You can’t step twice in the same river
Could it be the last holiday with the children? Hannah Stephenson and family make the most of a beautiful valley in the Midi-Pyrenees
Yheart is in my mouth as I watch my two children run off the slope into the void of sky beyond, just a parachute stopping them from plunging hundreds of feet below.
Of course, there’s an instructor strapped in with each of them, which allays my fears somewhat, and within a minute they are little specks on the horizon, circling high above the town of Millau, a hotspot for paragliding in the Aveyron region of the MidiPyrenees in southern France.
My son, Will, 15, is already checking out his action pictures which he later uploads on to Facebook. He hasn’t totally appreciated the magnificent Millau Viaduct spanning the Tarn River in the distance, a showstopper on the landscape and the world’s tallest bridge, designed by English architect Norman Foster and opened in 2004.
Flying on top of the world may not be for everyone, but I am entering that realm of ‘Could this be our last holiday with the kids?’ Seeking adventure may be the only thing that bridges the generation gap.
Canoeing down the Dourbie
So, holding that thought, we travel the long journey to the Aveyron, a region known for its amazing river activities, including canyoning and canoeing, as well as adventure circuits, bungee jumping and cycling. And, of course, Roquefort cheese.
We arrive at Val de Cantobre, a campsite in the Cevennes National Park in the middle of nowhere, at the foot of a gorge, surrounded by stunning hillside forests and dramatic limestone rock formations. Hikers love it here, as they trek through open meadows, woodland and terraced hillsides, or follow the path of the river admiring the flora and fauna and the wide variety of birds, as well as scorpions and the odd snake.
Everywhere you look, rocks stick vertically out of the French forest hills. Even the beautiful medieval village of Cantobre, a couple of kilometres from our campsite, protrudes out of the craggy hillside, the stone buildings jutting over the edge looking like they could topple at any time.
This neck of the woods is ideal for road bikes, as the roads which cut into the gorges are fairly flat and even. You’ll need to venture further to make the most of mountain bikes, with trails that scale the top of the gorge.
If you want to escape tourism, this is the place to be. But the mobile home we hire, the new Aspect range from Eurocamp, has all mod cons, decking and stylish wicker furniture, even a gas barbecue and a permanent awning, so you can sit outside come rain or shine.
It’s a 30-minute drive to Millau, the nearest big town – where the Rivers Tarn and Dourbie converge and the watery action starts.
We take a 13km canoe trip down the Dourbie. The river provides the perfect mix of excitement and tranquillity – one minute we’re taking on a mini rapid, the next we’re paddling through a calmer stretch, admiring the stunning gorges beyond, stopping off at a little beach for a picnic or to take a quick dip in the crystal clear water.
For those who think this sounds too sedate, think again. My daughter Grace, 14, and I capsize on one of the rapids after slamming into a rock, which is pretty scary and jawdroppingly cold without a wetsuit, and although we can stand up everywhere, it takes us a while to catch our breath and haul ourselves back into the canoe
If you want warmer water the Mediterranean is just 90 minutes away by car on an excellent road, so we
HHannah and her family explored the Dourbie River by bypass Montpelier to reach Meze, a tr traditional old French seaside town, w with a big fishing community.
Oysters, seafood platters, moules fr frites and other fishy specialities are w widely available from the restaurants sc scattered around the pretty harbour.
Beaches are plentiful along this coastline, where the Thau lagoon separates a spit of land on which the port of Sete lies. At Meze, toddlers enjoy splashing in the shallow waters, while adrenalin junkies kite-surf in the nearby open water.
On the way back to Cantobre, we come across a sign to La Couvertoirade, listed as ‘one of the most beautiful villages in France’, so we make a detour to discover the most glorious walled Templars village, dating back to the 12th century.
A leisurely walk through the cobbled streets reveals artisan shops and bijou restaurants where crusaders once stood, but sheep breeding is the mainstay of the economy and at the foot of a village at about 8pm, the collar bells and bleatings of the sheep break the quiet of the evening.
As a family on perhaps one of our last holidays together, we’ll laugh about the river pursuits, the freezing water and the fact that William managed to miss the tallest bridge in the world on the flight of his life. That’s teenagers for you.