My GravelUp adventure in the heart of the Grands Causses Natural Regional Park

It was with the impressive Millau viaduct, limestone plateaus and deep gorges as a backdrop that we set off to explore this incredible area, and where it seems you can do almost any outdoor sport. The Tarn and Dourbie rivers meet at Millau, creating an natural amphitheatre, and its from here that our journey begins, on gravel bikes, ready for adventure.

The Grands Causses, an authentic destination

The Grands Causses is at the heart of surely one of the most beautiful Natural Regional Parks of France, and is still authentically rustic. Just a few kms from the centre of Millau, and overlooked by the Puncho d’Agast summit, is the Domaine Saint Esteve where I met the GravelUp team. Niceties done, the atmosphere is really relaxed and we’re all pleased to hear that the weather forecast is perfect for the weekend in April.

I spent most of the journey to Millau doubting myself in terms of my fitness compared to the rest of the group, worrying about holding them up, wanting to get to the top, and deciding not to allow myself to give up even if it was to get too hard.

All this is quickly forgotten under the care and attention of the GravelUp team and the guides. From the bike check, to the advice on what to wear via the briefing of the ride to come, everything wass done to reassure us and give us confidence. So after a bite to eat of local goodies, we’re off!

An expert guide in gravel riding

We set off gently, with the guides giving lots of tips on foot positioning for those with flat pedals, the different hand positions on the gravel handlebars, tubeless tyre repairs… everything you need for a bike trip.

We get used to our steed - an Origine Graax gravel bike - as we follow the trails across a grandiose landscape.We discover a rich history of chateaux perched on rocky outcrops, ancient templar cities and churches built into cliffs.

Our route takes us along sometimes rough and sometimes smooth roads, windy trails known as “single tracks” and wide open tracks - there’s something for everyone here. We climb from 700m up to 1200m onto the vaste Larzac plateau on Day 2, our mountain stage.

A highly varied gravel route!

As we tick off the kms, even I feel more relaxed on my bike and the group all notice too. Thanks to some helpful tips, and some shared knowledge, the off road descents seem easier and I start to master my bike. It’s intoxicating!

Our little peloton rolls through the immense landscape of limestone cliffs breaking through the pine and oak trees, I feel good, I have flow, I disconnect, I can let it go… my legs start to feel heavy but I can still stay with the group. The stronger riders tow us a little and encourage us along, and it’s really thanks to this that I made it to the top of the toughest climbs.

In the foothills of the Causses, the GravelUp team prepares delicious snacks for us in the best places to keep us fuelled and finish each ride strong. An adventure that brings everyone together where sharing is the priority. Where within a couple days we’ve gone from strangers to adventure buddies, relishing the challenge and ensuing rewards all together.

I came home from this GravelUp trip with somewhat heavy legs and a full heart. As I returned to my daily routine, all the images and emotions from the trip swirled around - of the landscapes that provided such a change of scene, the sense of achievement, a lot of laughter at some of the “gourmet” meals (aligot* with cod anyone?!) And a whole lot of memories that all bring a smile to my face.

So the next challenge is to decide what to undertake next - Norway or Spain ?

*NB “aligot” is a traditional local dish that is best described as mashed potato mixed with melted cheese, normally served with grilled sausages. Absolutely delicious!


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