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.
Our stay for our time exploring the Ardeche region was in Vals-les-Bains at the Chateau Clement. This beautiful chateau was built in 1870 by a mineral water magnate, who had traveled the world extensively, and brought back architectural ideas as to how he wanted to build his home in the forest on a hill above Vals, overlooking the Ardeche River. It has gone through a few transformations since then, including being a prison during the 2nd World War, being abandoned in the early 90s, until purchased by the current owners, the Chabot’s, completely renovated to restore its original splendor and then becoming their home as well as a charming Chambres d’Hotes.
As you can see from the photo, the chateau is original and beautiful. Easy to take a picture of the outside, but more difficult inside with its dark woods and low lighting, although the finishing is amazing. The double winding staircase is quite something, and the woodwork on the ceiling is something else. Quite a work of art and hats off to the Chabot’s for bringing it all back to life. And each room has been uniquely decorated, with a name to back-up the deco style.
We did not partake in the special dinner that Eric Chabot prepares, but we heard excellent comments from the other guests. He cooks it all, using local products, served in multiple stages. It sounded wonderful.
Staying at the Chateau Clement is like staying at a very high-end classy hotel, but without the price (and the fact that you are still living in someone’s home, with four (well-behaved) children). Full amenities in the room include large living space, wonderful robes, expresso machine and beautiful views. There’s a common area pool and spa facilities on the ground floor. We’d certainly return.
Today we checked out from the Auberge du Vin and headed north towards Ardeche. We took the D70 out of Mazan to Caromb. In Caromb we turned west on D55 (lovely drive) to Aubignon, then D7 northward. A quick stop in Aubignon, which was okay, but much preferred Seguret, on next stop. Seguret is situated on a hillside just off of D7, you can’t miss it traveling up the highway, on your right. Small and quaint and clean, we enjoyed walking its narrow streets, up to the church and the chateau. Wonderful views looking back towards the Rhone river.
After Seguret we continued on D7 to Vaison-la-Romaine, which was definitely worth visiting. The town is divided into two parts by the river that flows through a narrow gorge, with just a narrow bridge, dating back to the time of the Romans, to connect the two together. The southern part would be the original medieval town whose streets wind their way up to a chateau at the top of the hill.
On the northern side is the more modern part of Vaison, but just as lovely with narrow pedestrian streets, and a large plaza lined with restaurants and cafes.
After Vaison we continued north, in search of lavender fields. Its a little early in the year for lavender, but we heard there were some fields near Vinsobre, so that’s where we headed. And we were in luck! One field was blooming and we found out way up to it and took a few photos.
From there we headed west crossed the Rhone river, to the Ardeche Gorge and river. An amazing drive with some incredible scenic and photographic viewpoints along the way.
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.