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Pocket Guide: Ardeche

Named after the river that winds through this French department, Ardèche has some of the most dramatic scenery in central France. Its gorges and rivers are great for water sports and adrenalin-fuelled activities.

As the Rhône Valley flows towards the Mediterranean, you can feel the change in climate as the weather turns warmer and the scents of the southern Midi become stronger. It’s a laid-back region with quaint villages, prehistoric wonders, rolling farmland and the spectacular landscape of the Ardèche Gorges Nature Reserve. Enjoy the relaxed ambience in attractive riverside towns such as Bourg Saint-Andéol.

Where to Stay in Ardèche

Find yourself near the banks of the River Rhône when you book a cosy boutique hotel in Bourg Saint-Andéol. Soak up the romantic atmosphere by staying in a stately Ardèche hotel in the historic village of Vals-les-Bains. Take in the view of forested hills from the outdoor pool in a chateau hotel in the tranquil Ardèche countryside.

If you’re into self-catering, choose a gite with an outdoor pool in a village a short distance of Vallon-Pont d’Arc by the rushing waters of the River Ardèche.

Things to Do in Ardèche

A visit to the Ardèche Gorges is a must, even if you’re not into adrenalin sports. Be as active or as lazy as you like – try white-water rafting, kayaking and abseiling, or just swim in the river and bask on the rocks in the sunshine. There are plenty of exciting cycling and hiking trails throughout the nature reserve.

Get a glimpse into prehistoric times with a trip to the UNESCO-listed Pont d’Arc Cavern, where you can see cave paintings from 36,000 years ago, which were discovered nearby and have been replicated in astonishing detail.

Go underground to explore the incredible subterranean world of the Ardèche Caves. For a gentler experience, wallow in the warm waters of the spas and wellness centres that make the most of the region’s natural thermal springs.

Where to Eat in Ardèche

Ardèche is the land of wine and chestnuts. Follow the wine trails which offer very different flavours from the north to the south. Time your trip for the autumn and you can take part in the chestnut festivals that celebrate the fruit which grows all over the region. Savour the delicious goat’s cheeses that are a speciality of the area, including tangy picodon, as well as the pungent cured meats that make up Ardèche’s range of charcuterie.

Getting around Ardèche

If you’re staying in the southern part of the Ardèche region, you can use the airports either in Nîmes in Languedoc or Avignon in Provence. Fly into Lyon if you’re staying in northern Ardèche. There are trains between Lyon and the city of Aubenas, north-west of the Ardèche Gorges, as well as the cities bordering the area including Valence and Montélimar.

If you’re driving, the A7 motorway runs along eastern Ardèche, or you could pootle through the quiet country lanes in the heart of the Ardèche.