In the autumn of 1878, the Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island and Kidnapped, set out from Le Monastier in the Auvergne to walk south across the Cevennes accompanied by "a small grey donkey called Modestine, the colour of a mouse with a kindly eye". It took this pleasing pair eleven days to complete the trip, and the book that Stevenson wrote about their journey, Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes was his first successful book and one, which has since become a travel classic.Stevenson should have put the Cevennes "on the map", but despite his account of his travels through this region, it remains little known. His book did however inspire the establishment of the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail ('Trace Historique de Stevenson” on French maps) in 1978, the centenary year of the original walk. The local people encouraged by a Scotswoman, Madame Pat Villette, decided to retrace and waymark the trail. The route was partially waymarked by blue and white markers carrying the St. Andrews Cross of Scotland. More recently the Stevenson's Trail has been designated as GR70 and waymarked with the usual white over red GR marks. The walk starts near Le Puy en Velay in the Auvergne, a hilly region of extinct volcanoes in the north of the Massif Central and follows a winding route southwards across the Cevennes, a more mountainous area on the eastern flank of the Massif Central. The Cevennes National Park covers 3,284 sq kms, of which 914 sq kms in the central zone are protected. The headquarters of the park are at Florac and it is the only generally inhabited French National Park. The region that Stevenson chose for his journey boasts great natural beauty and is almost totally unspoilt. Depopulation as drastic as that in Stevenson's native Scotland has left a region full of sad romantic ruins. The walk itself is not difficult; the hills are not particularly high. However, the trail does cross two significant mountains: Mont du Goulet (1,497m) and Mont Lozere (1,699m); for the most part we are able to follow quite closely the route taken by Stevenson over a century ago. It is not known the exact route that he went on all the days however and some parts that he did walk on have become road, so the GR trail heads off on different cross country routes.
‘Moderate – Challenging’ (grade 4) with a few long days. For reasonably fit and experienced walkers. The grade reflects the length of the days and the roughness of the terrain. The longest day can be shortened, but no clients have indicated that the grade should be lower. Day Stages: up to 35km (22miles) per day over hilly terrain. But on this long day there is a shorter alternative as well.
For your first nights accommodation you stay in the historic city of Le Puy not far from Le Monastier where the Stevenson's Trail begins. Le Puy is a wonderful town to explore and you may wish to add an extra night. Its most striking attraction is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Puy, dating chiefly from the first half of the 12th century. Each morning, pilgrims gather at the cathedral to be blessed before starting their journey to Santiago de Compostela. The cathedral has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1998, as part of the "Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France". The iron statue of Notre-Dame de France (The Virgin Mary) overlooking the town was designed by the French sculptor Jean-Marie Bonnassieux, and is made from 213 Russian cannons taken in the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855). Fountain Crozatier is also worth visiting in thee centre of town.
Accommodation: Stay in a comfortable 2 star hotel a few minutes walk from the train station.
Taxi transfer (included) from Le Puy to Le Monastier where the Stevenson trail starts. As today’s walk is not long, there is time for a look around Le Monastier before you start the walk. You could visit the Abbey Church with its 15th century organ or the Chateau, part of which is now the Municipal Museum and the Town Hall. You walk on via the village of St. Martin de Fugeres to Goudet where we cross the River Loire. It is an hour or so's walk upstream to Arlempdes.
Accommodation: Stay in a welcoming 1 star hotel in this tiny village overlooking the upper Loire valley. The hotel is a traditional logis with a homely wood-beamed restaurant.
There are two alternative itineraries for today. The longer alternative follows the GR70 Stevenson's Trail all the way for 34km/21miles. Walk through Montagnac, Ussel, Le Bouchet St Nicholas, Landos and Arquejol to Pradelles. The shorter alternative 22km/14 miles goes more directly via La Sauvetat to rejoin the GR70 at Landos and followes it to Pradelles. This old fortified village overlooks the Upper Allier Valley. It used to be an important stopping place for merchants importing goods from the South of France.
Accommodation: We use a centrally located 2 star hotel offering ensuite accommodation and for dinner a regional menu boasting 'Specialites Auvergnates.'
Again there are longer (GR70; 35km/22miles) and shorter (22km/14miles) alternatives. Walk to Langogne and cross the River Allier. A series of paths past mills and wayside cavalries brings us to the ruined village of Fuzilhac. Of this region Stevenson wrote, "Moor, heather marsh, tracts of rock and pines, woods of birch, green and stony cattle tracks wandered in and out...." Little has changed. Pass through the village of Cheylard and the Chabadoures ravine on to La Bastide Puy Laurent a tiny village with approx. 200 inhabitants. The shorter alternative leaves the GR70 at Langogne and rejoins it just before Luc.
If you would like to add a rest day to the tour we suggest La Bastide, from which it is an easy day walk to the abbey of Notre Dame des Neiges, where Stevenson spent several nights.
Accommodation: A simple 1 star hotel, all rooms have ensuite shower and there is a restaurant.
Head south away from the river through woods and past dolmens to reach Chasserades. A walk over the Montagne du Goulet ridge brings us to Le Bleymard. This small village rises to an altitude of 1087m and will surprise you with its heritage, Chapel of Saint Jean du Bleymard, Priory of Saint Jean du Bleymard, known as Peytavin House and beautiful old houses with slate roofs of Tournel.
Accommodation: Overnight in a high standard two star hotel traditionally appointed, with ensuite facilities and a fine pine beam and stone restaurant surrounding a large hearth.
Continue south along an old drovers road, over the Col de Finiels, past the Chalet du Mont Lozere. The col with its fine viewpoint over the Cevennes, makes a delightful lunch stop. There is an opportunity in clear weather to reach the Sommet de Finiels (1698m), the highest point in the Lozere range. We descend to Le Pont de Montvert.
Accommodation: A 2 star modern hotel, which sits on the riverbank of the Tarn, ensuite, with balconies and a restaurant specializing in the regional fare.
From Le Pont de Montvert walk south along the Martinet valley and ascend the ridge of the Montagne du Bouges. From here continue along the crest of the two valleys of the Tarn and Mimente. At the end of the ridge descend into Florac. You can discover the region's history and geology at the imaginative exhibition house in the old chateau. The town itself is quite small, but has two large open squares with restaurants and a few shops. The quaint boulevards of the old town offer a tempting array of cafes.
Accommodation: Stay at a 3 star hotel in the centre of town. All rooms are ensuite and the property includes a traditional restaurant, landscaped gardens and pool.
Continue up the valley of the Mimente to reach the Col de Jalcreste. From here an old shepherd’s trail leads through the forest, chestnut groves and deserted farms to St Germain de Calberte.
Accommodation: A modern resort style hotel (hotel de tourisme) with limited ensuite facilities and good regional food and a swimming pool.
From St Germain the route leads through the sleepy village of St Etienne. Pass a picturesque manor house before your final walk through forest to St Jean de Gard.
You may wish to have an extra night in St Jean du Gard as it is a lovely town to explore. On Tuesday there is a colourful open air market with garments made in the famous Tissu Provencal, Faience de Moustiers (colourfully glazed pottery) and “Poterie d’Anduze.” You may wish to take the steam train to Anduze. The steam railway runs every day from mid-June to the end of August, with a more limited service (mainly at weekends) from the end of March to mid-June and in September and October.
Accommodation: Built in 1882, our excellent 2 star hotel here offers fine facilities in an idyllic setting. The rooms are ensuite and there is a swimming pool.
Trip concludes after breakfast.
The Stevenson's Trail was a wonderful eight day walk in the Cevennes region in southern France. The scenery was magnificent throughout the trip, varying from day to day, with a mix of farmland, forests, mountains and small French villages. The maps and instructions supplied were generally very good ,and the organisation of the stops was excellent. There were a couple of variations from the original Stevenson route which seemed to make sense. The accommodation and meals were generally very good, and most people we met along the way were very friendly.
J. Byatte., Roadvale, QLD. Australia, 10 Aug 2016
Per Person, Twin Share