Causses and Cévennes
The Causses and the Cévennes, Mediterranean agro-pastoral Cultural Landscape is a landscape that has evolved over three millennia.
It is located in the higher regions of the Massif Central, in an area of granite and limestone slopes and deep valleys.
Its distinct features include:
- chestnut farming
- low stone sheep housing
- mulberry cultivation (for silk)
- drove roads (used by cattle and sheep moving to and from the pastures)
- military architecture (like the Tour du Viala-du-Pas-de-Jaux)
- farm complexes (like those of Les Monziols)
Visit April 2013
The Causses and the Cévennes WHS covers a really large region, and as others have noticed it is not immediately clear where to go to see its essence (it's a cultural landscape). Driving up north from Toulouse (which takes over 2 hours), I decided to take the highway from Lozère to Millau and take some detours from there. This highway already crosses the core zone by the way.
My first goal was to see the Cirque de Navacelles. These "Cirques" are one of the peculiar features of the landscape here. They are amphitheatre-like valleys. Standing on the edge, it looks just like an enormous meteorite has landed. But it was all made by glacier erosion. This site lies at about 28km from the main road. I also saw lots of large birds of prey (vultures?) circling around there.
It was back to the main highway then, until I reached Millau. A small mountain road from there reaches further inland, and finally ends at the Chaos of Montpellier-le-Vieux. This is a karst landscape with strangely shaped rocks, just like the Chinese love them. In the summer time it is a very popular tourist site, but I only encountered one other couple at the parking lot. I choose to do the 1.5 hour red hike around the park: a pleasure to just be outside in nature in this fine weather. At the end of that walk I finally encountered two man-made constructions in the landscape that are pointed out in the description of this WHS: a cistern and a cave that has been used for shelter. Both were used by roaming shepherds.
In hindsight I could have done with some more time on the ground here. I managed to visit the Millau viaduct also, but did not have enough time for a tour through the sheep's cheese factory at Rocquefort. I would be interested to hear from someone who did make that trip.
John Booth - September 2015
I spent several days travelling through this rugged area of the Massif Central. My journey started in Ales, from where I travelled by bus up the Gardon d'Ales and over the Jalcreste Pass to reach Florac in the Cevennes. Here the local mode of transport is the donkey, many named Modestine after the animal that accompanied Robert Louis Stevenson on his travels here. In evidence too are the Protestant churches of the Camisards whose forbears hid here during the periods of reepression. The town features the confluence of the Tarn and Tarnon Rivers, and is overlooked by the cliffs of the Causse Mejean.
My journey continued on another bus, this one crossing the Montmirat pass on the flank of Mont Lozere, and finishing at the town of Mende, on the banks of the Lot River.
Yet another bus took me from Mende to Marvejols, following the valley of the Lot and the Causse Sauveterre.
From Marvejols I continued by train to Millau, with spectacular views of the Grand Causses and glimpses of the Tarn Gorge.
Millau was spectacular for the views afforded of the viaduct. Passing beneath the viaduct on a side trip to Saint Affrique gave another perspective.
Hubert Scharnagl - February 2014
The agro-pastoral landscape of the Causses and Cevennes spreads over a wide area and consists of high plains (Causse Méjan, Causse Noir, Causse du Larzac), mountain ranges (Cevennes, Mont Lozère, Mont Aigoual) and narrow gorges (Gorges du Tarn, Gorges de la Jonte). Not easy to figure out which sites are worthwhile to get the best impression of both the natural heritage and the rural architecture. Thus, I studied extensively the nomination dossier, identified some places that seemed to be the most interesting, and finally planned our route for the two days we had scheduled for this WHS.
We started early in the morning in Le Puy-en-Velay and after 1.5 hours we entered the core zone at the northern slopes of the Mont Lozère massif. The narrow road (D20) goes close past the highest summit of the massif, the Sommet de Finiels, to Le Pont-de-Montvert. We had a first stop near the summit for a short hike. Actually, it is a high plateau rather than a steep peak, a sparse and stony landscape with conifers and yellow broom. Apart from us there was nobody around and the morning fog made a bit of a spooky atmosphere. Le Pont-de-Montvert is one of the larger villages in the area. We bought some cheese and the obligatory baguette to get through the day, and continued our trip heading towards the Gorges du Tarn. We took the narrow road D35 and came past lonely barnyards and through small hamlets, and saw some typical examples of rural architecture (eg the church in Fraissinet-de-Lozère or the bell tower in the village La Fage). The houses are made of granite stones, low and compact to withstand the harsh weather, but they are of a rough beauty. However, many of the houses and farms seemed to be uninhabited.
In Ispagnac begins the narrowest and most beautiful part of the Gorges du Tarn. The road leads along the western river bank through some lovely villages like Sainte-Enimie (one of 'Les Plus Beaux Villages de France'), Sainte-Chély-du-Tarn, or La Malène. Here, the buildings are made of limestone, but similar to the granite architecture at Mont Lozère also plain and massive, in harmony with the nature around. The most picturesque villages are on the eastern bank: Castelbouc and Hauterives (photo), the small houses seem to glue on the steep slope. Hauterives can only be reached by foot, there is no street. The gorge is a popular tourist destination, in particular with canoeists. We learned that many of the houses have been restored and are used as summer and weekend cottages. In Vignes, a winding road branches off towards Point Sublime, a viewing point with a great panoramic view of the Gorges du Tarn, the short detour is worthwhile. The gorge ends at Le Rozier. When we arrived there, it was early enough to visit the Chaos de Montpellier-le-Vieux. Like Els, we took the red walk and enjoyed our hike through the rock formations with curious names like 'Crocodile', 'Door of Mycène', or 'Large Sphinx'.
We stayed overnight near Millau, where we also visited the Millau Viaduct. For the next day, we actually had planned a longer hike in the Causse Méjan (a hike in one of these austere and almost deserted Causses must be very contemplative). But the weather was cloudy and windy, so we skipped our hike in favour of a visit in Roquefort. We took a guided tour at the Roquefort Sociète, the largest cheese manufacturer in Roquefort. The tour (1 hour) started with an animated model explaining the geology that formed the cave. At the next stop we saw a 'fleurine' - one of the narrow fissures that extends through the entire rock and allows air circulation, a unique feature important for the maturation of the Roquefort. Then we watched a film on the history and the process of cheese making, followed by a rather dispensable sound-and-light-show. Too much of that multi-media stuff for my taste. The caves themselves were rather disappointing. We expected a high vaulted cellar, similar to an old wine cellar. But the cave was divided into various levels by timber floors, the levels were not much higher than a normal room. Behind acrylic glass we saw rows of cheese wheels stored on wooden shelves. The guide explained the different steps of Roquefort production and demonstrated how a cheese wheel is wrapped in a thin sheet of pewter, obviously also an important step. The tour was in French, but there are explanatory panels in various languages. Finally, we tasted three different types of Roquefort. The tour was not bad, but I don't think that Els has missed a lot. However, the caves could be more interesting at one of the smaller manufacturers.
After that we had short stops at the Templar sites Viala du Pas de Jaux, Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon, and La Couvertoirade. The latter is the most interesting, like a smaller copy of Carcassonne, but not a must-see. Finally, we had a last stop at the Cirque de Navacelles, also mentioned in Els' review above.
All in all, an interesting and probably underrated WHS, with worth seeing natural sites and intact rural architecture. We saw the pasture landscape, we saw barns for sheep, drinking troughs (lavogne) for sheep, and a cistern, we tasted sheep's cheese, and we met a woman selling sheep's wool, but in two days we never saw a sheep!
Clyde - March 2013
I visited this vast WHS in April 2012. I enjoyed the picturesque landscape contrasts of garigue, trees, streams, etc. Best to visit by car on a sunny day and then enjoy trekking and hiking in the countryside.
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Full name: The Causses and the Cévennes, Mediterranean agro-pastoral Cultural Landscape
2011 - InscribedReasons for inscription
2011 - Advisory Body overruledICOMOS had suggested deferral
2009 - ReferredMore focus on agro-pastoralism
2006 - ReferredNo explanation given
The site has 22 connections. Show all
- Dry Stone Construction farmhouses
- Irrigation and drainage use of irrigated terraces for agriculture
- Pastoralism agro-pastoral Cultural Landscape, cattle and sheep
- Silk Manufacture mulberry cultivation
- Transhumance "The northern part of the Cévennes NP encompasses the grazed granite uplands around Mont Lozère. Here (is) .. good summer grazing by large flocks of sheep travelling north from farms to the south of the National Park in Languedoc near the coast, a system of transhumance that has persisted since the 12th century"
- Queen Victoria Édouard Martel named one of the rocks after Queen Victoria, to celebrate the Entente cordiale
Religion and Belief
- Protestantism In the 16th century Protestantism spread into the Cévennes along the trade routes from Geneva. Many merchants, traders and craftsmen became converts, forming islands of Protestantism amidst Catholic farmers. (AB ev)
- Built in the 12th century The fundamental changes to the landscape that can still be perceived today took place between the 12th and 14th centuries when several monastic orders, including Benedictines, Hospitaliers and Knights Templars gained control of extensive lands (AB ev)
- Slow Food Movement Roquefort
WHS on Other Lists
- World Biosphere Reserves Cévennes National Park