A forgotten corner of France, the Ardèche Provençale offers charming villages, dramatic scenery and a daily choice between energetic activity and perfect lethargy.
Its fast flowing rivers running through deep gorges, the Beaume, the Droble and the Chassezac, can be ideal for canoeing and rafting but also for bathing and fishing, in quiet pools where the turbulent waters subside. Biking, hiking and horseback riding are the ideal way to appreciate the quiet paths through chestnut forests and groves of vines, with a backdrop of rolling hills and rugged mountains.
If you are less industriously inclined, it takes only a day or two effortlessly to become an integral part of the local community. Sample the produce on the little stalls at Lablachère market, or while away the time at the bustling café on the village crossroads, its tables precariously balanced on the pavement. Try a glass or two of the local wines, which compare favourably with some of the best Côte de Rhône.
A few kilometres to the south is the medieval perched village of Joyeuse, whose ducal fortress dominated the River Beaume in a violent era when the French King’s edicts counted for little this far from Paris. The road up is steep enough for grandparents and small children to welcome a lift to the top, before wandering along its narrow streets with the slope in their favour and a surprise around every corner. Far below, restaurants compete for custom in a broad square shaded by pine trees, some with their tables set out in secluded gardens. Home seems delightfully far away.
© M. Rissoan
© M. Rissoan