Get ready for Summer!

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Southern Ardèche: Our new fortnightly series of travellers' guides to holiday destinations begins in this charming part of France. Simone Kane reports



Why go here?


It's the river that draws most tourists to the Southern Ardèche. As it carves its way south to the Rhône, you'll find unlimited opportunities for active sports.

But explore this area further and you'll also discover streams through dense, chestnut-wooded valleys and ancient stone bridges crossing savagely beautiful limestone gorges watered by rushing rivers. It's a place to come for excellent food, too. Where the landscape opens out, it reveals gentle slopes, planted with small vineyards, fertile terracing and lush plains that produce a rich variety of fruit. And you'll satisfy your appetite for history and culture, too. Admire the impressive châteaux and follow the trail of Les Villages de Caractère – a collection of pretty settlements celebrated for their well-preserved medieval centres.

The great outdoors

For action, head to the sporting hot spot on the Ardèche river, Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, where you can launch yourself on an exhilarating 18-mile (or shorter) canoe trip through the spectacular limestone Gorges de l'Ardèche. Rock-climbing, potholing and canyoning are also popular pursuits. Families can play on one of the beaches created in the bends of the river that provide good spots for picnics and swimming in safe shallows. Or you can take to two wheels – the climate and topography make this an ideal destination for road cyclists and mountain bikers.

The history trail

Take a road trip through the region's past. In historic Aubenas, Château d'Aubenas (00 33 4 75 87 81 11) has preserved some of its ancien régime rooms, while kids can play sentries by going to the top of the soaring medieval keep, which also provides a panoramic view of the valley. If you're nearby, take a detour across the largest Gothic bridge in the region at Chambonas – just for the views. Wander the labyrinth of steep, roughly cobbled alleyways in Balazuc and search out the tiny Église Romane – a hangover from the Wars of Religion, when the village was a Catholic enclave. In Largentière, the imposing castle and restored Gothic- style church are symbols of the wealth that the medieval town enjoyed as a result of its control of the local silver-mining industry.

The retail therapy

In Joyeuse, artisans have set up business in abandoned properties on Grande Rue and organised a Sunday-night craft market featuring stylish hats, leatherwork and clothes in linen and silk, decorative mobiles and wooden bowls. Pop into Bijoux des Vignes (00 33 4 75 39 51 53) for delicate jewellery crafted from vine tendrils and glass beads. Don't leave the Ardèche without a chestnut souvenir – the Sabaton factory, outside Aubenas (sabaton.fr) is the place for marrons glacés. Weekly markets have regional specialities such as cured meats, AOC Picadon goats' cheese, honey, oil, country bread and Montélimar nougat. And don't miss out on the chestnut honey-flavoured beer and local Chatus wine.

The inside attractions

Discover why the chestnut is king here, with a visit to the quirky Musée de la Châtaigneraie (00 33 4 75 39 90 66) in Joyeuse, which explores the historical significance of the "bread tree". Derelict silk factories are a familiar sight in this rural landscape – but some have been converted into museums, such as La Filature du Moulinet (filaturedumoulinet.com), near Largentière, which portrays the story of silk-making in the region. Younger children can discover the world of pigs at the fun Musée Vivant du Cochon (04 75 94 93 83) in the hamlet of Les Sielves. Adults, however, might want to head to the historic spa town of Vals-les-Bains for pampering at Les Thermes de Vals (thermesdevals.com).

The places to eat and drink

Auberge les Ranchisses (lesrachisses .fr), near Largentière, is a popular dining spot with locals, as well as its campsite guests. The reasonably priced menu combines local specialities – such as salade ardéchoise and duck with chestnuts – with superb pizzas from a wood-fired oven. Make a lunch stop at La Falaise (la-falaise.com) in the pretty village of Vogüé. The riverside terrace is the ideal spot to try typical dishes such as assiette de fromage and grilled fresh fish. End the day in the garden terrace of café Châmes in Balazuc, overlooking the river beach, where kids can tuck into a coupe ardéchoise – vanilla and chestnut ice cream smothered in chestnut purée.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Keycamp (0844 406 0319; keycamp.co.uk) offers seven nights at Les Ranchisses from £288 in total, staying in a three-bedroom Villanova mobile home with air conditioning and decking, for two adults and up to four children, including return Dover to Calais ferry crossings.

Further information

Ardèche Guide (ardeche-guide.com).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on