Majestic, the gorges of the Ardèche are the unmissable attraction of the region. For 30 km, the river winds between high limestone cliffs in the heart of wild nature. Around the gorges, other wonders to discover: caves, villages, countryside, small mountain. This grand French-style canyon - to be visited preferably in the spring - has many attractions ...
The spectacle of nature
Water and time have remarkably worked the relief of gorges of the Ardèche. The limestone cliffs are sculpted over thirty kilometers, taking on a proud appearance that begs to be admired. Only one example can convince you: the giant natural arch, that of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, overlooking the Ardèche.
Erosion has done wonders on earth, but also underground. The route of the gorges is also the route of the caves:aven d'Orgnac Madeleine cave , the aven Marzal, Or cave of Saint-Marcel d'Ardèche compete in beauty. They are full of colors, shades of gray, white, ocher and brown, draperies and lace of stones, stalactites and stalagmites.
The gorges are today a beautiful nature reserve: residents and authorities have made a real effort to keep the water clear, and that the flora and fauna can develop in peace. A hundred species of birds, from jackdaw to the famous Bonelli's eagle, have made their nests there, as well as numerous mammals and reptiles.
And the men in all that ?
Pleasant for today's vacationers, the gorges region was no less so for Paleolithic people, 36 years ago. The Chauvet cave is the local celebrity: discovered in 1994, it jealously guards the most beautiful and the oldest group of cave paintings dating back 30 years. There are a total of 000 caves, which are decorated by prehistoric men in the south of the Ardèche. It is the second French valley with the most ornate caves. This cave cannot be visited, but you can see an exhibition about it in Vallon-Pont-d'Arc.
Many picturesque villages punctuate the mountains surrounding the gorges. We think of Aiguèze (labeled most beautiful village in France), Labastide-de-Virac, Balazuc, Labeaume... In medieval castles or beautiful stone buildings, in troglodyte houses or remote sheepfolds, men have taken a liking to the countryside: we can never say it enough, the Ardèche is one of the most endearing regions.
Here and there, you will find good restaurants, authentic inns and guest rooms, refined wine, cold meats and other local products. A real pleasure.
How to discover the gorges?
- By taking a little height :
The tourist route overlooks the river for about 200 meters: something to be amazed at at each belvedere. The road scrupulously follows the path of the river, the spectacle offered at each turn is in a word grandiose.
- By canoe or kayak :
A great classic, and how can we not understand it! Easy to find (many rental companies all along the Gorges), quite handy (although…), friendly, offering a breathtaking view of the limestone cliffs and above all allowing you to stay cool.
- With walking shoes (and why not his tent) :
The descent of the gorges can also be done on foot, by reservation. Allow two days of walking to cover the 25 kilometers. A view just as grandiose as the kayakers, at a different pace and less stiffness in the arms.
- Flashlight on the forehead :
Do not miss to go underground to admire the surprising cavities that time has forged, such as the Madeleine cave andaven Marzal. If you feel like a caver, there are many lesser-known caves to visit in the surroundings, with specialized organizations. Supervision allows everyone to enjoy the joys of caving without risk.
- Fan-shaped toes :
By dint of running in all directions, you would almost forget to appreciate the gentle lapping of the water and the song of the cicadas! Find a corner of the beach far from the tourists, soak yourself happily and taste lazy ardéchoise.
When to go?
In July and August, the south of the Ardèche, usually so peaceful, comes alive on all sides: the campsites fill up, colorful canoes invade the limpid waters of the gorges ... At the end of August or the beginning of September, all this pretty carnival folds luggage, but the gorges, the sun and the cicadas still remain there for a few weeks.
Better then avoid the months of July and August, and take full advantage of the Indian summer or the beautiful spring days. Indeed, it happens that you lack water in the middle of summer, and it is not uncommon to feel your kayak scraping the stones from the bottom of the river or to run aground for lack of depth. The must is obviously to be able to visit the gorges of the Ardèche in Week, weekends are also quite popular.
However, beware of floods in the fall. The Ardèche is a capricious and a little fiery river. Every year, reckless tourists are trapped by a sudden rise in water levels. It is therefore necessary to listen to the safety advice to avoid fears (in the best case) or unnecessary accidents.
To prepare for your stay, consult our Ardèche-Drôme sheet.
Ardèche Tourist Office
How to get there ?
Montélimar TGV station, then rental car essential to travel the region, there is no passenger train in Ardèche, you would expose yourself to endless coach journeys.
From Paris, A6 motorway, then A7, exit 18. 665 km. Toll: around € 43.
Where to sleep ?
Find your hotel in Ardèche.
Useful sites and information
Vallon-Pont-d'Arc Tourist Office
Ardèche Plein Sud
Cave of the Madeleine