Mountain biking in France: from Avallon to Besse-en Chandesse
August 16 till 29, 2020
1. Some time early this year, when we googled an update on the French cycling routes, we noticed a new one: La Grande Traversée du Massif Central (GTMC). This turned out to be a renewed and extended route for mountain bikers from Avallon in Burgundy to Agde on the Mediterranean Sea, some 1400 km through the Morvan, the Auvergne and the Cévennes.
2. Our trip last year with The Great Divide Company through Canada and the US by mountain bike along the Rocky Mountains felt like more! Cycling through France’s beautiful but rugged nature and spending the nights in small picturesque hotels was even more appealing!
3. We ordered the 2 Topoguides (guidebooks) via www.la-gtmc.com and started planning; the first two weeks promised a daily ride of 50-60 km with 600 to 800 m climbing and a technical level V2 to V3 on a total of 6. This looked perfect; the route seemed almost tailor-made!
4. We each bought a saddlebag (Topeak) for our “evening wear” and a framebag (Agu) for spare bike parts and leisure shoes. Together with our Camelbak Mule (3 litres of water and plenty of room for spare cycling clothes) this had to be sufficient for all our luggage.
5. We decided to cycle from the starting point Avallon to Besse: about 700 km and 14 stages according to the GPS classification on the website. We downloaded all routes on Garmin and Wahoo and had our Stevens mountain bikes (front suspension, 29″ wheels) checked. The first 5 days we cycled with 2 friends: thereafter just the two of us.
6. We booked all hotels/chambres d’hotes in advance, with preference for the “hébergements partenaires of the GMTC”, accommodation which advertises itself as being a partner of the GTMC: bike(r) friendly and having secure space to park the bikes.
7. A little more on geography and the administrative entities through which the GTMC runs: the Massif Central is about 1/6 of France and spreads out over 4 régions (see map at the top; the missing région to the West is La Nouvelle Aquitaine).
The Morvan is a Regional Park and a northeastern spur of the Massif. The Morvan is best known for its man-made lakes that also help provide Paris with drinking water, for its sustainable forest exploitation and as a refuge for the resistance in the 2nd W.W. Château-Chinon is the main city.
Le Parc des Volcans d’Auvergne is a Regional Park in the north of the former province of Auvergne. It became officially a “région” after the French Revolution and merged with Rhône-Alpes as a new région after 2016. But still in the humble opinion of les Auvergnats: “La France, c’est l’Auvergne et quelque chose autour”, France is the Auvergne and something more around….
The capital of the Auvergne is Clermont-Ferrand, also called “Michelin” City. Famous citizens of the Auvergne are Vercingetorix, king of the Averni (“Auvergne”) and scourge of Julius Caesar, and Coco Chanel! And the Michelin brothers, of course!
It was not until 1752 that it was discovered that the row of “mountains” in the north of the Auvergne are extinct volcanoes, according to some: “dormant” volcanoes. The Puy de Dôme would be the youngest: it was still active about 5,000 years ago.
Lozère is the most sparsely populated department in France and leads to the National Park of the Cévennes where the Gorges du Tarn and the Gorges de la Jonte next to Mont Aigoual are most probably best known.
The day before we started the GTMC, we visited Vézelay (again). Vézelay is famous for its unique and beautiful location and its architecture, as the end point and starting point of various pilgrimages, its Basilica of St Madeleine with inspiring timpans of the Last Judgment and The Enlightenment (as in Pentecost) and for Rostropovich’s performance of Bach’s Cello suites.
And infamous for the various crusades that were called for or gathered there with horrendous consequences for all local populations, before, in or after leaving the so-called holy land until the remains of all the crusading rabble was finally exterminated….
The day before departure we stayed at Pontaubert near Avallon in Hotel les Moulins des Ruats, besides the idyllic river le Cousin. (85 € pp demi pension). We could also leave our car there safely for the duration of our trip.
DAY 1: From Avallon via Chastellux-sur-Cure to Quarré-les-Tombes: 52 km, according to us 1335 m climbing, 6h24 moving time, our grading: V4 + V5
The route starts in the centre of Avallon, just in front of the Tourist Office and the church of Saint-Lazare and gets immediately interesting! It will be a beautiful but tough first day as an introduction to the route and the Morvan, at times very technical but dismounting will bring salvation…!
Smooth descents in enchanting forests come as foreplay for some steep and technical climbs. After Chastellux things quiet down a bit near and around the Lac du Crescent after which the guidebook indicates that “things are getting a little less difficult…?” Well, walking in the riverbed of the Cure is not that hard, indeed! But cycling it…?
Never mind, soon Quarré beckons like a beacon of calm, high above you…
We stayed at the friendly Hotel du Nord in the centre of town. 80 € pp demi-pension.
DAY 2: From Quarré-les-Tombes via Saint-Agnan to Saulieu: 43 km, 862 m D+, 5h44, V5 + V3.
Call it a “brisk but beautiful morning walk in forest with bicycle” and this until about 2 km passed the abbey of la Pierre Qui Vire, with a lovely stretch to Saint Agnan afterwards where cozy lunch possibilities are on offer. (La Vieille Auberge du Lac en La Maison du Lac)).
After lunch, we continue as in the morning but on heavily eroded forest tracks (therefore a V3 for this afternoon) allowing for a quick digestion of the lunch. But then and according to the guide as well: “… ça commence à glisser bien…” meaning: “expect some good runs”…
You will pass Saint-Brisson where you need to take a moment to visit the Maison du Parc du Morvan – coming also with a restaurant. The afternoon will also offer some magical forest trails!
We stayed at LdF Hotel du Bourgogne, 95 € for the room 13€pp for breakfast.
Day 3: From Saulieu via Alligny to Montsauche-les-Settons: 36 km, 536 m D+, 4h00, V4 + V3
You start the day with a V4 descent and just after Alligny a climb that takes you 200 meters up. But otherwise we agree with the guidebook: a ride in“… un esprit de ballade et de découverte dans un cadre bucolique… ” , something like :”in a joyous ambience waiting to be surprised in bucolic surroundings..”?
Alligny and Maux-en-Morvan both have a restaurant and a shop. The days ends up gliding smoothly (“glissant”) around and along the beautiful Lac des Settons.
Here you have quite a few hotel options. We stayed at Les Grillons du Morvan, a quiet and beautifully located hotel (seen from the back!) with a lovely garden- a river valley actually; also with its own chocolate production and tastefully decorated rooms (the ground floor rooms step out right into the garden). But not very warm people, a pity! (85 € pp half board.) Alternatives (both come with outside terraces so touristy and loud): Hotel la Morvandelle and Hotel du Lac.
Day 4: From Les Settons via Planchez to Anost: 53km, 1064 m climbing, 4h34, V3 + V3
Day 4 offers a perfect mountain bike morning with undulating tracks in mesmerizing forest and with a steep climb to finish with which will make you fully deserve dessert after a perfectly timed lunch at the friendly restaurant le Relais des Lacs in Planchez. A lot of adjectives in this sentence to cover up that you will have climbed already 558 meters again that morning!
The afternoon brings similar excitement. At the end and upon entering Anost, the route wants you to go up a ridiculous and unnecessary set of stairs which you can easily bypass by cycling a little further up the road.
In Anost “you eat and sleep at Fortin” because the only guest house and the two restaurants, La Galvache and Le Pizzeria there belong to René Fortin. In fact, the village could also be renamed to “Fortin”.
But René also initiated the annual “ecrévisses” festival (crayfish); they feature on the menu in la Galvache. The restaurant is worth a visit already for its decoration and for its staff! Hotel Le Fortin: 65€ for the room and 8.5€ pp for breakfast.
Day 5: From Anost via Glux-en-Glenne to La-Grande-Verrière:(without the loop around le Bois du Roy): 46 km, 1103m, 5h27, V5 + V3.
The day starts with a walking climb as warm-up and then before Arleuf turns onto the route du tacot (old railway or also “Galvache”, paved route on which cattle were used as transport animals). After Arleuf we enter the woods where the hard work starts, not too difficult but steep!
When reading the description of the route that day we noted : « Cette étape de la GTMC nécessite clairement un bagage plus technique que la précédente ». So, you would need to be even more technically adept that day than the day before?! The guide continued: “…. Before, on and over le Bois du Roy you effectively have to carry your bike“. So, you need better technique that day and this to carry your bike… We decided to just skip this part!
Just after reconnecting to the route – you just continue for 200 m straight on to the gravel road instead of taking the forest path for le Bois du Roy on your left – you still have to push your bike for about 200 to 300 meters at about 30% denivelation to reach “le vieux point de l’alpinisme du Morvan”. But it pays off because you get a nice long descent all the way to Glux for it.
(Note that before Glux you have an exit to Port des Lamberts and les sources de l’Yonne with the possibility to continue to Bibracte on Mont Beuvray. One day we’ll return for this…!)
After a morning with 835 m climbing, time for lunch. We stopped at le Petit Auberge in Glux – with English owners – but you must book for it by phone in advance! Apparently, supplies in Glux are so limited that the restaurant can only serve what has been reserved for. So even though the restaurant was not full, we did not get lunch, we did get bread pudding, instead.
In the afternoon you have to climb another 200 meters, but you will be finishing the day with beautiful glides down to Hotel de la Poste, better known as “Chez Cécile”.
Cécile is still strolling around but her two sons now man the kitchen and the restaurant and Claudine is taking general command. 60€ for the room, 21 € for a menu chosen by “le team” and 8€ for breakfast. And you will be tempted by the wide choice of fine Burgundy wines that are displayed next to your table in the restaurant. The hotel also has a nice grocery shop.
Day 6: From La Grande Verrière via Etang-sur-Arroux to Toulon-sur-Arroux: 60 km, 980m, 5h21, V3 + V3
The day started with replacing a second flat tire (the thorns work slowly but surely!). Today a lot of climbing is served on paved road. Normally this is not what you are looking for on a mountain bike, but it comes as a welcome change for all the climbing on washed out tracks the days before. And in beautiful scenery!
Etang feels like somewhat grey but comes with 2 bakeries and welcoming picnic places along the Arroux river.
The afternoon has not much else to offer besides paved climbs. But Dettey comes as a relief, especially because of le Relais de Dettey with a wonderful location and warm owners, who even serve coffee and tea in the afternoon. They also have a gîte for 4 people – but you would have to take all the meals in the Relay because there are no other amenities in the village! You could stay in Dettey for a rest day, “away from it all”.
A few more blissful trails, mostly descents through beautiful forests to arrive in Toulon-sur-Arroux. And two more flat tires….
In Toulon we had chosen for an “Eco-Cabine” (stands for: “tight and spartan” except for the price) in Diverti-Parc. The stay also comes with a formula where you can grill vegetables and meat yourself in a special grill-hut. 95€ for the Cabin and breakfast, 22.5€ pp for the grill. Diverti-Parc wants to be a more fun alternative to cabins (huts, chalets) on a regular campsite. Is okay! They also provide healthy takeaway lunches and bio-products from the region.
Day 7: From Toulon-sur-Arroux via Grury to Bourbon Lancy: 50km, 1016m,4h42, V3 + V4
A thorn in the outer tire had eluded us the night before, so the morning started with replacing the tube. And some searching to find the route because the GPS and the signaling did not match. Take the D985 towards Luzy and go up left towards “Mont Dardon”.
You guessed it: 530 meters climbing that morning, but mostly paved. From here we also noticed that the signage is more recent (and better) than the GPS. When in doubt, follow the signs
Grury should become “Dreary”; and only the barbershop was still in business. Luckily, after Grury, we go back into the woods. And to make you climb faster: under 12 km/h you get swarms of flies around your head! But smooth descents alternating with some solid climbing – “warm downs” – to Bourbon.
Bourbon sounds royal – but actually refers to hot springs- and indeed has some of its traits: a miniature medieval centre with authentic belfry and wooden frame houses! The Hotel La Tourelle Beffroi is just next door and comes with “acceuil vélo” logo. Highly recommended! 95€ with breakfast for 2.
We had dinner on the terrace – the street becomes traffic-free in the evening – of the modest Restaurant du Centre: simple but good!
Day 8: From Bourbon-Lancy via La Chapelle to Moulins: 79km, 399m climb, 4h50, V2 + V2
You can consider today as a transition stage from the Morvan towards le Pays des Volcans; mostly flat but headwinds can still make it hard! Apart from a few castles, you bike in the middle of nowhere. And you won’t pass anything to eat or drink all day… We did not even notice La Chapelle.
Also note that today you will often deviate quite a few kilometers from the GPS route. However, there is plenty of signage and new, so that is what we went for.
We also had 3 flat tires because a lot of the cycling is done on pasture tracks (bocages) lined with bramble hedges!
Upon entering Moulins you will still be sent a few kilometers on the local mountain bike circuit along the Allier river. Was not really necessary, anymore, thank you….!
We stayed at LdF Hotel le Parc, good! 95 € with breakfast. (The friendly receptionist took us to Decathlon early on Monday morning to get some more inner tubes, just in case…). We had dinner on the terrace of the art nouveau Le Grand Café, according to the locals: “just for tourists”. But was ok.
Moulins and Ysseure fused together to one city and have all necessary amenities, also a bike shop. And a mega (-lomaniac) Leclerc supermarket, bigger than most international airports.
Day 9: From Moulins via Châtel-de-Neuvre to Chantelle: 68km, 930m D+, 4h56, V2 + V3
A brilliant day with a varied menu: it starts with a nice trail along the authentic Allier – authentic because it has never been widened, channeled, dredged…- some false flats through wide plains and some really nice mountain bike work through forest. And this all the way to Besson.
We had started the day late, so we were already looking to restock here. Only “l’Aubergiste Gourmande” turned out to be open… The lunch menu offered Andouillete as main course, so we went for “Tomates-Mozza” as a starter and even more typically French, “le Burger” as main course, instead. On the terrace with a view of the first Eglise Peinte of the area.
After lunch some rolling work through the first vineyards of AOC Saint-Pourçain and up to Châtel Neuvre (also with restaurants and shops). Until Châtel we measured 322 meters of climbing. We would consider this stage as the first possible to do “en famille” and rate it as the standard V2 for our grading of all other stages. (see conclusions and statistics)
The afternoon comes as a V3 because there is still a lot of technical climbing to do, but also with 2 exhilarating descents, on grass and at 40km/h!
You surely need to stop in Verneuil-en-Bourbonnais as a beautiful village and for coffee or lunch “Chez Agnes, à l’imprévu”. Specialités Italiennes because Agnes is Italian. (do call if for lunch, not sure if they still serve it?)
After the beautiful churches of Saulcet and especially Fleuriel comes a last somewhat difficult descent and tough climb – but after the Morvan: child’s play! – to the center of Chantelle.
We were surprised to find out that the owners of la Maison du Puits are from New Zealand. Murray and Jan (Janet) run a wonderful chambre d’hôtes with 3 rooms. It was Monday and they had dinner prepared – optional – already because everything is closed that day in town. (consultation between the various shops has not been invented yet in Chantelle!). We had a simple but very tasty dinner in the garden. 95€ for room and very extensive, wonderful breakfast. Highly recommended!
Day 10: From Chantelle via Ebreuil to Riom: 59km, 1241m D+, 5h19, V3 + V4
After 3 steep climbs you arrive in Charroux, an enchanting village (“un des plus beaux villages…”) with all kinds of things to see and plenty of gîtes and restaurants!!
A pity that Charroux comes too early in the day to really enjoy it, including the mustard, the chocolate and the olive oil. So best to time your arrival for lunch or ……just stay the night!
Just after Charroux comes another hilarious 40km/h descent on grass! Then you go up and down around Rochefort umpteen times to finally arrive in Ebreuil on the river Allier. Have lunch here if you have not stopped for it earlier in the day. Because the climbing in the afternoon is brutal, through forest but on washed out trails, loose sand, gravel, bolders and everything nature can find to make you fully deserve dinner!
St Hilaire de la Croix invites you to a small siesta behind its church … and the descent afterwards is jolly…
Note that in Combronde – despite having a few cafes and shops but at 15.00 all still closed – we had to knock on people’s doors to replenish our water (the water at the cemetery was also cut off for conservation purposes). We needed it because we still had the climb up to Saint-Bonnet-sur-Riom ahead of us.
As an anticlimax the stage ends up, and you arrive at, the roundabout before Riom where we took the D446 to the right to Mozac to bring us to LdF Hotel le Moulin des Gardelles. It is better to go straight instead on to the D227 and at the edge of Riom go right towards Mozac on the D986. This road is much quieter and less dangerous than the D446. Also feels a bit shorter (still about 3 kilometers from the roundabout!)
Le Moulin de Gardelles sounds good (and is also good!) but much less romantic than the name suggests and its location so unfortunate between all these supermarkets, convenience stores, car repairs and sellers, fastfood chains… (75€ pp demi pension; with Nikki the bordercolli inviting you to play with her!) Bicycles were parked in the conference room.
My recommendation for the route planners (or else to sort out yourself) would be to avoid Riom and Clermont-Ferrand altogether (see further) and find a bike-friendly route directly to VOLVIC from somewhere after Combronde and before Saint-Bonnet. (Must be possible: via Yssac-la-Tourette, Châtelguyon, Enval…).
Day 11: From Riom to Clermont-Ferrand: 27km, 513m D+, 2h27, V3
We thought we would take half a daybreak: so, a short ride to CF and maybe visiting the city in the afternoon…
The morning offered a V3 as a stage, not too technical but very bumpy towards Châteaugay. It is probably this stretch, from their horse drawn carriage with wooden wheels, that inspired the Michelin brothers to do something about it…?!
(Note that according to the guidebook, “Michelin” is the 2nde most famous brand in the world, behind Google…; “La Vache qui rit” probably comes 3rd, then?)
You notice soon you are approaching a big city; a little flattering in the guide about Châteaugay can’t take away that impression.
Just after Malauzat we suddenly came to a sign indicating “Volvic 3 (km)” (the route takes another turn). Shortly thereafter, during the climb of the Col de Bancillon which does have stretches of more than 20% (and not 10% according to the guide!) and unpaved, we wished we had taken that turn!
Also, find the error on the GTMC marker on top of the col de Bancillon!
According to our experience, big cities do not feature well on bike tours! It is hard to trade the tranquility of the countryside for the noise and traffic of a city. You better visit a city with your mind set on it!
Hotel Clermont-Estaing (81 € room with breakfast) turned out to be about 3 km from the end of the route and along busy roads: a concrete block among other blocks. But the spartan interiors did not incite us to visit the city in the afternoon… Although we are sure that Clermont-Ferrand has plenty to offer…!
Dinner in the evening at restaurant Oval of the Rugby Stadium (“Oval” and “Rugby”… got it?), a 500 meters walk from Estaing.
Day 12: From Clermond-Ferrand to Volvic: 21km, 614 m D+, 2h00, V4 and from Volvic via Le Vauriat to Laschamp: 39km, 829m, 3h25, V4 + V3
What we didn’t realize when we looked at the route beforehand was that after leaving CF you cycle back on the road you came the day before, so once again up the Col de Bancillon but in the opposite direction – which is easier now but still not exciting- and again through bustling Blanzat and arriving at the point in Malauzat where you could have gone straight the day before. Normally you don’t explore the guides so thoroughly beforehand; nor is it mentioned nor do you expect this. And since there is no accommodation whatsoever in Le Vauriat, we did 3 stages that day.
Also, good to know is that you leave at 350 meters altitude (CF) and end at 950 meters (Laschamps) with the highest point at 1100 meters (Col de Suchet).
After Malauzat you go into the woods; after Argnat it becomes steep and bumpy. Therefore, the V4.
You will not enter Volvic: just before you climb a steep left arriving in open nature. From then on, the Puy de Dôme will stand out throughout the rest of the day!
Half an hour after Volvic, on a short stretch in woods, you come upon le Manoir de Veygoux, a museum dedicated to the French Revolution… They also have a small restaurant, where you can dine dressed up as Robespierre or Josephine. (As with everything in France, check what days they are open if you’re counting on it for lunch!).
The afternoon started with a difficult climb – therefore, V4. We didn’t notice Le Vauriat. From Beauregard on the ride is just stunning and becoming great fun from Col de Suchet when gliding on forest trails, with arrival just before Laschamps in the uniquely located Archipelago Volcans!
After a shower and the laundry, enjoy the garden with a view of the Puy de Dôme and with “une blanche volcanique”. Hotel Archipel Volcans: 78€ pp demi-pension. Is also a good place to have a rest day with maybe some walking around the Puy de Dôme…?
Day 13: From Laschamp to Orcival: 21km, 421m D+, 1h56, V4
It was raining quite heavily, so we decided to start a bit later; and stop in Orcival.
The route came with a steady and beautiful start in forests up to Recoleine, followed by “false flats” in open nature with hints of great views through curtains of rain…. Just behind the church of Saint-Bonnet-prés-Orcival came a searing ride up – or a steady walk up, just decide for yourself…
We had booked at l’Auberge Le Cantou, but actually it is now Hotel Roche and the Restaurant is Le Cantou, each with separate accounting… but the evening part of the demi-pension still happens in le Cantou (65€ pp)!
Hotel Roche very kindly allowed us – wet to the bone – to check in even though it was only 1.30pm! (This is something to keep in mind in France: especially smaller hotels have an hour at which you can check in, usually quite late in the afternoon! Before that hour there is no one or they use an excuse (time needed to disinfect…?) to not let you in.
Orcival is one of those villages that is just perfect in size to have a pre-dinner stroll in with visits of the Romanesque church and the chocolate production shop with interesting museum!
However, restaurant Le Cantou is run by (most certainly!) an ex-Legionnaire who manages to ruin the atmosphere even before you order anything. Before you go there, google what “Pounti”, “Aligot” and “Omble” mean because they are on the menu; “Truffade” you should already know from previous restaurants. Know that most other French guests, so from other régions, do not know those dishes either! (Remember: “La France, c’est l’Auvergne et quelque chose autour”!)
Now with this knowledge, you could play it in such a way that you pretend not to have understood his French explanation immediately – not so difficult because it is coming at full speed. Let him lose his patience – maybe try: “what’s the difference then between Truffade and Aligot?” – until he sends the junior waitor or waitress to take over. (or think for a moment how John Cleese would handle the situation…). With their explanation, of course, you understand immediately.
But we did enjoy the menu!
Day 14: From Orcival via Murol to Besse and Chandesse: 40km, 1020m climbing, 3h45, V3 + V4
Just after breakfast, with cold legs and still quite some Pinot Noir from the Côtes d’Auvergne (price/quality far better than the overpriced Burgundy wines!) roaming in the body, the road goes scorching hard up, but paved…. ! Expect more than 25% denivelation!
But then it becomes a wonderful, lovely ride with scenery reminiscent of Austria or Switzerland but with volcanoes (“Puys”) as background.
Again, we follow the signage rather than the GPS, all the way to the gorgeous lake before Murol. You first arrive in Chambon-sur-Lac where there is a bakery. Further on the other side of the lake are two restaurants/snack bars where the croque-monsieur and waffles come out of the freezer and the fresh pancakes are only served after 15.00 h because only then the chef-pancakes arrives.
After Murol, there is still some hard work to do because on rocky soil and often worn out by quadbikes and other noisy nuisances.
We stayed in Le Pont du Roy in Besse-en-Chandesse (officially Besse-et-Saint-Anastaise), a friendly Dutch B&B. (90€ room with breakfast).
Besse is worth a visit, and also okay for a day’s rest! You can recover in restaurants Le Bessoi and La Souillarde after trips to beautiful Lac Pavin and surroundings. We read somewhere that Nicovélo in Besse besides VTT rentals could also repair bicycles, by appointment (Check it out beforehand!). Our brakes had been grinding down our discs already for quite a few days by then, but we had come to the end of our holiday anyway….
The stretch from Avallon to Besse-en-Chandesse is just FANTASTIC! In variety and beauty simply magnificent: it combines the forests of the Morvan with the rolling landscapes of the Auvergne and its volcanoes as background!
The mountain bike experience as such and of course the main reason for the trip is UNIQUE: a succession of long stretches of exhilarating descents or descents that require your full technical abilities after combinations of gradual or steeper climbs, all in open nature or enchanting forests! And to make the holiday completely unforgettable: tasty and affordable menus and wine in typical French, so charming settings.
The Topoguides give an interesting introduction to what can be seen along the way; the signage is exceptionally good but in the Morvan we rather trust the GPS, from Bourbon-Lancy on we prefer the signage because very recent..
However, we have some COMMENTS and would like to make some RECOMMENDATIONS! This either because some things are not mentioned in the Topoguides or because we do not always agree with what is being stated. It is also quite obvious that the guides are written for the young and technically very proficient mountain biker who rather makes day trips and thus without luggage.
Our comments try to give a more realistic picture and are practical, aiming to make the GTMC more popular for any kind of cyclist, especially for those who want to do longer stretches of the Traverse as a holiday.
This is by nature the slightly older cyclist who has the time and the means to do so. (As we could also experience doing The Great Divide where the average age was around 57 years! Like we are now…)
Giving the GTMC more name and fame will also be very welcome for the “hébergements partenaires du GTMC”, the accommodations that advertised with the organisation of the GTMC, and that are waiting for larger numbers of cycling visitors! On our 2-week trip we only encountered 3 other “fully packed” cyclists, 2 of which were still with a tent, though.
But who knows, one day there will hopefully be a GTF: Une Grande Traversée de la France, from les Vosges all the way to the Mediterranean!?
In any case, we will certainly do the remaining route of the GTMC to Agde in the coming years!! And also redo some stretches again now that we know better what to expect and how to tackle them.
Our comments / recommendations:
1.Use TUBELESS tires! Otherwise, your GTMC may become the GECC or La Grande Exercice de Changer (et réparer) Chambre à aires, a great exercise in replacing and repairing inner tubes. (And this especially for the Morvan, the first week!)
We had nine flat tires amongst us two in the first 8 days to Moulins. (another one the week after; our two friends on tubeless did not have any) We met a fellow biker who already had three flats on his first day from Etang sur Arroux-sur-Moulins. … This is because of the thorns of brambles that pierce like needles through the outer tires (and don’t forget to bring tweezers to remove them from the outer tyre if you are not tubeless!)! And since most “bocages” consist of bramble hedgerows, cycling with inner tubes is like playing Russian roulette….! Even Michelin tires do not help!
2. We sometimes wondered (especially in the Morvan) when we pushed our bike up again or hobbled down on rocks and tree stumps on a so-called V3 what V4-V5-V6 would be like, then? In the Topoguide, no stage got a higher gradation than V3…!!?? Or what is the point of grading routes if for more than half of the grades you need to be a circus performer and work for Cirque du Soleil to stay on your bike? Where even Mathieu Van der Poel – himself with an impressive pedigree – must carry his bike. …!
3. Also the daily denivelations, the D+ are often seriously underestimated (see our statistics: we had 4 Garmins and 1 Wahoo the first week, 2 Garmins and 1 Wahoo after)! This is not really a big problem because the experience is in the beauty of the cycling. But a good (mental) preparation, knowing what the day is going to bring contributes to that experience; a lack of preparation does not let you experience it to the fullest…!
4. We would strongly advise against gravel bikes through the Morvan! We met one biker on one the first day … after a couple of breakneck descents he decided to take the regular road to Quarré. But also in the Auvergne we would feel safer on a mountain bike.
5. We also wondered how you would come through this first week with a tent tied on your handlebars so you can hardly see where your front wheel is racing to …? In this respect, autumn is also not advisable to ride through the Morvan, this when a layer of leaves covers the ground. Somewhere in the Topguide it is also suggested that you can pull your luggage on a cart behind your bike…?! The author clearly had a joint too much when he wrote this. Our advice, especially for the first week: stay in hotels or campsites with cabines!
6. With an electric bike? Well, I wouldn’t want to push that 15plus kg bike – with saddle bag and frame bag on top – along the Cure, the Cousin or all the way past La Pierre Qui Vire… let alone carry it over the top of the Bois du Roy! And you must be extra careful if you decide to go electric because you haven’t cycled for a while! After all, higher speeds require higher skills!
7. In the topoguide and in various literature advertising the GTMC, it is also stated that the route can be done “en famille“……??!! If your wife is looking for one more reason to file for divorce, she will surely have one after you have advised and taken her and the children on one of the stages and you have both been carrying the children’s bikes more than the children have cycled on them!
8. If there is one stage you could try with the family, then probably the one from Moulins to Chatel-de-Neuvre which we have rated as a V2 and taken as standard to grade the other stages we have done (see our statistics). This stage has a nice combination of single track along the Allier, some rolling stretches in open nature and ends with some wonderful forest trails: 34 km with 322 meters of climbing and with possibility of lunch in Besson as a welcome break. This could be a first test to see what the family can handle!
9. You must include in your planning that after 2 weeks on the trail – and especially after the Morvan and probably also after the Cévennes – you will need a day off to have your bike serviced! So be sure to start with a tiptop bike and bring spare brake pads and derailleur pad SPECIFICALLY for your bike! Bicycle workshops are only in larger cities and you often have to leave the route for them! (and in France everything always seems to be just closed just when you needed something. Was Murphy French?)
10. If we were to do the same stretch of route again:
- Then we would avoid Clermont Ferrand (CF) and cycle from Malauzat (between Riom and CF) straight to Volvic. Then you also avoid doing the uninteresting Col de Bancillon twice… And cycling in traffic always feels like an anti-climax to what would otherwise have been a nice day of cycling. So, day 11 would be: from Riom to Volvic.
- I would even look for a route to go directly to Volvic before Riom. As such you don’t leave a fantastic bike biotope for a rather dull intermezzo! (I proposed this to the organization of the GTMC). Day 10 then becomes: Chantelle – Ebreuil – Volvic; Day 11: Volvic – Le Vauriat – Laschamps. You “save” 2 days and stay in the same natural vibe.
- We would go for a day’s rest every 5-6 days. Places we noted down for it (see our route description): Lac des Settons (Montsauche), Charroux (“un des plus beaux villages de la France”), Laschamps (Archipelago Volcans), Murol (Lac Chambon), Besse….
- And how to return to the place of your departure where you went to by car?
- Go by train, not by car….
- The return itinerary probably scares you when it shows that it’s fastest to train to Paris first before heading south again….?
- Navette Retour or “return shuttle”? Is expensive and “cap-liberté” mentioned in the book refers you to a taxi company anyway; there are no “shuttle’s” in the real sense of the word! We were quoted 540 € to be driven back from Besse to Avallon! (is 300 km one way).
- It should be possible to organize this in a different way?! Where you leave your car, surely there must be someone interested to make some extra money and come and get you with your car…!?
- Some more practical tips:
- Bring an electrolite drink (We take Isostar tablets!)
- We have pure water in the Camelbak and energy drink in the drinking bottles
- In addition to sunglasses, neutral goggles (even if you do not wear glasses) are advised to cycle with through the woods in darker weather; this protects your eyes from low-hanging branches and brambles.
- In the Auvergne you are at more than 1000 meters altitude for a few days: in the morning it can be bitter cold on the bike! Best to bring an extra jacket.
- Check with the hotels when you can check in
- Check if they have a safe bike storage when booking (if not “partenaires of the GTMC”)