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Aubrac… a ride through forgotten France

 

With it’s air of the Asian steppe, the Aubrac Plateau is a perfect destination for a cycling getaway. With the Tour des Monts d’Aubrac hiking route as a rough guide, Pascal, Géraldine, Eliott and Polo put together a route along the quiet lanes and wild tracks of this high country. They met more cows than locals en route…

 

Photos: Pascal Gaudin Text: Géraldine Benestar

 

This article is supported by FRANCE BIKE TRIPS

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At over 1000 metres above sea level, the Aubrac Plateau is a vast pastoral region, home to numerous herds of cattle. At the end of summer, the tan coloured cows blend in perfectly with the onset of autumn colours.

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Mountain bikes offer the opportunity to criss-cross the pastures on a network of panoramic bridleways and tracks.

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With a rich network of quiet lanes that wind their way through wild and unspoilt countryside, the area is perfect for backroad cycling.

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Cattle breeding is the dominant farming activity in the Aubrac. There are cows everywhere!

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The Aubrac is also the name of the local breed of cattle, easily recognisable from their tan hides and distinctive horns. The area is home to numerous farms, pillar of the local economy.

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A stand off as cows meet cyclists. Curiosity on both sides...

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The footpaths invariably cross the cow pastures. Ever curious, they often follow the bikes over a short distance, before seeming to lose interest.

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Dropping into the lower lying valleys that border the plateau, the vegetation becomes more abundant, including beech forests. Numerous streams begin life on the Aubrac, before descending the deep valleys (known locally as "boraldes"), and on to the Lot River.

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To the south-west, at 800 metres above sea level, Saint Chély d'Aubrac is a regular stopover on the famous Chemin de Compostelle (Saint James Way).

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Every shade of grey can be seen in the stone slate roofs that testify to centuries of local history...

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In Nasbinals, as in all the towns and villages of the region, the local architecture offers a superb mix of stone and slate.

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Nasbinals is an important stopover on the Chemin de Compostelle pilgrimage.

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A coffee stop in the heart of a sleepy, traditional village. Born in the village, the owner took over the family business. She shares her thoughts on the changing times: once lively and animated, the local villages have become mere dormitories. The family business will close when she passes on.

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The climb out of Laguiole, famous for its knives, is one we won't forget.

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The cool earth and fresh air of the forest is a welcome break from the sun. it's too late in the year for blueberries, but there are plenty of blackberries on the edge of the forest.

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A sudden change of decor! The humid forests and small lakes of the "boraldes" contrast with the arid plateau.

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Someone's looking for a shelter for the night...

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Some local produce for dinner!

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The Bois de Laguiole is home to a rich flora, highlighted by the Sentier d’Observation Écologique et Botanique. The forest clearings are home to heather and rich peaty earth.

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"Burons", long stone houses, are dotted around the plateau. They were traditionally used as pasture houses where cheese was made throughout the summer months. A semi-underground section was used for cheese conservation and maturing.

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Steeped in history, the plateau is home to numerous iron and stone crosses that line the pilgrims paths.

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Historical monuments line the Tour des Monts d'Aubrac hiking path.

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Testimony to the Christian presence during the Middle Ages, the crosses have guided and protected travellers for centuries.

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Built in the 16th century, the majestic Pont de Marchastel crosses the Bès River.

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A cultural voyage in the heart of the Aubrac. A photo by the celebrated photographer Hans Silvester is exhibited in nature. Each autumn the Phot' Aubrac festival celebrates nature photography in all its forms.

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Human stupidity knows no limits... this magnificent portrait by Hans Silvester was pierced by 4 bullet holes.

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The Chemin de Compostelle sometimes obliges walkers to follow hot tarmac roads for several kilometres, roads we're happy to glide along on our bikes...

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Spring water gushes from a stone fountain. Despite the altitude, the late august days are hot and sunny.

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Rich pickings en route! Puffball and parasol mushrooms are a welcome addition to the evening meals.

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The chaotic blocks and heaps of granite in the eastern section of the plateau are the result of successive glacial periods throughout history.

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The Roc des Loups and its emblematic granite blocks.

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An ancient ritual site or modern land art?

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The pleasures of wild camping in vast open spaces...

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Following ancient walled pilgrims paths, contemplating vast open landscapes, visiting historical villages, the Aubrac is an unforgettable cycling destination...


If you're tempted by an autonomous backroad cycling trip, but need a little help getting started, France Bike Trips offer numerous guided and self-guided cycling tours in France.

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