In Europe’s largest canyon, Les Gorges de l’Ardèche, via gondola-shaped canoes, Bateliers de l’Ardèche steer a tranquil route along a 20-mile, deep gorge, which includes 25 rapids. Walkers complete a similar journey in around 12 hours. At 60 metres over the river, and formed by the elements is the Pont d’Arc. Beaches alongside are popular picnic spots.
La Grotte Chauvet, dates back 36,000 years. It was named after one of three amateur cavers who discovered it in 1994. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014, the cave comprises chambers and corridors of around 8,500 square metres, containing some 1,000 details drawings, mainly of animals.
The original cave, mid-way up a cliff-side, is now safeguarded, locked and inaccessible. At a cost of £55m, a stunning replica in Vallon Pont d’Arc opened to the public in 2015, reproducing the formation, size, humidity, drawings, stalactites and stalagmites. Lovely Lyons , situated at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, boasts its own love affair with art.
The historic centre has UNESCO World Heritage status and 100 outdoor murals take the art of modern, urban wall-painting to new heights. The detail and perspective reflected on a flat wall is a trompe l’oeil.
The cobbled streets of the ancient Medieval quarter house Les Traboules, around 300 corridors, hidden behind front doors, which provided silk workers and merchants a short cut to transport textiles to the river in bad weather.
The dark passageways were used as escape routes during the Second World War by the French Resistance. Restored in the 1980s, today corridors lead to courtyards and private apartments with mullioned windows, fresco-decorated galleries, terracotta-painted stone and Italian-influenced architecture.
As always, food in France is superb. In Labeaume, at the family-run Le Bec Figue bistro, in the Ardèche, we sit at a long table in the charming old village square. Platters of fresh salad, charcuterie, pâté, cheeses and crusty bread keep coming, along with bottles of good local wine. Delectable desserts follow.
For me, this is the real taste of France. C’est si bon!