Le Viel Audon – Ardeche

Shoreline in front of Audon

When visiting the picturesque hillside village of Belazuc, we found out that there was a very interesting smaller village on the other side of the river, accessible only by footpath, not by car. Here is how it is described on their website.

The site of Le Viel Audon has been inhabited since Prehistoric times by people who have enjoyed its mild climate, a river full of fish, a spring with constant temperature as well as rich fauna and flora. In the early 19th century, when silkworm breeding was a successful activity, the inhabitants of the hamlet left it to build large silkworm breeding houses on the plateau overlooking the village. After being deserted and forgotten for a century, all that was left of it was a heap of ruins buried under ivy. In the 1970’s, a handful of “utopists” put it into their heads to revive Le Viel Audon. They created an association and organised international volunteer work programmes for young people. Over 10,000 volunteers took part in rebuilding the hamlet, and some of them decided to live there too.

You cross the bridge at Belazac to the opposite shore and then walk south for about 15 minutes on a beautiful riverside path. Be sure you have your camera. Le Viel Audon originated probably like communes started up in the U.S. in the sixties, but this one seems to have longevity and after more than forty years, it is still there and seems very successful. There is no road to it and the people who are there want it to remain that way. They are completely self-sufficient, raising goats and cattle and crops. We had lunch there and it was fantastic. We shared two plates, one with five different types of goat cheese, from about as fresh as you can get to well aged, two types of saucisson and what seemed to be a cured ham. The other place was a big piece of homemade bread with a tomato and basic topping and then baked goat cheese on top. All washed down with a pichet of rosé of course. We highly recommend visiting this place, to see what they are doing, for the walk, and a great lunch.
Here’s a little more about the place:

The goats clear the scrubland, carefully preserving the future growth of new plants. Everyday, delicious cheese is made from their milk and sold on site and in the local markets. The abundant whey, whose acidity would pollute the river, is used to feed our pigs, whose meat will be turned into pâtés and ham to be tasted by appreciative customers. Our cows graze the plants left over by the goats. Their milk is drunk by the calves and the hamlet inhabitants. Two vegetable gardens are cultivated on terraces and on the bank of the Ardèche river. They produce fresh vegetables sold in the markets or consumed by the guests staying in our holiday centre and by the village people. The garden soil is ploughed by the mule and enriched with the goats’ composted manure. Peelings and food leftovers produced by the village people are fed to the hens who complete their meals by pecking the grass which grows under the mulberry trees. Their droppings constitute a valuable fertilizer which helps making the leaves of the mulberry trees adapted to the breeding of silkworms. Non-vegetable refuse is recycled locally or sent to a waste recycling centre in town. On the restored terraces, olive trees have started to produce oil again and a fruit tree conservatory garden has been created to save some old varieties from extinction. The holiday centre and the guesthouse are heated by retrieving the calories produced by the isothermal source using heat pumps; solar captors provide hot water to the bathrooms in the guesthouse and the house itself. The street lights are powered by a battery charged by photovoltaic captors. A water pump and a windmill improve the irrigation of the gardens.

Quite amazing. You really should visit Balazuc, and if you do so, you should also visit Le Viel Audon. And while there, if you haven’t yet already, do a tour of the river by kayak!

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