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Beeindruckende Landschaft. Die Ardèche in Frankreich, Bild: ON-Photography Germany / shutterstock

Ardèche in the south of France

The Ardèche is a river in southern France and gives its name to the Ardèche department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. The Ardèche is about 125 kilometres long from its source at Astet to its mouth in the Rhône at Point-Saint-Esprit. A large part of it flows through densely populated area that you don’t have to see.

Impressive gorge

Of particular tourist interest is the lower reaches of the Ardèche, where it flows through a narrow gorge, the Gorges de l’Ardèche, between Vallon-Pont-d’Arc and Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche. The area is a protected area as La Réserve Naturelle des Gorges de l’Ardèche. The biggest sights of the gorge are the natural rock arch Pont d’Arc, which spans the Ardèche like a portal, and the Cirque de Madeleine river loop. The Pont d’Arc in particular has made the Ardèche gorge famous: 60 m long and 54 m high, it spans the river, making it one of the most famous Instagram motifs in the area. The Pont d’Arc is the must-see spot when visiting the Ardèche! The tourist centre of the region is the nearby village of Valon-Pont-d’Arc, where there are several campsites as well as hotels and guesthouses. One of the campsites is even located in the immediate vicinity of the Pont d’Arc.

The D290 panoramic road runs along the northern edge of the gorge with countless curves and allows a view of the impressive limestone gorge and the Cirque de Madeleine river loop at several vantage points. To actually experience the Ardèche on its most beautiful section, however, you have to leave the vehicle and descend into the gorge. There are several hiking trails that descend to the Ardèche from the edges of the gorge and follow its banks for several kilometers.

Crossing the Ardèche by boat

Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, Ardèche
Impressive sight in the village of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, Image: JeanLucIchard / shutterstock

An even more intense way to experience the Ardèche is to travel the gorge by canoe or kayak. The Ardèche is a white water, but relatively easy to navigate, so beginners and families with older children (usually a minimum age of seven years is recommended) can also venture on this tour. In the meantime, the Ardèche has long since ceased to be an insider tip, there are numerous boat rentals in the two towns of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc and Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche. In summer, there is a lot going on on the river, and the pebble beach at the iconic rock arch is then covered with boats and resting tourists. On peak days, especially during the French summer holidays in July and August, there are a few thousand who pass through the gorge! If you want a little more peace and quiet, you should therefore come in June or September. The descent for beginners is only recommended in the months of April to November; in winter, the Ardèche is much more difficult, so only experienced whitewater rafting should venture onto the river.

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There are different variants for navigating the gorge: the shortest is around eight kilometres long, the longest 36 kilometres, and in between there are variants 12, 24 and 32 kilometres long. You can only leave the gorge by boat at a few points, so you have to think about how long you want to be on the road beforehand.

The tour operators transport their customers from the meeting point to the starting point and back again; therefore, it doesn’t really matter whether you choose a provider at the northern end or at the southern end, you have to cover a distance with the tour provider’s bus anyway. Most tours start near Vallon-Pont-d’Arc at the top of the gorge. You can ski the gorge at your own pace and take a break at your leisure, as the tour length is designed in such a way that you can get through in one day in any case.

Different variants

The easiest is the eight-kilometre tour from Vallon to Chames, which involves crossing three easy rapids: Les Blachas, Les Branches and Le Charlemagne. For this you have to estimate about two hours of pure paddling time, so there is plenty of time for breaks. Also suitable for the inexperienced is the 12-kilometre tour, which starts a little further up, in Les Mazes, and also ends in Chames. The Pont d’Arc rock arch can be seen in both variants.

The variants in the lower part of the gorge are considered more difficult – not because of the additional rapids, but because of their length, which requires some practice and endurance. That’s why they are usually ridden in two-day tours. An overnight stay in a tent at the bottom of the gorge is one of the greatest experiences you can have in the Ardèche! However, bivouacking is only allowed at the two official tent campsites Château de Gaud and Bivouac du Gournier. These two-day tours can also be booked with commercial providers, who then also take care of the mandatory reservation.

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Grotte Chauvet

In 1994, one of the most impressive legacies of the Paleolithic Age was found on the slopes of the gorge near the Pont d’Arc: the walls of the Grotte Chauvet cave are covered all over with impressive rock paintings! However, these are so sensitive that even scientists are only allowed to enter the cave to a very limited extent. In order to make the grotto accessible to the general public, a copy was built near Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, the “Grotte Chauvet 2”. Even if it is not the original, visiting this replica is an impressive experience!

Camping in the Ardèche

In the Ardèche, there are a large number of campsites spread throughout the department, offering a wide range of experiences, from recreational areas close to nature to active holidays with water sports and other outdoor activities. Some of the most popular destinations in the Ardèche are Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, Berrias-et-Casteljau, Rosières, Ruoms, Sampzon, Salavas, Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche, Saint-Alban-Auriolles, Lagorce and Tournon-sur-Rhône.

Campsites in the Ardèche offer various accommodation and facilities, including mobile homes, chalets, bungalows, cottages and traditional tent sites. Many campsites are located in scenic locations, often near rivers, and offer activities such as kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, and swimming. Among the well-known campsites are “Le Soleil Vivarais” in Sampzon, “Le Pommier” in Villeneuve-de-Berg, “La Plage Fleurie” and “La Roubine” in Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, “Domaine de Sevenier & Spa” in Lagorce and many others.

For a detailed list and descriptions of the various campsites in the Ardèche, you can visit the following websites:

The climate in the Ardèche region

Month Average temperature (°C) Precipitation (mm)
January 5 45
February 6 40
March 9 50
April 12 55
May 16 60
June 20 45
July 23 30
August 22 40
September 19 55
October 14 60
November 9 50
December 6 45