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France: Tarn Gorge, Millau Bridge, Overhanging Rocks and Stunning Scenery

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I love visiting my home country to appreciate our varied landscapes, history and traditions. I am proud of my English heritage.

The Tarn

The River Tarn flows from the Massif Central westwards until it joins the River Garonne, in Southern France. On its way it affords some spectacular scenery, especially through the Tarn Gorge in the Midi-Pyrénées region.

We are lucky enough to have a house bang in the middle of France, so we take the opportunity, once in a while, to explore the wide variety of terrain and architecture this country offers. One chilly Easter we decided to seek some sunshine and warmth further south. The talk at the time was of the new Millau Viaduct across the Tarn so that was number one on our itinerary. As it turned out, we decided to view this modern icon by not only travelling over it, but under it. This involved travelling along the Tarn itself, through the Gorge.

The oohs and aahs just kept on coming; such scenery, such heights, such depths! Our camper van hadn't negotiated such tight corners, teetered above such craggy drops nor been so threatened by rocky overhangs.

We had found the sunshine; it danced on the river, it cast shadows from towering rocks, it warmed us and cheered our souls.

One intriguing village caught our eye; it was on the far bank of the river but we could see no bridge, no ferry, no road the other side. Did anyone live there? Wouldn't they be cut off in the winter? What about moving house?

All our questions were answered by a plaque at the side of the road. The village was Hauterives (French for Highbanks - it would need to be as the Tarn floods are some of the highest in the world). It had been restored not long ago by the owner of most of the houses. Any provisions, furniture, building materials which might be needed had to be transported by cable, winched across from the pulley we could see nearby. Alternative access was by kayak, swimming (for the intrepid only, even in the summer!) or a very long walk around the rugged terrain on that side. No road, only tracks for walking - even cycling would be difficult.

How peaceful is that?! The ideal place to get away? For a while perhaps. To avoid visitors? Yes, unless specifically invited - not a bad thing. What great parties you could have! All that wonderful French food! A hamlet where everyone knew each other, most being of the same family. What about the winter though? You'd have to stock up well with food, wood for the fires and plenty of winter woollies! So maybe it's the ultimate in summer holiday homes. Would be fun don't you think? A different world from where you could watch the real one whizz past on the other side.


Hauterives, Tarn Gorge, France

Tourist information

Tourist information

Cross by cable!

Cross by cable!

Rock 'n' Roll

We continued our winding journey. The road is narrow with some tunnels through the rock which have to be negotiated with great care especially as it's not always possible to see oncoming traffic (and there's plenty). Great chunks of overhanging rock lean over to threaten you - will they fall in your path? In a car you can drive beneath them on your side of the road but a camper van requires more height than the rocks allow. The rocks shove you over - 'you're too big for here, swim for it!'

Round each corner a new panorama; the widened riverbed, a narrow ravine, towering walls above us. Eventually, we arrived beneath the Millau bridge.

Well! Have you ever stood beneath the Eiffel Tower and looked up? Stand at the base of the highest support here and your eyes will take you even closer to the sky. It is amazing!

In order to journey over the Millau bridge, now we needed to climb upwards. The road took us round and up, round and up, round and up, to dizzying heights above the river, to the top of the majestic rocks, to the Massif Central plateau which freezes in winter and collects metres of snow.


Road along the Tarn Gorge

One of many tunnels through overhanging rock

One of many tunnels through overhanging rock

Watch the top of the campervan!

Watch the top of the campervan!

We've been there!

We've been there!

The Millau Bridge - Under and Over

Having experienced being below this amazing structure, we were looking forward to the contrast, swapping tight ravines for open skies.

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The Millau Viaduct is the world's highest major road bridge (for the present!). It was built to span the Tarn Gorge in order to take the traffic of the A75 away from the town of Millau. The reason? The A75 takes holiday traffic south to Marseille and on to Spain (La route du soleil). Summer traffic constantly caused hours of bottle-necks right through the middle of the town, ruining trade and causing the inhabitants to demand action.

The British architect, Sir Norman Foster, was asked to design a boundary-breaking structure to rival all others. It had to span a huge gap, it had to withstand winds and cope with freezing conditions. He succeeded. It is unusual in that the strenthening cables are only in the middle, not parallel. Its biggest support exceeds the height of the Eiffel Tower. It means Millau is now a successful tourist town; boats take visitors down the Tarn to view the bridge. Its saviour has also become its money-maker!

Going across the bridge (at a price!) is like flying. Indeed, at times it is in the clouds. You can see the gorge in the distance to one side and on the other the landscape opens up to wider horizons. There is a parking and viewing area to one side of the bridge, including information regarding its construction.

What an experience! The viaduct's architectural beauty and seeming fragility exceeded our expectations. However, it was time to continue our journey, down to Marseilles, along the south coast, to Nice, Monte Carlo and then into Italy... but that's another story.


The Beautiful Millau Bridge

The biggest support is higher than the Eiffel Tower

The biggest support is higher than the Eiffel Tower

Sailing across the River

Sailing across the River

Soaring to the skies

Soaring to the skies

Flying high

Flying high

Further Information

© 2012 Ann Carr

Comments

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 23, 2014:

aest1: It is spectacular, isn't it? I thought it was the most elegant bridge I'd ever seen and standing underneath it is awesom!

Thanks for visiting and commenting.

Ann

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 23, 2014:

We drove through the area and saw the sign Millau. My husband has read about it so we served towards the road and were blown away by the bridge. It is so beautiful and majestic.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on July 26, 2013:

Thanks Trish M, glad you enjoyed it. We're about to go back to our house in the centre of France; in the process of selling it but we'll still be going over regularly to visit friends and explore more as there is such variety in all the regions. Your comments are much appreciated.

Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on July 26, 2013:

Hi :)

Great hub!

We go to France most years, often more than once. We've travelled to many parts and have been under and over the Millau Bridge and we stayed in Millau before it was built. The local Larzac area was once a Templar stronghold. It's a very beautiful and interesting area. The Tarn Gorge is amazing.

I very much enjoyed reading this item :)

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on June 26, 2012:

Hi Jackie & Chris; I hope you enjoy the visit, it's certainly worthwhile. Have a great journey and holiday and thanks for reading my hub.

Jackie and Chris on June 25, 2012:

Just found your blog! We are at Mirepoix at the moment and going to travel, in our campervan, towards the Tarn Gorges and Millau Bridge tomorrow! Can't wait - it looks fantastic!!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 12, 2012:

vivekananda: Thanks for stopping by and for your comment and vote. We love travelling in France - there is such variety!

vivekananda from India on May 10, 2012:

A very good insight into the countryside of France. Voted up. Thanks for sharing.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 07, 2012:

Thanks for the vote alocsin. It's one of the most spectacular rivers for wild scenery, definitely worth putting on your list and a great place to stop on the way to the south as it's right by the main motorway to Marseilles. Hope you do visit it sometime; it won't disappoint!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on March 03, 2012:

I'd never even heard of this river until your hub. Putting this on our to-visit list for our next trip to France. Voting this Up and Interesting.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 14, 2012:

Thank you Dolores. Glad you enjoyed the journey. Won't be long before the history about the house is done, following up your suggestion!

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on February 13, 2012:

I love my armchair travels here at HP and this was one lovely trip. Your pictures are awesome!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 11, 2012:

Thank you freecampingaussie for your vote and kind comments. Anywhere in France is lovely so hope you enjoy your time there this year. Might bump in to you! Will look at some of your hubs. We're hoping to get back to New Zealand and Aussie in November for a few months so will be doing some exploring of our own.

freecampingaussie from Southern Spain on January 10, 2012:

I loved your hub . I spent a little bit of time in France and hope to vist again this year with my husband . Voted you up .

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 09, 2012:

Thank you for your kind comment. Do visit if you get the chance. There are so many places in France which are worth it - you need at least a year!

knottlena from Connecticut on January 09, 2012:

I love the imagery in your writing and I can actually feel your excitement! Wonderful! Now I feel like I have to go there someday! Thank you for sharing.

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