The heatwave here in France had me craving a swim in wild waters and so we headed to Ardeche in the South East of France. We were camping in a quite remote campsite that was about a good 45 minutes walk from the nearest town Vallon but well worth the hike. The TGV was only two hours from Paris but we had to get a 2-hour coach from Valence to Vallon as we were going into the campagne (countryside) proper. Luckily the coach trip took us through some stunning scenery as we entered into a nature lovers’ paradise.
We stopped by the river to picnic on wine and cheese (when in France..), which we had picked up from the farmers market in Vallon. Once at the campsite we erected our tents on the banks above the river to the deafening sound of crickets and set about planning our canoe trip for the next day. After a refreshing dip in the river and an evening walk back into Vallon – which is touristy and not great for restaurants – we got an early night because we were being picked up for our canoeing trip at 8 am.
The next day was my first canoe trip since school and even back then I was pretty bad with the old paddle. After a bumpy start, I did start to get the hang of it, which was just as well because we were completing 32kms! The trip took us through the incredible Pont D’Arc (a large natural bridge) which was basked in sunlight and on through a nature reserve. Stoney beaches, enormous cliffs and a menagerie of animals surrounded us as we slowly made our way through the nature reserve. The area is so beautiful that words do it very little justice and when floating along the warm crystal clear water you feel like you are in a postcard or a dream; there is not a cafe in sight, nor the sound of a motorized vehicle. As we wearily completed the last 5kms a falcon dived down to catch a fish right next to our boat and we were invigorated by nature and the opportunity we had to see such a thriving place. It was like being in an episode of Planet Earth!
The area is also perfect for hiking and you can visit the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, which contains some of the oldest and best-preserved cave paintings in the world – Herzog made a documentary about it. The village next to our campsite was a pleasant surprise. Balazuc sat on a hillside overlooking the river and valley and is a medieval maze of winding streets – around a castle and fortified Romanesque church – that seem as if they came straight out of a fairytale. The village has been classed as a ‘Village of Character” by the Departmental Committee of Tourism and is a member of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France ‘Most beautiful villages n France’ – no arguments from me.
Ardeche is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Lush countryside, a warm clear river and a host of pebbled beaches have been carefully conserved to offer a place that is popular but yet still feels unspoiled.