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A quick stop at Labeaume Labeaume (one of the Ardèche’s many ‘village de caractère’) is a small medieval village nestled against a limestone rock face. If you love mysterious and tiny cobbled streets, this is the place for you. It has a castle that watches carefully from above and the village opens out onto a large, pretty square surrounded by plane trees and perched on the banks of the Beaume River. Cross the bridge to look back at the village huddled into the overhanging cliff face and dotted with quirky boutiques and quaint houses, many of which have façades decorated with pebbles. Or watch a game of Pétanque unfold in the square. In July and August they have a musical festival here and it’s also not a bad place to use as a base if you want to explore the surrounding Beaume Gorge and discover some of the 140 dolmens (megalithic tombs). Or just sip coffee in the square and soak up the surrounding beauty before you head off to tackle the Ardèche gorges. The long & winding road to St.Martin There are many ways to explore the gorges, namely by foot, kayak or even by horseback but it’s worth starting with a car. Drive the tourist route from Vallon Pont d’Arc to St. Martin d’Ardèche to get a lofty feel for what you’re about to discover. It’s 35 km of hair pin bends and steep inclines, and not necessarily for the faint-hearted driver. Throw in the odd brave cyclist who you have to overtake, ignore the locals who are nudging you on from behind, and don’t expect to spend a lot of time in 4th gear. On the upside it is peppered with outstanding viewpoints along the way and although you tell yourself you’re not going to stop at each and every one, they’re very hard to resist mile after mile of breathtaking views over the limestone gorges (some of which are 300 metres high) with glimpses of the tiny river and kayakers, far, far below. Amazingly the road was only built in the 1960s and it’s not hard to imagine what an inhospitable and challenging terrain it must have been for anyone travelling before then.
threw open the roof and held on to our windows which had a life of their own as we sputtered and coughed our way amongst the vineyards of the Rhône, through the scrubby Garrigue and up round the gorges. With the famous Mistral wind pulling at your hair and a sense of the vastness of the region, when you finally drop down into St. Martin at the other end, you feel a bit like a conquering hero. A bit of exploring St. Martin d’Ardèche or St Julien de Peyrolas on the opposite side of the river (and actually in the Languedoc) is a great place to stay for exploring the gorges. You’re right on the border of the Drôme, Vaucluse and Gard and you feel like you’re back in the Mediterranean. There are vineyards, plains, olive groves and figs and the village acts as a bit of a gateway from the gorges to Provence and the south. From St Martin you can explore the gorges by guided tour on foot or by bike, but I went in a 2CV. My chauffeur was Rosemarie, who’s family own and run the local organic wine producing estate, Domaine de la Croix Blanche and her passion for where she lives oozes from every pore. She gave me a choice of quirky vehicles and our 2CV was both the best and the worst I’m sure. We I don’t think Rosemarie would disagree if I said gear changing wasn’t her greatest strength nor keeping to the correct side of the road, and the journey was filled with laughter (and possibly the odd scream). Rosemarie is pleasantly bonkers and I couldn’t think of a nicer person to spend a day with although I hate to think what you’ll get up to if you join her for one of her walking tours. Back at the Domaine we had a quick tasting of their organic Ardèche rosés which were refreshingly welcome. Rosemarie’s husband also makes tapenade and if you arrange it in advance via the tourist office, he will do demonstrations. However you choose to explore the Ardèche and its gorges, take time to linger in this stunningly beautiful and unusually quiet corner of southern France which has something to inspire at almost every twist and turn. From the civilised wines of the Rhône to the vast wilderness surrounding the gorges, it’s not often that you get to explore somewhere that in places feels completely untamed and has a past stretching back to the ice age For more information about the Ardèche: www.ardeche-guide.com To visit Rosemarie and try her wines and driving : www. domainedelacroixblanche.com Details of The Loges and their yurts: www.prehistoric-lodge.com For more information about the Chauvet Cave: en.cavernedupontdarc.fr
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