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The Ardèche Family Holidays and Breaks

Natural stone archway at Vallon-Pont-d'ArcNatural stone archway at Vallon-Pont-d'Arc© robert van beets
Flying Time 2hrs
Timezone GMT +1
Currency Euro

Today

Overview

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

Must-sees on family holidays in the Ardèche are the 1,550m volcanic cone near Mont Gerbier-de-Jonc, the source of the Loire, from which, a clear day, you get a 360° view of the Rhône valley, the Alps and Mt Ventoux; and the famous 66m-high natural stone archway at Vallon–Pont-d'Arc.

Via Ferrata (climbing using ladders and steps set into the rock face) is a popular activity, or with younger kids you might like to 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).

Another fun excursion is the 2hr steam ride through the splendid gorges of the Doux river aboard Le Mastrou steam train.

Annonay is a centre for hot-air ballooning – this was where local boys the Montgolfier brothers first took to the air, and there’s an annual hot-air balloon festival here (June).

The main ‘sights’ in the area are 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 next-best is the Aven d’Orgnac with 50 hectares of subterranean ‘rooms’ plus its own museum of prehistory.

Lastly, kids adore Ardèche Miniatures, a scale model of the region with its train tracks and rivers.

Eat

Hearty rustic fare is the speciality of the Ardèche, including stews and casseroles enriched with red wine. If you're self-catering on family holidays here, local produce to look out for in markets includes the goat's cheese Picodon and chestnuts.

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 – for family holidays, think May–Sept.

Cost

Being a place to immerse yourself in the great outdoors and lacking in any major 'attractions', the Ardèche represents excellent value for money when it comes to family holidays, especially if you choose to camp.

By Rhonda Carrier

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