Our recommendations of the must-sees in this Ardèche Travel Guide include Hiking, Vistas, Camping, Canoeing and, of course, the famous Ardèche Gorge.
Oh, the beautiful Ardèche region of France:
its wild and rugged character and climbing, winding roads leading the nature lover into the secluded backcountry of the rolling, curving, cliff-hugging Gorges de l’Ardèche where hiking, kayaking, Ardeche camping and field upon field of purple lavender and a Palaeolithic cave welcome both the outdoor enthusiast and the ancient history buff. Add jaw-dropping vistas, pristine lakes, a gruelling bike race careening past majestic cathedrals, quaint Ardèche villages, classic chateaux’s and majestic mountains, making this natural reserve a must on any nature-loving vacation destination bucket list. We hope you will be “Ardèche Amazed” with this Travel Guide!
Jump ahead in the Ardèche
- A bit about the Ardèche
- Best time to travel to the Ardèche
- Connecting to the Ardèche
- Things to do in the Ardèche
- La Musée de la Lavande
- The Ardèche Gorge and Pont d’Arc
- Tour de France
- Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave
- Where to Eat
- Where to stay
- Exploring further afield
- 11.1 Valence
- 11.2 Vienne
- More resources for your stay in the Ardèche
Check-in! A bit about the Ardèche
When you are travelling pretty much full time like we often do, you sometimes want a quick and easy recharge of your batteries, practically a vacation from our vacation. We couldn’t believe that we had stumbled upon this tremendous undiscovered part of France that we had never experienced before. Known as the Grand Canyon of France, the picturesque, lush, green and wild département of the unspoilt Ardèche countryside in the Auvergne Rhone Alpes region in central-southern France is a tapestry of ancient grey rock, verdant hills and thick forests. Heavily loaded with history and tradition, this sparsely populated region was the perfect place to kick back and lose ourselves in the simplest of pleasures that rural France can offer, namely hearty regional fare and untamed beauty.
Best time to travel to the Ardèche
Winter, spring, summer or fall, overall, the climate of Rhône-Alpes is in one word ‘variable,’ but the Ardeche is a beautiful destination at any time of the year. Cold, crisp winters with occasional snowfalls give way to a temperate spring climate in March and April. The summer starts early in the Ardeche, and by May, you can expect to be applying sunscreen regularly as the temperatures rise with the lengthening summer days.
May and June make for the best months to be in the Ardeche for those who ultimately want to enjoy the outdoors. Sunny days are pretty much the norm, but the temperature remains just cool enough to be comfortable. Walkers, hikers and cyclists will find kilometre upon kilometre of empty trails to enjoy as the French, and local summer crowds do not arrive until the much hotter months of July and August. High summer brings the masses to the Ardèche River and the Pont d’Arc. Still, for the intrepid traveller willing to wander further afield, there is plenty of nature to be found both along the river and out among the vineyards, mountains and oak forests that make up so much of the natural landscape.
Connecting to the Ardèche
You can easily connect to the Ardèche and Rhône-Alpes region of France as Air Canada has begun offering year-round service between Montreal’s Trudeau airport and Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport. Canadians now have a direct link to the second-largest metropolitan area in France. And with up to five flights a week with 37 international business class lie-flat suites and 228 economy-class seats, there isn’t any reason not to visit this rugged, natural, lavender-scented destination! You may also fly to Grenoble or Marseille and travel north.
Most visitors tend to approach this lush region from the Rhone Valley. If coming from the north and the Lyon airport, exit the A7 motorway at Exit 18, Montelimar south, following the N7 south as far as Pierrelatte. At Pierrelatte, turn west for Bourg Saint Andéol. Welcome to the start of the Ardèche circuit!
Paris – Marseille
The TGV will drop you at Valence station and is a comfortable 2-hour ride from Paris, 4 hours from Brussels, 3 hours from Lille, 1 hour from Marseilles, a quick 34 minutes from Lyon and only 5 hours from London.
So many natural things to do in the Ardèche
La Musée de la Lavande
A Provencal sun will greet you as continue south and an early morning stop at La Musée de la Lavande. Perhaps take a private tour of those great fields of purple and learn of the Museum’s distillation process and lavender’s medicinal importance and uses. And of course, stop in at the Museum’s store for everything lavender.
The Ardèche Gorge and Pont d’Arc
With the smell of lavender lingering, continue into the mountainous area of the Ardeche and discover the beautiful Ardèche Gorge, the green and white cliffs perfectly framed by a beautiful blue Provencal sky. And of course, the famous and monumental Pont d’Arc. A rare geological curiosity, this imposing natural arch, was cut into the river valley by the rushing Ardèche river. Located at the entrance to the Gorges de l’Ardèche, the Pont d’Arc measures 54 meters high, 60 meters wide, and is at least 500,000 years old. This beautiful natural reserve offers both campers and outdoor enthusiasts 28 kilometres of the rushing river for kayaking, canoeing, camping, hiking, swimming and rock climbing, and two beaches to curl up on and watch the world go by. And while the Ardèche Gorge is the main attraction here, there are plenty of other great stretches, too, including the Chassezac, the Eyrieux and the Doux should you fancy a less touristy tour down the river. Connect with your local guide here:
The Via Adèche runs from Voques and GrosPierres and offers a safe 22-kilometre route for walkers, cyclists, runners, and rollerbladers and those with limited mobility, spectacular views towards the Sampzon Rock, where the Ardèche and the Chassezac rivers converge.
Tour de France
Tour de France enthusiasts will want to make the Ardèche their cycling home base during the famous race in July, with individual time trials between Bourg Saint Andéol and the famous Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave. This difficult stage of the contest, some 37.5 kilometres with 850 meters of up and down elevation, is always hotly contested. Be prepared for some thrills, chills and possibly some spills!
Gather your history-loving friends with you as you visit Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, showcasing the world’s best-preserved and earliest known figurative cave paintings as well as other human and animal evidence of early upper Paleolithic life. You aren’t able to visit the original Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc. However, the Caverne du Pont d’Arc is a meticulously executed replica of the original cave and its 36,000-year-old paintings, located near the town of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc on a limestone cliff high above the former basin of the Ardèche River, in the Gorges de l’Ardèche. Discovered on December 18, 1994, it is considered one of the most significant prehistoric art sites, and the UN’s UNESCO agency granted it World Heritage status on June 22, 2014. Take a sweater as you descend into the depths of this intriguing archeological treasure.
Where to eat and drink in the Ardèche
Some options on where to eat in the Ardèche
If the Ardèche is known as a nature lovers paradise, then the food of the Ardèche is also focused on nature: local and traditional farm to table styles of meal preparation relies on the fruits of the farm and land as crucial ingredients. Whether you are invited into the kitchen of a new-found Ardèche friend or enjoying dinner at one of it many and varied restaurant options, you’ll discover delicacies such as cheeses: Rouleau de Beaulieu, a French farmhouse cheese, the small, rounded Picodon made from goat’s milk to cured meats such as the dry-cured ham Jambon de l’Ardéche and Saucisson de l’Ardéche a traditional sausage made from pork meat and fat. Add to your dinner Pintade de l’Ardèche is guinea fowl meat and Poulet de l’Ardèche and Chapon de l’Ardèche, fresh meat from chickens and capons, and your Ardèche foodie experience are complete!
Here is a quick rundown of different menu options for sating your hunger pangs after some time hiking or kayaking the Gorge:
- La Table de mon Fils in Vallon-Pont-d’Arc. Traditional food from the region and offers ‘Vin de pays’ (local wine), near the Pont d’Arc Cave.
- The Restaurant de Chames on the river in the Ardèche Gorges just beyond the Pont d’Arc, by the river) “The kitchen is ‘multisensory.’ It is aimed at the eye, the mouth, the nose, the ear and the mind … No art has such complexity.” » Pierre Gagnaire. Enjoy lunch or dinner on their opulent terrace surrounded by the verdant green of the Gorges.
- Bistrot de Pays La Farigoule in Bidon. A small hotel can be your base for enjoying the region, just three kilometres from the Gorges. Enjoy a local farm to table lunch or dinner in front of the fireplace or on the terrace in the center of the charming village of Bidon.
- Le Terminus in Ruoms. Clémentine and Joseph welcome you to their contemporary restaurant and art gallery to enjoy traditional local and seasonal bistro fare.
- The Auberge de Montfleury in St-Germain. Over the 4 seasons of the Ardèche, the 1 Michelin-starred Chef Richard Rocle and his team offer you a wonderful gastronomic getaway with decidedly local flavours. Make sure to enjoy a cooking class with Chef Rocle on your stay in the Ardèche.
Did you know? Châtaigne d’Ardéche is sweet chestnuts of ancient varieties of Castanea sativa Miller grown and harvested in the region. It is the largest chestnut-producing region in France, celebrating all things Chestnut with an annual Festival and even a museum in the medieval town of Joyeuse.
Where oh where to stay in the Ardèche
Camping, caravanning or glamping is usually the first choice of accommodation for visitors to the region, admittedly wanting to remain in nature as much as possible. The area has so many options for housing that it is difficult to pare down the choices. As always, it depends on the type of trip you are planning, your need for ultimate comfort and your budget. This link will help you decide the best spot to lay your head and soak your tired hiking feet from campsites to guest rooms, gites, hotels, and holiday villages.
For something a little unusual, we offer the following recommendations:
The Prehistoric Lodge offers a family-friendly camping/glamping experience right on the river, with the majestic Ardèche Gorge rock face soaring up just outside your tent. Both tent and traditional room offerings make for an easy decision to stay at the Lodge. The ‘safari tents’ were created in South Africa and designed for romantic couples or family weekend excursion, with some tents offering a private jacuzzi on a panoramic deck. Add lunch or dinner in “Le Chamane, their cozy dining room or on their water-facing terrace, and you won’t quite believe you are camping!
We loved the Prehistoric Lodges’ sister property, the uber-funky and spectacular Le Silex, a unique cave-like lodging just opposite the Chauvet cave. The private concierge will welcome you to its four duplex rooms, literally dug into the cliffs of the Ardèche mountain range. I spent a couple of hours soaking my tired hiking feet in one of their opulent hand-hewed stone tubs.
and now some upscale choices.
for those of you who are seeking a little luxury while in the Ardèche, here are some star-worthy recommendations to lay your head while visiting the region:
Indulge overnight at the Relais & Châteaux listed 4-star La Pyramid Hotel and savour dinner at the hotel’s L’espace PH3, 2 Michelin starred Chef Patrick Henriroux’s open kitchen concept restaurant, respecting its traditional roots but adding a very modern touch. Contemporary interiors in bright colours by Régis Dho delight!
Located in Ardèche, between Lyon and Valence, the Hotel de la Villeon is a luxurious experience like no other. Twelve guest rooms, two bars, two dining experiences paired with a private tasting room and a beautiful terrace nestled with the street on one side and spectacular exterior vistas on the other, set among aged flagstones and ancient yews. It is truly a historic and authentic experience in the heart of a landscape devoted to wine and wine tourism.
Exploring further afield
Valence is known as the Town of the Romans with leather and shoemaking primary industries and rests between the foothills of the Vercors and the Ardèche hills. As the capital of the Drome department, it is also where a very young Napoleon, following his commission, joined the La Fère-Artillerie regiment, stationed in Valence. Overlooking the Rhône River and close to vineyards producing Crozes-Hermitages, St Joseph and St Peray wines, this beautiful medieval town makes an excellent stop off for wine tours of the region. Often referred to as ‘the door to the south,’ the city boasts unique and well preserved medieval architecture, including the Maison des Têtes built between 1528 and 1532 and the beautiful the Saint-Apollinaire Cathedral, constructed between 1063 and 1099 and consecrated in 1095 by Pope Urban II. Make sure you hire a local greeter to fully appreciate the intricate and impressive medieval dialogue this city has to offer.
We were delighted with a special tasting of wines from Cave de Tain by the engaging and extremely knowledgeable sommelier Marie-Josée Faure of Terres de Syrah, a unique wine tourism group. We sipped special bottles of Crozes-Hermitage Blanc and Cep Saint-Joseph while discussing the history and terroir of this exceptional wine region of the southern Rhône-Alpes.
Valence Tip: Treat yourself to renowned French chef Anne-Sophie Pic’s Maison Pic, offering a 3-Micheline star dining, soothing hotel rooms from designers including Bruno Borrione and cooking school experience. For a more relaxed dining experience, try the Maison’s André, and enjoy four generations of Pic family memories and cooking in a casual, pub atmosphere!followsummer.com
Explore further south savouring the wine, food, and hospitality of Vienne, perhaps most famous for its Jazz à Vienne. At sunset, you can grab a seat on one of the sun-splashed ancient stones of the Vienne Roman Theatre and get your jazz on with such international artists as Diana Krall, Chick Korea, Seal and Tonya Baker. We enjoyed an animated wine tasting in the tourism office’s new Côte & Cuisine cooking and tasting room, dominated by the three-story ‘Wall of Wine’ showcasing the incredible diversity of the wines produced in this Gallo-Roman region. Indulge in overnight luxury at the Relais & Châteaux listed 4-star La Pyramid Hotel and enjoy lunch or dinner at the hotel’s L’espace PH3, 2 Michelin starred Chef Patrick Henriroux’s open kitchen concept restaurant, respecting its traditional roots but adding a very modern touch. Contemporary interiors in bright colours by Régis Dho delight!
Located in the Drôme Provençale, the charming village of Grignan will welcome you with spectacular sunset views of Mademoiselle de Sévigné‘s Château de Grignan perched high on an ancient Roman hill and offering sweeping views of the Provençal mountains of Lance, Mont Ventoux, and the Dentelles. Wander the quaint streets of Grignan and listen to the mighty mistrals whistling and blowing their cold winds through the town’s bell towers and church steeples.
Check into the tellement charmant and very French Le Clair de la Plume Hotel, offering her guests classic French charm and ambiance in sixteen rooms and suites while maintaining a sense of luxury and opulence with a focus on individual attention. The history of the house is extensive: constructed in the 17th century by the Count of Grignan and initially a lodging for local monks, the house has lived many lives: storage for local truffles, a rendez-vous for Picasso’s muse, Madame Sourdive, and finally a local connection, Canadian Ambassador Lord Southam and his wife, who chose to brave the Provencal mistrals and make Grignan their country stop.
Dinner is a must in her dining room with one-starred Michelin Chef Julien Allano offering a creative menu and for this writer, a five-course Menu Vegetal, all supported by an outstanding wine list. Of course, we are in France and a sweet sampling of Pastry Chef Jean-Christophe Vitte, who in 2015, won ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France glacier’ is a must. Sip a cocktail or (of course) a flute of champagne in the Bistro and nibble on tartare, smoked salmon and Foie gras. Breakfast is a sumptuous buffet of coffee, croissant, viennoiseries, and individually cooked eggs that can be enjoyed in their conservatory and on lovely Provençal sunny days, in their Mediterranean garden. Ask for the private Lover’s Pavilion, your own Petit Trianon, located just 100 meters from the main hotel, where you can enjoy spectacular and romantic sunset views of de Sévigné’s Chateaux across golden fields of wheat and purple rows of lavender. And should the Mistrals blow not too fresh, consider a private dip in the Provence hotel’s pool with your special amour and listen to the chirping frogs serenade a full moon, softly rising over the Chateau. That’s what we did!
Additional resources to make your Ardèche stay more enjoyable.
Round out your entire Ardèche Travel Guide with these handy links you may want to bookmark;
- Don’t forget travel insurance! We work with World Nomads because with their ‘Explorer’ option coverage, and you’ll discover how you can make a difference and make more responsible and sustainable travel choices.
- The website viamichelin.com will confirm drive times and distances in the Ardèche, including tolls, fuel costs and suggested routes.
- Renting a car is easy. We rely on Eurocar for our rental needs. This gives you the flexibility to tour at your own pace and set your own itineraries.
The Ardèche, Be Amazed official tourist site, is an incredible tool to start your research. It is also an innovative tool for you to use during your stay. Consider purchasing a ‘Pass Ardèche,’ and plan your trip over 3 or 6 days or year-round and enjoy free access to all the cultural and recreation sites of the Ardèche.
World Traveler, Writer, and Blogger, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the followsummer.com travel blog. Come, travel the world with me and my experiential eye!