The Ardèche is a department where I always have great pleasure to come back. I don't really explain it… the atmosphere, the climate, the omnipresent nature, the welcome of the locals, the gastronomy. It's a place where you feel good right away. For this 2-day stay, I discovered a sporty, nature and intense Ardèche.
RANDO TO THE CASTLE OF CRAUX
It is with Matthew, guide for Ardèche Hikes that we travel 7 km in the middle of chestnut forests and rivers of rocks (literally), witnesses of the volcanic past of the region. Thanks to Matthew, we learn more about the cultivation and production of chestnuts, and we can imagine what the territory looked like millions of years ago before erosion dug the valleys.
We arrive at the Château de Craux, an agricultural estate classified as a historical monument. Massive and imposing, it dominates the valleys of Volane and Sandron.
The redescent of the Volane Valley offers us a magnificent view of the pretty village of Antraigues, the village of Jean Ferrat, where I had already stayed in 2016.
CANYONING AT LA BESORGUES
This time we meet Philippe, a caving and canyoning guide, who accompanies us for a very sporty afternoon with the program of canyoning in the very cool waters of the Canyon of the Besorgues. I will admit that even on sunny days, the water temperature at 12oC did not immediately enchant me. And then finally, we quickly acclimatize to the freshness of the water, and the combination does its job!
After canyoning in the Philippines and Indonesia, I was looking forward to testing this activity in France. It would be little to say that I was not disappointed in Ardèche. Between the slides, the jumps of 3 to 8 meters, and the zip line above the canyon to finish, you have to have the heart well hooked. The big advantage of this canyoning outing is that there is the possibility of bypassing the passages that could scare. So no pressure, whether you decide to throw yourself into the water or not, you can continue to follow the group.
MOPEDS ON THE ROADS OF ARDÈCHE
With the Blue Brêle and its mopeds dating from 1978 to 1990, you are guaranteed to take a step back in time and regain almost forgotten sensations. For my part, I had never driven a moped in my life, barely driven a scooter in Asia, as much to tell you that I had doubts about my ability to drive this machine! Finally, the grip is very simple, it is no more or less than a bike with an engine. Only the start can be a little sporty but driving a vintage moped, it's worth it!
I loved walking the small roads of Ardèche in this way, stopping to visit the character villages in our path, notably Ucel and St-Andéol-de-Vals, in total autonomy, only with a road book. Freedom hair to the winds!
CAVLEO AT THE CAVE OF THE MADELEINE
With all this, we mustn't let go! We'll take a little shot of adrenaline by making an appointment underground. So here we go for an exploration of the cave of the Madeleine in the company of Gérard, our caving guide. The discovery of the cave on the built-up footbridges was already worth a visit, but the adventure takes place once the barriers have been jumped. Abseiling in an environment made of limestone and clay, it slips but you do not feel in danger.
We have the right to Gérard's explanations of the discovery of this cave and the studies made on his past. They even take us to the "cinema room" of the cave where a small film awaits us to let us imagine how the first explorations were going… candlelight with very little or no equipment. With our front torches, helmets, suits and muskets, we really don't have to complain about the conditions of the descent.
Once the cave descends, we find ourselves at the bottom of the cliff, in a forest that runs along the ardèche gorges. We quickly dip in the river before making it all the way again… on the other side. This is my baptism of caving made, a beautiful experience that I will remember for a long time!
Where to sleep in the Ardèche
Upon arrival, we moved to Privas, in 'Ardèche Camping', in an eco-designed mobile home labelled 'Camping Quality'. This campsite is a small corner of nature, close to a small river, and has an indoor swimming pool, a wellness area and a restaurant. The welcome of the owners is excellent, we would have wanted to spend several days there.
We then slept at les Stelles, located in the heart of the small village of Genestelle, overlooking the surrounding mountains. There is also a pool on a huge terrace upstairs where it is nice to relax and have a drink after a day of walking.
And to end this 2-day "adventure" weekend in the Ardèche, we slept at the Bivouac de Gaud, in the heart of the Ardèche gorges. Access is on foot (a short hour walk with a few photo stops and explanations) and we are accompanied by Baptiste, nature guide of the reserve. Here, everything is done to preserve the environment, while allowing as many people as possible to enjoy it. A balance found between human activities and the fragility of the place.
This trip was organized by Ardèche Tourism. Thanks to the entire ADT team for these 2 days to discover a less well-known Ardèche and far from the clichés. This article reflects my personal experience during this stay.
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