Named after the river that forms Europe’s largest natural canyon and a prime spot for canoeing and kayaking, the Ardèche is a popular destination for active family holidays. Untouristy, the area – home to the Parc Régional des Monts d’Ardèche and part of the Cévennes National Park – has peaceful campsites, ancient villages and gorgeous, often dramatic scenery, including sweet-chestnut groves, which can be explored by bike or on some of the 6000km of footpaths.
The southern part of Ardèche is the most popular place to visit. The spectacular Ardèche gorge, carved out by erosion, is a favourite holiday spot; families, rock climbers and mountaineers enjoy coming here for kayaking trips and other activity holidays. Central and northern Ardèche is in general much more quiet, but still with the same spectacular scenery – rugged mountains, gorges, chestnut and pine forests. And you'll need to speak French more around here, too!
Things to do with kids in The Ardèche
Canoe down the Ardèche Gorges, stopping at river beaches on the way, to swim, fish, climb or even camp for the night. Hire canoes independently or go as part of a guided trip or even a river-based activity break. A highlight is the famed 66m-high natural stone archway at Vallon–Pont-d'Arc.
Discover the area's spectacular caves: the most famous, the Grotte de Chauvet with around 400 rock paintings dating back more then 30,000 years, is off limits, but the Caverne du Pont d'Arc is an interesting reconstruction. Or head for the Aven d’Orgnac with 50 hectares of subterranean ‘rooms’ plus its own museum of prehistory plus some great family activities.
Try via ferrata (climbing using ladders and steps set into the rock face), or with younger kids explore the surrounds by donkey: several companies (including Trek'âne) run rides lasting several hours or even days (you can get a map and practical guide and do it without a guide, taking a picnic and staying at campsites, communal gîtes or B&Bs).
Take a two-hour ride through the splendid gorges of the Doux river aboard Le Mastrou steam train, or ride the rails on the quicky Vélorail des Gorges du Doux, a sort of pedal buggy/bike. Then visit the Jardin des Trains Ardèchois, with miniature trains doing the rounds of scale models of the region's landmarks.
Go hot-air ballooning from Annonay – this was where local boys the Montgolfier brothers first took to the air, and there’s an annual hot-air balloon festival here (June).
Don't miss the 1,550m volcanic cone near Mont Gerbier-de-Jonc, the source of the Loire; on a clear day it offers a 360° view of the Rhône valley, the Alps and Mont Ventoux.
Natural stone archway at Vallon-Pont-d'Arc.
Hearty rustic fare is the speciality of the Ardèche, including stews and casseroles enriched with red wine. If you're self-catering, local produce to look out for in markets includes the goat's cheese Picodon and chestnuts.
Ballooning in the Ardèche.
When to go to The Ardèche
Unlike the rest of the French Alps, the Ardèche is a place for summer rather than winter sports and activities, although the adventurous prefer canoeing in spring, when the water flows faster.
Inside the Caverne du Pont d'Arc.
As a place to immerse yourself in the great outdoors, lacking in any major 'attractions', the Ardèche is a great choice for inexpensive family holidays, especially if you camp.
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Le Mastrou - Train d'Ardèche.
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Vélorail des Gorges du Doux.
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