If you’re looking for somewhere to go for your next outdoor adventure, we’d urge you to try Ardèche, a region in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes area of southeast France. It is considered to be one of the most remote and scenically beautiful areas of France. It has everything you could possibly imagine on offer, from spectacular forests to adventurous hiking trails, tall towering mountain ranges to stunning gorges and valleys. The landscapes are truly breathtaking.
The main attraction in this area is the Monts d’Ardèche Natural Regional Park – the Ardèche Mountains Regional Nature Park. This nature preserve takes up two thirds of the entire region, extending across an impressive 694 square miles! The park consists of six main territories: Les Boutières, Le Plateau de Vernoux, Les Sucs, the upper Cévenne, the Piédmont cévenol and the southern Cévenne – offering a variety of forests, mountains, volcanoes, gorges, valleys and meadows. The altitude across the park varies from 170m (557ft) to 1754m (5754ft).
Ardèche has hot and humid summers, particularly from the beginning of June through to the end of August, making it the perfect destination for hiking, mountain biking, trail running, horse riding, fishing, canoeing and kayaking. The outdoor adventures don’t stop there either. The region is ideal for winter sports too, having cold, snowy winters from December to February, ensuring there’s plenty of opportunity for cross-country skiing, alpine skiing and snowshoeing.
Places to visit
The gateway to the Ardèche gorges, the Pont d’Arc is a huge natural limestone arch which formed when the Ardèche River broke through a narrow escarpment between its meander. Standing 112ft high and 194ft wide, it’s a spectacular sight. The limestone arch is also the entrance to the wild rapids of the gorges, making it a go-to place for kayaking and canoeing. Nearby is the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave containing one of the earliest known Paleolithic cave paintings, around 30,000 years old.
Mont Gerbier de Jonc
On the highlands of Ardèche, the Mont Gerbier de Jonc stands at 1551m (5088ft) and is surrounded by volcanic domes, crater lakes and peat bog areas. At the base of this phonolite mountain are three springs that are the source of the Loire, the country’s largest river. The view from the top is magnificent, taking in the Alps on the east, the volcanoes of the Massif Central on the west, as well as Les Boutières, the Rhône Valley and the Cévennes. The ascent is free of charge and the summit can be reached within half an hour on foot by a short but tough climb – just follow the sign posted route.
The highest point of Ardèche, with the south summit standing at 1753m (5751ft) and the north just slightly lower at 1744m (5722ft). Volcanic in origin, the dome is made from the same material as Mont Gerbier de Jonc, phonolite, which dates back to seven million years. Once you’ve climbed to the top you will be rewarded with panoramic views over the Massif Central, the Rhône Valley and the Alps. In springtime, the mountain is covered in vibrant sunny shades of yellow, thanks to a number of wildflower species. In the winter, the family resort of Estables and the Nordic skiing area of Mézenc are ideal places for skiing and snowshoeing.
Cascade du Ray Pic
La Cascade du Ray Pic is a magnificent natural waterfall located north of the town Péreyres, between Lachamp Raphael and Burzet. The waterfall was classified as a natural volcanic site in 1931 and is made up of two successive falls: the first, which you can’t see, is about 25m high and the second, the main one which you can, is 35m. The water then rushes into the steep valley of Bourges and flows on from the waterfall for more than 20km. The waterfall is not only remarkable for its beauty, it’s fascinating as a natural volcanic site. A few thousand years ago, the Ray Pic volcano was active and formed one of the longest lava flows in Europe.
Château de Crussol
The Château de Crussol is the site of a mostly-ruined 12th century limestone castle, Castle Crussol, located in the town of Saint- Péray, overlooking the Rhône Valley. Located over the peak of the hill of Crussol, at the edge of a cliff over 200m above the ground, the castle overlooks Saint-Péray in the west, and Guilherand-Granges and Valence in the east. Visible from afar, the castle can be easily reached on foot, and the views are spectacular.
The Ardèche region has plenty of activities on offer:
Hiking, Cycling, Wild swimming, Canoeing, Kayaking, Canyoning, Trail running, Horse riding, Fishing, Skiing, Snowshoeing, Ziplining, Mountain biking, Climbing, Parasailing, Paragliding.