Ardèche Gorges

Ardèche GorgeThe river Ardèche flows from the Massif Central, snaking into the valleys of the  before joining the Rhone at Pont-Saint-Esprit. Located in the department of Ardèche itself, this area is one of the most scenic sights in the region as it comprises awesomely high  limestone cliffs as well as numerous caves and rock features. North of the gorges the landscape rises into the Massif Central plateau and mountains, while towards the south there is a transition into the flatlands of the Mediterranean coastal strip.  There is also a subtle climatic shift from the chill of the highlands to the milder temperatures of the Midi, as the French call this zone between the Massif and the southern coast.


The gorge system
, often called the Grand Canyon of France , is usually accessed by the resort town of Vallon Pont d’Arc and one of the best ways to soak in the surrounding beauty is to canoe or kayak down the river (although you won't be alone). The flow takes you from the hillside of Vallon Pont d’Arc with 300 metre cliffs towering over you on either side. This is best undertaken between April and November to avoid the winter and  spring floods caused by the melting snows on the Massif. Finding a canoe to rent shouldn’t be a problem as there are many canoe companies along the river. There are numerous well-positioned camping sites in the district as well. 

FRANCE RHONE-ALPS ARDECHE Pont d’Arc

A natural feature spanning the river near the town is a splendid limestone archway
, called Pont d'Arc after which the town was named, carved by the forces of the Ardèche's surging water punching a hole through the rock.





Another popular way to experience the splendor of the Gorges is to drive or ride down the road along the valleys. This route allows you to stop at the many belvéderes (panoramic viewpoints) along the way to get a bird’s eye view of the undulating river.  Beware of the traffic jams along this route during summer.



FRANCE RHONE-ALPS ARDECHE Vallon-Pont-d'Arc Drawings of horses from Chauvet CaveThe canyons and caves of the Gorges can make for exciting visiting spots as well; with the best show caves being the Aven d’Orgnac [+33 475386510, www.orgnac.com/site_uk/aven.htm]– a designated Grand Site of France. Here you can get your fill of stalagmites and stalactites, not to mention bats, all  presented with a light and sound show. 

One of the world's most significant cave sites of the Upper Paleolithic, the Chauvet Cave, is located near Vallon Pont d'Arc.  It was discovered in 1994 by three speleologists, one of whom was
Jean-Marie Chauvet after which the cave was named.  It contains the world's earliest known cave paintings, perhaps dated to 32,000 BP, as well as the fossilized remains of thousands of animals including 190 cave bears.  Some of these discovered animal species are now extinct.  To avoid the Lascaux caves fiasco, whereby tourist traffic inadvertently damaged the paintings through mould contamination, this site is kept under lock and key until a way can be found to safely display it, perhaps by creation of a replica cave similar to the Faux Lascaux.  That makes the inclusion of the Chauvet Cave in a travel guide somewhat academic, but you can still experience the Cave intimately by seeing Werner Hertzog's sensational 3-D documentary Cave of the Forgotten Dreams released in 2010.  Alternatively, an excellent video of the cave paintings is shown behind the Vallon Town Hall.

 

 



GORGES DE L'ARDÈCHE MAP:   1. Vallon Pont d'Arc  2. Pont d'Arc (Natural feature)  3. Aven d’Orgnac show cave

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