The drive up the Ardeche Gorge is simply stunning and very much worth doing in you are anywhere near the area. The drive offers plenty of viewpoints and the opportunity to pull over and take in this deep canyon with steep rock walls and a river running through it. Its meets the Rhone just outside of Pont-Saint-Esprit on highway D290 and the most interesting drive starts about 40 km up at Vallon-Pont-D’Arc. At the viewpoints you’ll see many people who are kayaking or canoeing (most in kayaks these days) and there’s really no better way to see the Gorge than while floating down it, rapids and all.
We went through here in late June and it was already getting quite busy. We had planned to do the Gorge by kayak but by the time we got to Vallon we were overwhelmed by all the people, camping, rental places and decided to just drive through to our hotel. However, the next day when we were out exploring towns, we really enjoyed Balazuc, situated along the Ardeche river, where there weren’t nearly as many people, so we rented a two-person kayak. 35 Euros for the kayak and pick-up at the end of our trip, which was about two hours long. A wonderful float, with flat spots and minor rapids, nothing too challenging, surrounded by steep rock cliffs. Choosing to do this in the afternoon was also a good idea as we got more of a break from the sun. The company we rented from was Fazao, located right under the bridge at Balazuc, with parking spaces for your car. Definitely something worth doing, we really had a good time, swimming, lazing along the shoreline, and running the rapids when they appeared.
Ours was only a two-hour trip but there are four-hour, eight-hour, two-day and four-day trips you can do, including the whole gorge. You can camp along the way or have reservations at many of the small hotels. You can organize it on your own or have a company take care of all the planning for you. I have no idea which one’s are best, but just Google Gorge D’Ardeche canoeing and you’ll find a lot. We’ve added an extended trip to our bucket list.
Balazuc is also a great starting spot because Balazuc is a wonderful medieval/roman village that you’ll want to explore. It’s listed as both a ‘most beautiful village of France’ and an ‘Ardeche village of character’.
Set above a bend in the river and a 19th century bridge, the village of Balazuc is a picture-postcard perfect place with a myriad of narrow alleys, arches and narrow paths, frequently carved straight from the rock. There is the ruins of castle down near the river you can explore, and if you climb up it you have a great photo op of the bridge, cliffs and river.
And perhaps just as interesting is the small town of Le Viel Audon on the other side of the river. We write about it here; a great option for lunch, a beautiful walk, and you’ll be sure to learn a few things as well.