The wild and beautiful landscape of the Gorges d’Ardèche Nature Reserve features impressive gorges, chalky white cliffs and prehistoric caves. With its pristine turquoise water, the Ardèche River winds its way through the gorges. In some places the waters are gentle enough for swimming; in other places the river is ideal for whitewater rafting. Other outdoor activities include canoeing, kayaking, hiking and scenic walks. The area is a paradise for nature lovers, adventurers and camping enthusiasts. It is also popular with French families for summer holidays.
The following driving route is intended for a full-day excursion, with stops at major natural features and attractions. The bypass covers approximately 85 kilometers and the entire journey requires at least two hours of driving time (excluding stops). This tour takes travelers through different aspects of the Ardèche countryside, from peaceful shores to exciting viewpoints and fascinating caves.
Start the tour in Saint-Martin d’Ardèche, on the southernmost edge of the Gorges d’Ardèche. A small community of about 800 inhabitants, Saint-Martin d’Ardèche is an old fishing village on the River Rhône with opportunities for swimming and canoeing just outside the village. The historic village has charming architecture and many cafés with terraces. Saint-Martin d’Ardèche is surrounded by wild scrubland and the vine-covered hills of the Côtes du Rhône. This area is popular for hiking, camping and family vacations from spring through November.
Address: 07700 Saint-Martin d’Ardèche
Grand Site de l’Aven d’Orgnac: magical caves and a museum of prehistory
Aven d’Orgnac is one of the most beautiful caves in France that is open to the public. More than 7 million visitors per year visit the caves, museum and nature site. Take a guided tour of the immense caves filled with magical stalagmites and stalactites. The tour takes the visitor deep into the caves, which are well lit and equipped with stairwells. The Museum of Prehistory transports visitors back 350,000 years through fascinating exhibits, including audio experiences, visual displays and interactive features. Considered the best prehistory collection in France, this museum offers surprising cultural discoveries.
During the summer, the site also organizes spelunking cave trips accompanied by expert guides. Adults and children over 12 years old can participate in this activity at an additional cost; harnesses, helmets, lights and lanyards are provided. This exciting underground experience gives visitors a sense of what it was like for explorer Robert de Joly who entered the cave’s natural entrance on August 19, 1935.
The Grand Site de l’Aven d’Orgnac is located 17 kilometers west of Saint-Martin d’Ardeche. The caves are located 50 meters to 120 meters underground. Wear sturdy shoes and warm clothes (the cave has a constant cold temperature of 13° Celsius). For caving, wear comfortable clothes and sneakers or cross-training shoes.
Address: Grand Site de l’Aven d’Orgnac, 07150 Orgnac-l’Aven
Travel into the wild landscape of the Gorges de l’Ardèche and discover the region’s most spectacular natural formation. The Pont d’Arc is located 15 kilometers north of Aven d’Orgnac. Leaving Orgnac l’Aven follow the D317, which later becomes the D176 westwards. In a few kilometers there is a viewpoint on the right with rewarding panoramas. At Barjac, turn north and cross the Ardèche River. On the other side of the bridge, turn right and follow the sign “Route Touristique des Gorges de l’Ardèche”. The road (D290) largely follows the course of the river. First it winds through rock galleries and there are a few small caves along the way to Pont d’Arc. Arriving at this site is a wonderful moment. Spend time admiring the view. The Pont d’Arc is a large, naturally formed rock bridge that arches over the vast Ardèche River. The arch reaches 34 meters above water level and covers a width of 60 meters. The sandy beaches on the shores are popular spots for swimmers, water sports enthusiasts and kayakers.
Address: Le Pont d’Arc, 07150 Vallon-Pont-d’Arc
Grotte Chauvet Pont d’Arc (Prehistoric cave)
In Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, discover an incredible prehistoric cave near the Pont d’Arc. The Grotte Chauvet Pont d’Arc is the oldest decorated cave in France. An astonishing testimony to the work of prehistoric man, this cave is covered in paintings and carvings dating back 36,000 years. The cave amazed the world when it was discovered, not only because of its age, but also because of the technique of the paintings. Images of bears, bison, lions, mammoths and horses are beautifully depicted in an expressive, artistic manner. It is difficult to fathom that the drawings were made so long ago. Due to the fragility of the prehistoric art, the Chauvet Pont d’Arc Cave is now closed to the public.
Address: La Caverne du Pont d’Arc, Montée du Razal, 07150 Vallon-Pont-d’Arc
Official site: https://archeologie.culture.fr/chauvet/
Aven de Marzal
To complete the circular loop in this ride, head 24 kilometers southeast of Vallon-Pont d’Arc to Aven de Marzal in Saint-Remèze. The stalactite cave of Aven de Marzal was discovered by the famous French speleologist Edouard Martel in 1892. The cave is notable for its stalactites and stalagmites, sinter formations, crystals and the beautiful color palette – pure white to ocher and brown. The caves are located 125 meters below the surface and contain two rooms: “La Grande Salle” (the Great Hall), also called the ” Salle du Tombeau ,” is a huge cave located 40 meters underground with dimensions comparable to the interior of Notre-Dame in Paris; “La Grotte” is located 126 meters underground and is also called the ” Salle des Diamants”“(Hall of Diamonds) because of the calcite crystals that shine like diamonds under a spotlight.
The site offers a 50 minute Guided Tour , with interesting commentary on the geology. Visitors descend 380 steps and take 361 steps to go back up. Wear warm clothes; the cave has a constant chilly temperature of 13° Celsius. The Musée du Monde Souterrain ( Museum of the Underground World ) displays the ladders, boats and devices originally used to explore the caves of Aven de Marzal. “Les Dinos de Marzal” (” Dinosaurs of Marzal“) is an amazing “prehistoric zoo” with life-size models of prehistoric insects, animals and dinosaurs. Visitors are awed by the depictions of huge lifelike dinosaurs in the natural environment. The site also has a boutique selling cute stuffed animal dinosaurs and a restaurant with pleasant outdoor seating.
Addresses: Aven Marzal, 07700 Saint-Remèze
Continue along the winding roads about seven kilometers south of Saint-Remèze to the Grotte de la Madeleine. The Madeleine Cave is located in the heart of the Ardèche Canyon on the scenic road overlooking the Ardèche River. This enchanting cave was discovered by a shepherd in 1867 and is a beautiful sight to behold. Visitors are amazed by thousands of stalactites and stalagmites. The stalactite formations are particularly notable for the irregular “eccentriques” and sintered shapes. Take a guided tour and learn about the cave’s formation over millions of years, first by underground rivers and then by erosion from dripping rainwater. The visit includes a one-hour guided tour with a special light showand admission to the site’s natural history museum . Nearby is the Belvédère de la Madeleine viewpoint with sensational panoramas of the landscape.
Address: Gorges de l’Ardèche, 07700 Saint-Remèze
Official site: https://www.grottemadeleine.com/?lang=en
Viewpoints of the Corniche
On the tour of the Gorges de l’Ardèche, after Grotte de la Madeleine, the stretch of the D290 road past the D590 meanders around and follows the river. This section is known as the ” Haute Corniche ” and is especially picturesque. The best viewpoints are Belvédère de la Cathédrale (a view of the Cirque de la Madeleine); Balcon des Templiers and Belvédère de la Maladrerie (a beautiful view of the enormous bend of the Ardèche); Grand Belvédère at the end of the gorge; Belvédère du Colombier; and Belvédère du Ranc-Pointu, above the last bend of the river overlooking the Rhône Valley. Along this route, some of the viewpoints (belvédères) have spacious parking spaces. Make sure you park in a safe location clearly designated for tourists; Falling rocks often pose a hazard on this stretch.
Holy Spirit Bridge
To conclude the tour, continue 20 kilometers south of Saint-Remèze to Pont Saint-Esprit. From the village of Pont Saint-Esprit, the road crosses the Rhône River at the point not far north of its confluence with the Ardèche Rive. Note the graceful old stone bridge that is almost 1000 meters long. From this place there is an exceptional view of the river and the village of Saint-Esprit.
Charming villages in the Ardeche region
This picturesque “village perchée” is a typical medieval perched village high on a cliff overlooking the Ardèche River. About 49 kilometers north of Saint-Martin d’Ardèche, the village is definitely worth a detour. The village has retained its picturesque medieval character, seen in its cobbled streets, winding alleys and charming arches (the most famous being the Fachinière passage). The village square dates back to the 12th century and Eglise Sainte-Madeleine is a beautiful example of Romanesque architecture. The village is also known for its boutiques selling artisan products from the region such as goat cheese, salt with herbs and local honey.
Labeaume is located in the heart of the Ardèche, 45 kilometers northwest of Saint-Martin d’Ardèche. This quaint village is surrounded by three rivers and nestled in a cliff of limestone rock. The village delights visitors with its old stone houses, narrow walkways and cobbled streets. Many tourists enjoy getting lost in this medieval maze. Above the village is an old castle, and just below it is the Place Sablas lined with 100 year old plane trees. The countryside around Labeaume is filled with olive groves; The Labeaume terroir is ideal for making fine olive oil. Nearby, on a limestone plateau, is the hamlet of Chapias with Gallo-Roman origins. This small town has a remarkable chapel, theChapelle Notre Dame de la Délivrance . From mid-July to mid-August Chapias organizes a music festival.
About 50 kilometers north of Saint-Martin d’Ardèche, Vogüé is listed as one of France’s “Plus Beaux Villages” (“Most Beautiful Villages “) for its beautiful architecture and beautiful surroundings. This medieval village was built around a cliff and is dominated by its 12th century castle of the Lords of Vogüé.The village is a cluster of old houses leading to the castle and a maze of winding cobbled streets interspersed with many arcades.The oldest parts of the village date from the 11th century, although the imposing towers from the 17th century.