Nov 8th, 2019, 06:28 PM

Solo Trekking in the Parc Haut-Languedoc

By Delton Howard
The Parc Haut-Languedoc is a regional natural park in the southern section of the Massif Central. Image credit: Delton Howard
Rather than head off to Amsterdam or hang out in Paris for the fall break, I decided to embark on another adventure, hoping that trekking through France in November would still be doable.

The Haut-Languedoc Regional Nature Park lies in the southern end of the Massif Central, France's central mountain range. The park was officially made a national park in 1973, and today covers an area of 2,605 square kilometers, with a permanent population of 82,000. 

Tired of the hustle and bustle of Paris, I wanted to get my nature fix and decided to trek in the mountains. But well into November, the weather had already turned bitterly cold in the Alps, so I chose a destination in the south of France, where I hoped to get some sun. 

It rained. It rained a lot, and although I had plenty of rain gear and waterproof covers, the rain was, for the most part, oppressive. Nevertheless, the landscapes I crossed and the views I drank in were beautiful. 

Looking south at the Mediterranean in the distance. Image Credit: Delton Howard

On the first day, I took a bus from Montpellier to Olargues and trekked up a road that wound through the mountains. The rain started battering away once I got up high, but it did slow down enough for me to get a decent photo. 

Soon the trail led through the forest, at around 1000 meters altitude, where gold and brown leaves fell gently around me. The moisture in the air muffled most sounds, so all I heard were my own footsteps and occasionally the rustling of some small animals in the forest.

I stopped in the late afternoon at a cottage I found called the Refuge du Camp Blanc, situated on the north end of a man-made lake, the Lac de Vezoles. Since it was way out of season, there was nobody else staying at the Refuge. I whipped out my sleeping bag and spent a warm night indoors. 

A moody forested trail in the Parc Haut-Languedoc / Image Credits: Delton Howard

I spent the second day searching for a path, as the trail, though well-marked, led through dense forests and fields of high grass. In the afternoon a dense fog descended, shrouding the forest in mystery. 

On this day I had the first contact of the entire trip with other people in the forest, locals who were searching for mushrooms on the damp forest floor. The black ones are especially desired for regional dishes. 

In the late afternoon I descended into a valley and reached the town of Labastide-Rouairoux, where I spent the night in a hotel. With the windows open, the softly padding rain lulled me to sleep. Moments like these, out in the countryside, remind me of why I wanted to get away from Paris. 

Finding a peaceful creek to chill by / Video Credit: Delton Howard

I spent the better part of the final day making a very long ascent up to 1000 m altitude, having hiked over 23 km. It poured rain the whole time, but I was dry and warm, engaged in the audiobook of A Storm of Swords, a book from the Game of Thrones series. I reached the refuge I had fixed as my destination only to find that the information I had read about the site was very outdated: all that remained was a rotting cabin, missing one of its walls! I decided this would not do for shelter and quickly started off, hoping to reach the next town, Mazamet, before dark. Fortunately, I found a road and, soon after that, hitchhiked further down the valley. 

One of places I wanted to see was Hautpoul, an ancient town dating from 413 AD, which clings to a rocky peak overlooking the town of Mazamet. Hautpoul features the ruins of an ancient castle that is also 1,000 years old. The town is a thruway for a grande randonnée trail, (an official French hiking trail,) and a nearby suspension bridge links the town to another cliff, as seen below. 

The suspension bridge of Hautpoul / Video Credit: Delton Howard

I finished my trek in Mazamet, taking a regional train to Toulouse, where I met with a friend and briefly saw the town before returning to Paris. 

In total, I covered 51 kilometers in three days, from Olargues to the Col del Tap. Trekking in November in Europe, unless you're in the south of Spain or Portugal, will most likely be cold, windy, grey, and most of all, silent, but the forests will be all the glorious shades of autumn, and the wilderness will be preparing for the winter to come.