The Grand Traversée du Massif Central (GTMC) Mountain Bike Route

  • Distance

    446 Mi.

    (718 KM)
  • Days

    9

  • % Unpaved

    60%

  • % Singletrack

    20%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    6

  • % Rideable (time)

    100%

  • Total Ascent

    39,826'

    (12,139 M)
  • High Point

    5,140'

    (1,567 M)
The GTMC mountain bike route runs some 446 miles (718 km) from the centre of France to the Mediterranean Sea. In between it crosses the Massif Central, a largely remote region covering 36,000 square miles (93,000 square km) of mountain, high plateaux, forests and heathland.
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This was the first long-distance mountain bike route to be completed in France. Along its length, you climb around 11,000m (36,000 feet) and descend a little more, using tarmac, dirt, gravel, rock, sand and mud, depending on the weather.

The route is immensely diverse, taking you through the French backcountry, between extinct volcanoes, across the remote stronghold of the French Resistance during the Second World War, over the gorges and through the forests of the Cévennes National Park, past farms, hamlets, villages and ancient walled towns and finally, down towards the Mediterranean Sea.

Generally the route is not very technical, and those sections that are can be avoided or walked if needed, but it is generally all rideable. A lot does depend on the weather conditions as many sections can degrade in wet weather into mud quagmires, and the weather can be very changeable. The route is long, climbs 11,000m, and navigation requires some care due to intermittent waymarking and the number of different route networks that spread across France – sometimes combined on one physical path, whilst at other times separate. Resupply is possible in the many villages and towns through which the route passes.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • The route passes through such a diverse range of landscapes that there is constantly something new to discover.
  • The Monts Dôme area is beautiful, with its ancient volcanic domes spread over 25 miles.
    The wonderful gîte d’étape in Le Giraldes, where you can eat with the family in a dining room heated by a huge open fire, and where they serve cheek of beef from their own rare breed cattle which, after having been cooked for three hours literally dissolved on the tongue.
  • The Cévennes National Park (which astonishingly for an area that only occupies 0.5% of the landmass of France contains about 50% of its plant and animal species) and the Tarn Gorge in particular, is spectacular, and you can camp right alongside the river in the small town of Le Pont de Montvert.
  • Many of the towns and villages through which the trail passes are beautiful places to rest for a day, or just a few hours over lunch. Florac has a river running down through the centre in a series of waterfalls and tunnels, whilst La Couvertoirade and Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert are intricate, medieval villages.
  • The ride along the valley and back on the southern side of Mont St Baudille feels remote and isolated despite being just a few miles from civilisation.
  • The food throughout the region includes hearty soups, fresh salads, good quality meat and the local Puy Lentils in delicious sauces, as well as thinly sliced potatoes, oven-baked with cheese and cream, washed down with a glass or two of local wine.
  • Weather. Summer in the Massif Central tends to be hot and dry, whilst winter is cold with heavy snow. It’s not recommended to ride the route from November to April due to snow and ice. Things will be hot in July and August, and also busier with tourists. Most of the trail is at or above 1000m (3278ft) altitude, and temperatures and weather conditions can vary significantly. The weather is changeable – in two weeks riding in September I experienced driving rain, low temperatures, scorching heat, thunderstorms and nights too warm and too cold for the down quilt I had with me. Be prepared for all sorts of conditions. Much of the trail is on high ground and very exposed to sun, wind and rain.
  • Money. Take cash, and don’t miss an opportunity to resupply. The GTMC passes through some quite remote areas (for Europe). It’s not uncommon to come across only very small villages for a few days at a time, where you won’t find any cash machines, and where any shops, campsites and hostels that do exist often won’t take credit/debit cards. It’s also pretty rare to be able to get cash back when you are able to pay by card, so best load up your wallet with some notes when you have the opportunity in order to avoid awkward moments where you’re unable to pay or big detours in order to find some cash.
  • Route finding. Take a GPS and maps or guidebook. The GTMC uses a variety of existing designated trails, including a lot of grandes randonnées (GR) trails (official long distance paths that can generally be ridden as well as walked), local GR trails, forestry roads and other hiking routes. Whilst the GTMC is generally waymarked, the signs can’t be relied on to navigate with on their own. In places they are missing, or faded to the point that you can’t see which direction they point. In the Cevennes National park, the signs are not allowed at all. The Cicerone guide has detailed route directions (plus a whole host of other useful information on facilities etc) and is available electronically for the Kindle or other devices. The route in the guide differed on occasion to the GPS route that I used, and they both differed on occasion to the waymarks I found on the ground. In addition, some sections of trail might be impassable, or just plain unenjoyable, in certain conditions (e.g. very muddy after periods of rain). However, the guide gives road biking (and walking) options for each phase and, when combined with a map it is easy to identify backroads to avoid certain sections of trails if needed.
  • Getting there. There are airports in Clermont-Ferrand, Nimes, Lyon and Montpelier with flights mostly serving Europe. Trains from Paris serve Clermont-Ferrand, Nimes and Montpelier. You should avoid the faster TGV trains as they often require you to dismantle and box or bag your bike (although this may not be the case on some routes) – the slower trains should have space for bikes as they are but you should enquire before you book your ticket. If coming from or through the UK, you can take your bike on the Eurostar from London to Paris, though you should ring to book a space ahead as they can get full. More information is here: www.eurostar.com/uk-en/travel-information/travel-planning/luggage/travelling-with-your-bike-eurostar. There are regular non-TGV trains between Clermont-Ferrand and Montpelier. There are also stations close to Bagnols-les-Bains (roughly half way along the route) at the town of Mende (20km) and the tiny viilage of Allenc (10 km)) which run to Nimes where you can change trains to head to Montpelier or Clermont-Ferrand, should you want to leave or start the route half way along.
  • There are many established campsites along the route, although they are plentiful in some areas and lacking in others, and are often closed from September onwards. They often seem a little dominated by camper vans and caravans. Wild camping is legally a grey area in France but if you camp late, leave early and are discreet, you shouldn’t have a problem. However, a lot of the area is farmed, so you probably want to be on the look out for a good spot from the mid afternoon.
  • Along the trail you can find gîte d’étapes (hostels aimed primarily at walkers and cyclists) that provide basic group accommodation and serve a simple set menu with three courses. There’s generally only one choice of menu, which might make things hard if you’re a vegetarian, but its home cooked, hearty food for a good price.
  • Similarly, CAF (Club Alpin Francais) gîtes provide cheap self catered accommodation for outdoor groups, mostly in more mountainous areas. The beds are usually in dorms and you share a kitchen and living space, for about €15 per night.
  • There are many relatively cheap hotels and guest houses (Chambres d’hôtes) in small towns and villages which often won’t cost that much more than a gîte.
  • Shops and grocery stores open around 7:30am in France and stay open until around 8:00pm but will probably be closed for a few hours around lunchtime. Arriving in a small village (or even town) at lunchtime expecting to buy supplies will normally be met with disappointment – they can seem totally deserted. Many shops in small villages won’t accept debit or credit cards so take plenty of cash.
  • Most French towns and villages have water fountains in the main squares or on the main street. Just make sure you watch out for signs warning you if the water is not for drinking (non potable).
  • Churchyards often have outside taps to provide water for cemetery flowers. Failing that, when I was out of water I approached people in their gardens as I passed, and they were very accommodating.
  • The region has abundant rivers and streams but due to the prevalence of grazing animals, you should assume the water needs purification.

On The Trail

Starting from Clermont-Ferrand the trail initially heads north to the town of Volvic, famous for its spring water, before looping south through the Monts Dôme, where more than 80 extinct volcanoes stretch along a line over 40km (25miles).

The next few days are spent crossing the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne following a chain of volcanic hills and then skirting to the east of the Monts-Dore, a series of peaks and ridges topped by the highest peak in the Massif Central, the Puy du Sancy (1886m/6186ft).  After crossing the high Cézallier plateau, the trail then descends to the towns of Allanche and the historic Saint-Flour.

The route climbs into the hills of the Margeride, a remote area used by the French Resistance during the Second World War to launch attacks to delay German reinforcements travelling north after the D-Day landings.  After visiting the spa town of Bagnols-les-Bains, you enter the beautiful, high, forested hills of the Cévennes before descending to the spectacular Tarn Gorge.  Leaving the Tarn, the trail passes through the southern Cévennes hills and forests before crossing a lower, flatter plain to the ancient walled town of La Couvertoirade. The limestone hills of Saint-Baudille then lead to the amazing village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, in the l’Hérault valley, before the final descent towards Montpellier and the Mediterranean Sea.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • callaghan

    the next time you’re in the area of Couvertoirade and Montpellier, lift your thumb, you are welcome!

  • antonin

    Hey ! for the one poping around “florac” in les cevennes, thump up too, I have a free sofa for bikers !

  • Michael David

    How would it be to ride this route from the south to the north. I’ll be coming up from Spain?
    Thanks

  • Miles

    What kind of bike would you
    All recommend for this rout. This will be my first bikepacking trip.
    Cheers
    Miles

  • Jej

    Hi,
    The official track finishes at Sète (Montpellier was the first edition destination). This trail is called “From the volcanos to the Mediterranean” (http://www.chamina.com/velo/1463-9782844661418-grande-traversee-du-massif-central.html). To reply to Michael David’s question, the trail was designed from north to south. Not impossible to do it reversed of course, but probably more difficult… I remember some descents really steep. I did it with 2 rear backpacks, I would not try south to north in these conditions!
    Cheers,
    J.

  • Jej

    To Miles:
    MTB bike is strongly recommanded, if you have packing. The track is very bad now, sometimes. Some parts are even not more possible by bike (due to floods, path and/or bridges destroyed). And some paths transformed by farmers into tractor tracks are like “motorways”. The current official guide (see my previous post), is not more published, you have to buy it on the second hand market, or find a GPX. All GPX are not the same, but are generally more updated than the official guide. There are political discussions to redesign this trail, and connect it to the GTM (Grande Traversée du Morvan).

    For a first bike trip, I would say you have to be athletic and clever for food supplies (depending of the season and places) and bike packing. Some parts are really wild and you cannot really shortcut or go around without going far away from the trail… Maybe there are some easier trips to begin (like Loire à vélo or Vélodyssée). But in any case that was a really pleasant adventure for me!

    Good luck,
    J.

  • matthieu

    salut Jej,

    J’imagine que tu es Français, mais je vais tenter d’écrire en anglais pour la communauté ;-)
    Did you hear fresh news about theses discussions to redesign this trail? I found a report from IPAMAC last year, and was wondering how it is now: I would like to do the GTMC this summer, but maybe it would be clever to wait a year or two, for better route and new topo-guide?

    I have a second question: I’ve two bikes and don’t know which one is better for this trip:
    • a Cannondale 140 Full-suspension bike, with a small DIY framebag (maybe 6L?)
    • a lower quality and simpler Canyon semi-rigid bike (same weight), with no framebag yet but possibility to make one bigger…
    I did Traversée du Jura with the semi-rigid before to get the F.S, and a five days Ardèche trip (no bivouac) with the F.S.

    Thanks for your help!

    Matt

  • Tom Rooney

    Hi,

    I did this route in september with two mates, we where over in europe (from australia) for a wedding a decided based on this article to do this ride. Was amazing, super varied terrain and tracks, would recommend plus tyres or front sus, doable on a standard rigid 29’er though. Check out some photos I took of the trip here: http://www.tomrooney.net/ http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c07220e80743154424ff58b8744fb4a11ce99d8de6e3e33c4ffc83941c31a763.jpg

  • Hi Miles, sorry for the delay in responding. Did you ride it already? Looks like there has been some good info provided by others. I would agree about needing a mountain bike. I rode it on a fully rigid 29er which was generally perfect, although there were some rocky sections where I would have liked plus sized tyres or front suspension. When I took the time to adjust the tyre pressures to the terrain, things were pretty cool, and no one bike is ever perfect for such mixed terrain. Cheers, Chris

  • Hey Michael, Did you ride this from south to north? I’d be interested in how you found it. I think there were steep sections in both directions, but overall there will obviously be more altitude gain heading from the coast inland that the other way around. Cheers, Chris

  • Tom, sorry for the delay in replying. You’ve got some great photos there, it looks like you had an awesome time. I’m so pleased that you rode the route based on reading this page! (Note to self – must do more of these). How did you find the state of the route – theres a bit of feedback from others in the last year that some sections of the route aren’t in great condition? Cheers, Chris

  • Tom Rooney

    Thanks for the kind words Chris! The route is generally rideable, however I would recommend some form of PLUS tire (or suspension) as there are some sections that are super rocky and rutted and quite slow going especially when your fully loaded. The plus tires enable you to tackle these sections a lot faster and funner IMO!

    Another great thing about the route that doesn’t seem widely publicized is that its easily done to go town to town, and stay in gites every night. A bit more money but really great for exploring the food and culture of southern France and you wouldn’t need to carry tents and camping gear so you could easily do bigger days.

    Thanks again for the inspiration!

    Tom

  • Ian Wilmshurst

    I’m a bit confused by the route gpx, it doesn’t match the total distance and doesn’t appear to finish in Sete like it’s supposed to? Any idea where I can get the full gpx?

  • Hey Ian, The gpx is the one I used. There wasn’t an official gpx route available when I put this page together, and I found this route searching online prior to riding. I didn;t record an additional gpx when I rode the route. As noted in the Must Know tab, the gpx varied in some places from the Cicerone route guide and both varied on occasion from GTMC signs on the ground, so there are occasions when you’re piecing the route together from all three. The Cicerone guide is available at the link in the Must Know tab, and it looks like there is an electronic version available for download which would be really useful to take on a Kindle or smartphone. I’ll also have a search online to see if I can find a newer, complete GPX, although without an ‘official’ download, its always just going to be a route recorded by another rider than may or may not stick rigidly to the route. Hope you enjoy it!

  • Ian Wilmshurst

    I have had a look around myself and not found anything other than this one so far. I already have the guide and as useful as it appears to be, it’s not as easy as following a gpx. Not a big deal as this one covers the majority of the route. If needs be I will just wing the last bit.

  • Ok cool. It’s a shame I didn’t record the route I rode, but then that would only be as useful as the one already online as I didn’t follow the guide precisely in places. A bit of offline google maps should help piece together the last bit. When are you heading out there?

  • Ian Wilmshurst

    Not until August, just doing a bit of planning.

  • Ruedy

    I’m planning to do the route at the end of may. I now saw that they are apparently rebuilding the trail (see http://www.languedoc-nature.com/fr/VTT-Randonnee-Traversee-Massif-Central or https://www.facebook.com/GTMC.VTT/). Does anybody have more information on this? And is a new and official gpx?

  • matthieu

    Hello,
    I’m planning to do the route this summer and I’m waiting for the new tracks too. I think the website, the gpx and topoguide would be available in few weeks now…

  • Gerard Castellà

    Hi,

    I just came back from riding the GTMC in 9 days. It is one of the nicest MTB trips you can do in France, with incredibly mixed terrains and wonderful landscapes. A pitty that the weather was quite bad: it can really get harsh and very cold up there. A long winter in Europe, this year.

    To your questions: as of today, most of the GTMC has been newly remarked with GTMC signs. That does not mean that in some sections GPS navigation is still essential as there exist some segments unmarked (possibly working on it). The new GTMC basically follows the regular GTMC itinerary, even though it adds a few alternatives more addressed to MTB at some points. For instance, instead of taking a 1km straight gravel road, it brings you to the nearby forest to complete a slightly larger loop. With all that being said, I am unaware of an official GPX for the new GTMC. I contacted those guys via FB, but did not get a reply. As many other have written down in here, I ended up following other people’s tracks plus other trails and singletracks found on my topomap.

    Good luck!

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0bda8ae87e39f0a2681e3de7c08be699f555ad19a045b78ece89720efaf80455.jpg
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2611ba66745ce2501678b9608bb7471f0101cd953b2399b7c7b7dabd7d256dcd.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cb78cbfce514de3fb8d81bf45ee3d9a6aebc2ce3fb965f28d0118237722fea14.jpg
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9a61815ce2125cac2bbe9111bdd970edd443bb714b4ed2a34720aba99e4a8b29.jpg

  • Patrick Pardy

    Just back from the section of the route near saint flour. Quite a lot of snow still lingering. This was one of the more passable sections. Bring a sled! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f4511cb87923387b7073c64efe90526417a3d32f53d4091153053958c2b77f33.jpg

  • Ruedy

    Oh man, that looks tough! Thanks for the info on the gps track. I will use the one from here and take a map with me for the unmarked sections. And I hope the weather will be better at the end of may! At least here in Switzerland spring has finally arrived.

  • Ruedy

    They just posted this route on their FB: https://crdta.maps.arcgis.com/apps/PublicInformation/index.html?appid=d889ef31e80a40e385091a40c1b2cb31

    Apparently parts of the route can still change and they will finish in the summer

  • Brilliant photos, Tom!

  • Nice photos! let me know if you have any waypoints to share from the route… this route guide could use some updates.

  • Also, let me know if you have any waypoints to share from the route… this route guide could use some updates.

  • Tom Rooney

    Hi Logan, I have updated the route with the places we stayed – https://ridewithgps.com/routes/27441735

    Let me know if you want any photos or anything else to update the route!