Monday, 22 December 2014

A Trip to the Ardeche in August 2014 (Part 1)

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In late July we set off for the south of France to rendezvous with the Bertamini family at Nimes airport for an 8 Day trip to the rivers of the Gard and Ardeche with a couple of days hiking in the Cevennes thrown in for good measure. This lovely family had canoed with us last year in the Perigord and we were happy to be taking them again on another trip.

First of all though we had to get down there. It's a long drive from Calais so we decided to take a break half-way. We headed for the Haute-Saône area so that we could have a look at the Ognon river. This has potential as a future trip. Apparently you can wander down this river over 8 or 9 days to its confluence with the Saône. With that in mind we set off for Villersexel.

After an early start and an early ferry from Dover we drove across northern France in a large arc before arriving in Villersexel in the late afternoon. We quickly found a charming place to stay in the Auberge de la Terrasse which is close to the river and just opposite the canoe outfitters. The place does indeed have potential though it is hard to know really without getting in a boat! Must definitely get this organised.

The next day we continued the long drive to the south. After following the Ognon river for some miles through pretty countryside we joined the motorway south. Apart from a bottle-neck at Lyon the drive was smooth. As the afternoon got late we pulled up to the small town of Collias, where we will canoe tomorrow, in order to find somewhere for the night and somewhere not too far from the airport for our pick-up tomorrow.

After some difficulty down some narrow lanes we eventually found the Hotel le Gardon out on a lonely hill. After relaxing for a while and taking a dip in the pool we moseyed into town, a drive unfortunately and had a wander around to get our bearings for tomorrow. Along the way we discovered a rather nice cafe where we tasted some local wines and where we were charmed by the lovely host. In the evening we had dinner at the smart Le Castellas restaurant which we ducked into as a storm arrived. HIghly recommended.

So finally we get started on the trip. After eventually finding the correct airport in Nimes (information which would be handy later) we picked up our guests as they flew in from England. In no time at all we were at the famous Pont du Gard and we spent some time wandering about. It's hard to believe that the aqueduct is almost 2000 years old.

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Of course the real reason we were here was to go canoeing so we drove upstream to Collias and got ourselves organised and after a picnic lunch by the river set off on our first paddle of the trip to canoe back down, and under, the Pont du Gard. It was of course a hot day and so we took out time for some splashing around on the way down.

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Our first paddle over we jumped in our minibus and drove the short distance to La Bastide, a small hamlet just outside Goudargues where we will stay a couple of nights. Grace & Olivier were there to greet us and imagine our surprise when our guests were informed that they would be lodging in the castle next door. None of us could believe it. Here we are staying in a castle.

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The next day we toddled into Gourdagues and got ourselves organised for a paddle on the Ceze river. A short drive took us up to Montclus, a tiny walled village, which we had time for a wander around before starting our paddle.

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After some difficulty getting past the first little rapid: it was rocky & twisty, we enjoyed the meander downstream and once again found time for a swim.

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In the afternoon we had a stroll around the village Roque-sur-Ceze and the waterfall called the Cascade Sautadet, a popular spot.

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On our third day we drove the short distance to Les Vans and found our second hotel which apparently used to be a Nunnery. In the afternoon we paddled through the gorge of the Chassezac river which was spectacular. The river was a little bit more technical and we had some fun getting through the smallish rapids. Of course we also found time to monkey about as usual.

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The end of the days paddling almost got a bit dangerous as we paddled slightly too far and ended up trying to paddle through a rock garden! Not wise. Luckily we were able to haul the boats back upstream to the beach where we were supposed to be. A beer and ice-cream settled us down.

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In the evening we still had time for a dip in the pool before a lovely dinner on the terrace of the hotel. Tomorrow we are heading up into the Cevennes for a couple of days hiking. More of this to follow.