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What to See and Do in Ardèche

From the thrills of canoeing to exploring caverns to visiting historic châteaux, there’s something for everyone

Related articles: Ardèche: A World of Picture-Perfect Wonders [1]
12 Unmissable Spots in Ardèche [2]

SPORTING CHALLENGES

Head to Vallon-Pont-d’Arc for a huge choice of companies offering canoe and kayak excursions in the Ardèche Gorges.

Prefer cycling? Ardèche boasts some 400km of trails [3] where bikes have priority including 93km of the 800km Via Rhôna. No special skills or bikes are necessary to follow the Dolce Via. With a gradient of just 1 per cent, this former railway track in the Eyrieux Valley runs for 75km.

Discover the underground magic of the Grotte de Saint-Marcel d’Ardèche. Photo: Gillian Thornton

With so many underground caverns, Ardèche is a treat for cavers, and everyone can have a go. Orgnac Immersions [4] offers a 10-minute dose of virtual reality at the Aven d’Orgnac with a special headset – live like a Neolithic shepherd then join a team of virtual cave explorers, all in complete safety. Or embark on an “aventure spéléologie” at the Grotte de Saint-Marcel d’Ardèche. Experiences include family caving [5] (suitable for age five-plus), a vertical zip wire descent, and a themed journey along an underground river.

GARDENS

For plants with passion, visit Mercurart [6], a terraced botanical garden and outdoor art gallery near Aubenas. Booking is essential. And for roses with extras, La Roseraie de Berty at Tauriers is open daily mid-May to mid-June.

Unwind, take a leisurely stroll and smell the roses at Roseraie de Berty. Photo: Gillian Thornton

HISTORY & CULTURE

Overlooking the Rhône Valley, Château de Rochemaure was built between the 11th and 12th centuries to control both banks of the river and establish a toll. Today, the remains of the castle and the fortified town, which is still inhabited, offer a wonderful lookout.

Built between the 11th and early 13th century, the Abbatiale Sainte-Marie de Cruas is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture and has borne witness to an eventful history spanning nearly a millennium (sud-ardeche-tourisme.com [7]).

The Pont d’Arc natural stone bridge. Photo: Gillian Thornton

WINE AND FOOD TOURISM

Famous names include Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph; Cornas and Saint-Péray; Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Vivarais. Look out for the ‘Vignobles et Découvertes’ label indicating partners who offer visitors an insight into their local wine industry.

For subterranean wine tasting with Jézabel at Saint-Marcel d’Ardèche, visit www.speleo-oenologie.com [8]. For wines, rooms and a whole lot more at Domaine Notre-Dame de Cousignac, visit www.ndcousignacvillegiature.fr [9]. Try a drop of the strong stuff at Distillerie Jean Gauthier [10], where you can see the distillation process used to make 500,000 litres a year of eaux de vie flavoured with pear, cherry, plum and more – and of course, there’s a free tasting.

A subterranean wine tasting with Jézabel is an experience like no other. Photo: Gillian Thornton

FAMILY FUN

Ride the Ardèche steam train [11] from the historic station of Saint-Jean-de-Muzols, 3km from Tournon-sur-Rhône. Pass through the Doux Valley, inaccessible by road.

From France Today magazine

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