June 6, 2022
St Antonin Noble Val, our base is a hidden gem. You’ve probably never heard of it, and you’re not alone, neither have people in France. But for a cyclist that’s what makes it so great. OK, you won’t get to tick anything off your bucket list, nor will you capture any “iconic” instagram images, but what you will get in spades is some of the best off road riding anywhere.
Around 100 years ago, this part of France became very depopulated. Put simply, life here was so tough, the moment people could get work elsewhere, that’s exactly what they did and they never came back. So when they built the road network here in the 1950s and 60s, they realised that all the farm tracks, medieval packhorse trails and forest paths no longer went anywhere useful, so they were left alone and most of them are still there for us to ride. Much of the land has reverted back to forest but everywhere there are signs of the lives people left behind all those years ago. We have spectacular gorges, hidden valleys, vast forests, a vast limestone plateau and even some rolling green countryside.
This gravel holiday doesn’t follow sanitised, graded, signposted biking trails. This is real, rural France, way off the beaten track, made accessible by our local knowledge. We’ve struggled along trails that don’t exist, trails that are blocked and trails that are unrideable so that you don’t have to. We can show you the best routes the area has to offer.
The rides we’ll be doing cover some challenging terrain, but won’t be done fast, nor will anyone get left behind. To get the best from it you’ll need to be reasonably fit but not superhuman! You’ll also need to be confident riding off road on trails which can sometimes be quite rough, but you don’t need to have amazing technical skills. We list this as a gravel holiday but a mountain bike would also be fine – I’d recommend a hardtail. I design the routes with as many bailout options as possible, which means if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew there’s usually an easy route back to base.
We always do our best to build in lunch and cafe stops into the rides, but we’ll be crossing very remote countryside so that won’t always be possible. When it’s not, we’ll take a picnic, so make sure you have some way of carrying food and plenty of water.
Day 1 is all about the Gresigne Forest, one of France’s biggest oak forests. We’ll start by climbing up a remote valley, past a prehistoric burial chamber and an outpost of the Knights Templar before entering the forest. On a clear day the Pyrenees are visible, but it’s always a magical place to visit. If we make good time, there’s a fabulous lunch stop at a medieval bastide town, but if not there are great picnic spots in the forest. In the afternoon we’ll drop down into the Aveyron gorge, finishing with a crossing of the abandoned Causse d’Anglars
Day 2 explores the vast limestone plateau north of St Antonin. After a hilly start, we’ll follow a remote valley, past the ancient pilgrimage site of St Symphorien, from where we climb gradually up to the plateau, mostly on delightful singletrack. The riding up there is pretty easy on well graded double track so the km tick by easily. We’ll finish with a nice section on an old roman road followed by a long descent through a remarkable valley where the stunted oak trees are thickly covered in moss. It always reminds me of the Lord of the Rings.
Day 3 is all about the plateau south of the Aveyron gorge. There’s a mix of forest singletrack, easy double track and some old packhorse trails. Lunch is in Bruniquel a beautifully restored medieval village with a chateau perched high on a cliff, then we climb up through a hidden valley, thick with moss and tranquil pools. We make our way back to St Antonin via an area that used to be farmed and heavily populated but is now totally abandoned. What used to be a road is now a barely used ribbon of singletrack through a forest. We’ll finish with a switchback singletrack descent with breathtaking views of the gorge all the way down.
Day 4 is my favourite. It follows a wild and remote section of the Aveyron Gorge which has no road and in places, barely even a trail. It feels like the land that time forgot! We start with a very scenic train ride to get to the start, followed by an easy riverside ride to the start of the gorge. Almost immediately the sense of remoteness kicks in, this really is an adventure, but it’s very doable if you don’t mind a few obstacles along the way. I’ve spent a long time exploring this area, figuring out all the different ways through, so we can make the ride harder or easier depending on how people feel. Despite the remoteness, there’s a lunch stop at the spectacular medieval village of Najac, strung out on a ridge above the gorge. You should bring a front light on this ride – one of the bail out options is to ride through a couple of tunnels which cut out both distance and climbing, but they are very dark! The gorge ends abruptly after which we ride back to St Antonin on a mostly flat mix of tracks and quiet roads.
We can accommodate vegetarians and vegans on this holiday and possibly other diets too. Get in touch for more.
Hiring gravel bikes in this remote part of France is difficult but not impossible: I have two suppliers I use. Mountain bikes are no problem, electric or normal. If you need a bike please don’t leave it to the last moment!
If you want to extend your stay, we’re happy to do that if we have rooms available.
€600 per person based on two people sharing. One of our rooms, Capucine, is a 2 roomed suite which accommodates 4 which means for a group the price per person will be lower if you pick that option. If you want to fully occupy the suite please get in touch . I’m afraid that’s just too complicated to automate.
You can book your place below. First you book a room and 1 person, then in the extra service area you can add additional people at a lower price. For 2, that works out at €600/person.
I think a gravel bike is ideal for the trails we have here, but I’d recommend gearing as low as you can and running tires as big as you can, preferably tubeless. Many people use mountain bikes, and of course that’s fine too – I think a hardtail is best, but ride whatever you’re comfortable with.