probably take the average cyclist somewhere between 8 and 12 days.
Walking – The Grand Traverse of the Massif Central not only makes an excellent off-road mountain bike trail, but as such a high percentage of it is off-road, and much of that along numerous GR Trails, it also provides a first-rate long-distance walking route across the region.
The walking is generally straightforward, suitable for most reasonably fit people. A traverse of the full route on foot would typically take from 27 to 32 days. Alternatively, the railway network easily allows one-, two- or three-week walking holidays to be planned.
A Long Distance Mountain Bike Trail
A GTMC for Road Cyclists
Walking the GTMC
Climate – When to Go
Supported or Unsupported
Travelling to and from the Region
Food and Water
Public Holidays and Time
Using this Guidebook
Stage 1 Clermont-Ferrand to Laschamp
Stage 2 Laschamp to Murol
Stage 3 Murol to La Godivelle
Stage 4 La Godivelle to Allanche
Stage 5 Allanche to Saint-Flour
Stage 6 Saint-Flour to Paulhac-en-Margeride
Stage 7 Paulhac-en-Margeride to Le Giraldès
Stage 8 Le Giraldès to Bagnols-les-Bains
Stage 9 Bagnols-les-Bains to Le Pont-de-Montvert
Stage 10 Le Pont-de-Montvert to Sainte-Énimie
Stage 11 Sainte-Énimie to Cabrillac
Stage 12 Cabrillac to Dourbies
Stage 13 Dourbies to La Couvertoirade
Stage 14 La Couvertoirade to La Vacquerie et St-Martin-de-Castries
Stage 15 La Vacquerie et St-Martin-de-Castries to Saint-Jean-de-Fos
Stage 16 Saint-Jean-de-Fos to Montpellier
Stage 17 Montpellier to Sète
Appendix A Stage Maps for the Road Bike Alternative
Appendix B Route Summary Table
Appendix C Budget Accommodation along the GTMC
Appendix D Other Long Distance Trails along the GTMC
Appendix E Further Reading
Appendix F Useful Contacts
The sketch mapping in this guidebook indicates the route of the GTMC, and shows key features, but is not detailed enough to allow the trail to be followed with certainty. This is particularly so in areas where navigation is not straightforward, and within the Cévennes National Park, where GTMC waymarking is not allowed, so you are strongly advised to equip yourself with the relevant mapping.
France's national mapping agency, equivalent to the British Ordnance Survey, is the Institut Géographique National, or IGN. It produces maps at 1:25,000 and 1:100,000 scale, covering the whole country.
The most economical way of acquiring all the IGN mapping needed to follow the GTMC is to buy the official French guide to the trail, which includes all the IGN mapping at 1:50,000 in the form of a series of leaflets (see1:25,000 Maps
Walkers will need IGN 1:25,000 maps. These excellent cartes de randonnée give detailed topographical information, including long-distance and local routes, as well as useful information for tourists. The following sheets cover the entire route, in order, from Clermont-Ferrand to Sète.
2531ET (Chaîne des Puys), 2432ET (Massif du Sancy), 2534OT (Monts du Cézallier), 2535O (Murat), 2535E (St-Flour), 2635O (Lavoûte-Chilhac), 2636O (Le Malzieu-Ville), 2636E (Saugues), 2637E (St-Amans), 2737O (Grandrieu), 2738O (Le Bleymard), 2739OT (Mont Lozère), 2640OT (Gorges du Tarn), 2641ET (Mont Aigoual), 2641OT (Millau), 2641O (Nant), 2642O (Le Caylar), 2642ET (St-Guilheim-le-Désert, 2643E (Clermont – l'Hérault), 2743ET (Montpellier), 2645ET (Sète).
The E and O at the end of each sheet number stand for est (east) and ouest (west) respectively. Areas that are particularly popular are mapped by special tourist sheets, with wider coverage than the standard sheets, and offering good value for money. These are called Top 25 maps, and are identified by a T after the map sheet code. Sheets without a T in their code are in the Série Bleue (Blue Series). The latest editions of both the Top 25 and Série Bleue 1:25,000 maps have special gridlines that allow your position on the map to be located using a GPS device.1:100,000 Maps
At the time of preparing this guidebook (2009), the IGN 1:100,000 series is in the process of being radically updated, and when finally issued will be re-numbered, easier to read, carry more tourist and long-distance trail information than the previous series, and be GPS-compatible. This new Top 100 series of 76 sheets will cover the whole of France, compared with the 74 sheets of the old series.
IGN 1:100,000 (to be phased out by 2010/11, but some libraries will no doubt carry them for some time) sheet numbers 49, 50, 58, 59 and 65 cover the whole of the GTMC from Clermont-Ferrand to Sète.
IGN Top 100 series (to be fully introduced by 2011/12) sheet numbers 155, 162, 163 and 170 cover much of the route, but the maps for the Clermont-Ferrand region had not been issued when this guide was published.Other Maps
Road cyclists can either use 1:100,000 IGN maps, or some of the road maps in either the Michelin Local or Region series. The following maps are required to cover the entire route.
- Michelin Local Series 1:150,000 and 1:175,000: 326 (Allier, Puy-de-Dôme), 330 (Cantal, Lozère), 339 (Gard, Hérault);
- Michelin Region Series 1:200,000: 522 (Limousin), 526 (Languedoc-Roussillon).
Free city maps, available from tourist offices in Clermont-Ferrand and Montpellier, are useful for negotiating your way out of these cities, after which they can be discarded.
Both IGN and Michelin maps can be ordered from several British outlets (seeRoad Numbering
A word of caution: the road-numbering system in France is undergoing long-term reorganisation, and several road numbers will eventually change, which may include some of those in this guidebook, but vigilance, common sense and using the latest editions of maps should avoid any uncertainty. Readers can help by writing to or e-mailing the publishers if they spot any road numbers that need to be amended in the next edition (see the Advice to readers for details).
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Thanks to Elizabeth Dyson for the following updates:
The gîte d'étape at Chaumiane (Stage 3) is very basic and there is no food
available, although it does have gas rings (bring your own matches). There is
also no shop in the nearby village of Compains.
In the woods just past Le Sauvage (Stage 7) some of the signs are missing
on crucial turnings. But with very careful attention to the Chamina map it is
possible to navigate through. At the end of the stage at Le Giraldes there
is a chambre d'hôtes as well as a gîte d'étape. The chambre d'hôtes was reported to be a
lovely place to stay, with dinner provided by the hosts.
Bagnols-les-Bains (Stage 8) has a shop and a boulangerie.
Camprieu (Stage 12) has a good small supermarket.
If you have run out of supplies on Stage 14, then it is just a short detour
to Le Caylar where there are shops (including a supermarket), boulangeries,
On Stage 17 you are technically not allowed to cycle alongside the canal
from Palavas-les-Flots to Frontignan. However, most people seem to ignore this and it is rare for cyclists to be challenged.
"The Grand Traverse of the Massif Central takes you from the impenetrable accents of the Auvergne to the Occitane patois of the Mediterranean coast.
I enjoyed the planning of the trip nearly as much as the trip itself and I like this book because it gives me just what I need. It is compact and light but is stuffed with useful information. There are full descriptions of the route for mountain bikes, road bikes and walkers and all are enhanced with some terrific photos.
In fact, all you need to plan the route is Alan Castle’s excellent book, some maps and a mobile phone."
Austrian Alpine Club, Winter 2010
‘Whether you are a mountain or road cyclist, or enjoy walking, this guidebook certainly is invaluable from the beginning of the journey in Clermont to the finish by the Mediterranean in Sete. Every single village, road and footpath that you pass through on the different stages is described in depth. Tourist attractions nearby have been researched and described very well, and it is clear how useful this book would be in helping you to make the most of your journey.
The maps in the book are very clear and concise, even with keys for the inexperienced. In fact, a lot of maps that you see of this region are not a clear as the maps in this guide.’
Irish Mountain Log, Autumn 2010
Check out the review on the following website:
Alan Castle has trekked and cycled in over 30 countries within Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa and Australasia. A member of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild, he has written 18 guidebooks, several on long-distance mountain routes in France. An erstwhile national secretary and long-distance path information officer of the Long Distance Walkers Association, Alan now lives at the foot of the Moffat Hills in Scotland.View Guidebooks by Alan Castle
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