Ardeche, France

Pont_d'Arc_arch ardeche france

Nature-lovers, this one’s for you!  The Ardeche is a department located in south-central France – roughly the south-west corner of the Rhone-Alpes and the south-eastern part of the Massif Central region.  Here, you can explore the natural highs and lows with a combination of mountains and gorges.

Why to go:  If you love nature and the outdoors, there is no reason NOT to visit the Ardeche.  The variety in landscape allows for a wide range of outdoor activities including climbing, canoeing, biking and hiking.  You can even find opportunities for rappelling and zip lining.  And, for those who appreciate less active leisure time, there are caves to explore, parks, museums and lots of quaint towns to visit.

When to go:  Since, generally, you’ll be going to the Ardeche to enjoy the great outdoors and all it has to offer, you definitely want to go during the best weather months.  In this area, your best bet would be April-October, with the exception of May which is one of the region’s rainiest months.

What to see/do:  The highlight of this area is the Gorges of the Ardeche, a mostly government protected series of canyons that follows the Ardeche River.  Known as the “Grand Canyon of Europe”, this is a stretch of 30 kilometers that attracts over a million visitors per year, many of whom are there for the great canoeing and kayaking.  Another big attraction in the region is a site located at the beginning of the canyon – the Pont d’Arc, a natural stone arch alongside a river beach.  And, if that’s not enough to keep you outdoors-loving people busy, there are three fascinating prehistoric cave systems nearby:  the Aven d’Orgnac, the Grotte de la Madeleine and the Chauvet caves, which is the most well-known painted cave in the area.

What to eat/drink and know:  Local specialties of this region include goat cheese, olive oil, wines and fruit liqueurs.  And, and interesting piece of Ardeche trivia – this department is known for being the birthplace of hot-air ballooning!  The town of Annonay is where it all started and you can celebrate at their annual festival or enjoy a hot air balloon ride anytime.

Where to make a detour:  Other interesting stops in this area include the 17 small but noteworthy “villages of character”, as designated by the Ardeche tourist board.  These towns have preserved their historic setting and many of them have been identified as “most beautiful villages of France”.  So, definitely worth the detour.  There are also a few parks, waterfalls and forests in the vicinity, and the Mont Gerbier-de-Jonc extinct volcano.  Head up to the top for some amazing views.