Posts Tagged ‘south of France’
Earlier this month the lovely Elodie and Camilla from the Pierre & Vacances UK team were lucky enough to spend a week in the South of France discovering the Pierre & Vacances residences along the Cote d’Azur. For one week they went from residence to residence meeting the resort managers, their teams and checking out the holiday apartments, pools and local areas. We know, it’s a tough job but someone had to do it!
Here Elodie shares some of their photos and tips for holidays to Nice, Cannes and St Tropez:
Premium Residence Port Prestige
Only 30 minutes from Nice airport, our first night was spent at the Premium Residence Port Prestige in Antibes.
The residence is a five minute walk to the Port with views of Fort Carre and 10 minutes walk to the beautiful beach of “ Plage de la Gravette”.
This was the view from the balcony of our apartment….
…and what an amazing roof with a Jacuzzi!
The first day of our tour started with a visit to some of the most beautiful self-catering residences in Cannes.
Cannes Mandelieu Holiday Village
Cannes Mandelieu is located just800 metres from the beach and close to the much celebrated Boulevard de la Croisette where the Cannes film festival is held.
Residence Cannes Beach
Cannes Beach is only five minutes from the beach, close to the centre of Cannes. The apartments are spread out over seven floors, and for those wanting to keep their bikini figures while on holiday there is a fitness room also available on-site.
Residence Cannes Villa Francia
Cannes Villa Francia residence has been recently renovated, and the infinity pool is pretty special.
After a long day of visiting the holiday apartments and residences (whilst also enjoying the 30°C sun!), we were off to the holiday village of Cap Esterel for two nights.
Cap Esterel Holiday Village
Cap Esterel feels like a little village, everything is on-site: mini supermarket, restaurants, shops, doctor, six swimming pools all over 200 hectares. Plus lots of activities for all ages available, such as tennis, a circus school, zumba lessons, horse riding, Nordic walking, paintball, diving…. to name a few!
The residence also has its own lake, with bookable activities like the Tree Top Adventure course with the interestingly named ‘devilish’ zipline.
Every week a program is released with all the different activities and events available at the holiday village, we were lucky to see a Provencal market where local farmers came to sell their products on the main street called “Place de la Bravade”. We met local olive producers, wine suppliers, farm produce and also local artists and designers selling jewelry, glass, scarves… Of course it was the food which captivated us the most:
The “Navette”, it’s a biscuit from Marseille, it can be plain or flavoured, generally with an orange or lemon taste.
We also enjoyed, the “Fougasse” which is a type of flat bread made with olives, cheese, anchovies… typically from Provence but with regional variations.
To finish our tasting tour, the Saucisson. They were really good – actually I tasted all of them but I controlled myself and only bought three!
But it wasn’t all work for us, during our stay in the Cap Esterel holiday village we took a little train to the beach to treat ourselves to some rest and a nice tan for our return to the UK!
Thursday was the day for viewing the St Tropez area and the residences in Les Issambres: Les Rivages, Les Calanques, Le Hameau and Les Issambres Holiday Village. Les Issambres is a really peaceful and a pretty part of the Cote d’Azur, perfect for a relaxing holiday away from the hustle and bustle of the main towns in the South of France but close enough to visit them for the day.
The resort manager, Murielle Oger, showed us various accommodation types, some of which have been upgraded in 2007 and to meet our Premium residence standard.
The holiday village sits on the hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean with fantastic views, although we had a short drive to the coast we were pleasantly surprised to find there is a Pierre & Vacances private beach where you can rent sunbeds.
Pierre & Vacances Les Restanques Holiday Village
Les Restanques Holiday Village is situated at only 8km from beautiful St Tropez bay.
The holiday village has two swimming pools, including a heated pool and a wave pool, and two restaurants on-site with a buffet or à la Carte menu. The accommodation varies from studio to a Bastide for eight people. So there really is something for everyone!
Pierre & Vacances Residence Parc des Grimaud
Residence Parc des Grimaud‘s nearby beach is walking distance away, only 400 metres via a private and secure path. As well as the 300 apartments being fully renovated in 2011, the residence has been awarded the “Green Key” in 2010.
The building “Marianne” is the only building in the Residence Parc des Grimaud to have self-catering apartments with air conditioning and separated toilets.
Cap Esterel, the flagship Pierre & Vacances Holiday Resort, has recently celebrated its 20th birthday. So Marketing Manager Nick thought it was about time for a visit, here’s the diary of his family holiday in the French Riveria:
The Pierre & Vacances Cap Esterel Holiday Resort is located in the beautiful Massif de L’Esterel National Park between Saint Raphael and Cannes.
Though the resort is under an hour from Nice airport, as our two kids are now both at paying age for flights, we elected to save money and drive and the low diesel costs in France also make this cheaper. But we didn’t need the car much as there’s loads to do on the resort, and the supermarket is more than adequate, the beaches are walkable and there is a train station nearby – what more do you need?!
So driving it was, and we had a great journey across the Channel with Seafrance – friendly staff, great kids play area and loads of room on the ferry! We took an overnight stop in Formule 1 in Chalons en Champagne, then 10 hours later we were at Cap Esterel!
We were delighted with our apartment: newly refurbished with a bedroom for Granny, bunk beds for the kids (sharing for the first time!) and a sofa bed in the lounge for Mum and Dad. It was nicely decorated with pictures of the L’Esterel National Park and all the usual mod cons including dishwasher, kettle and even a teapot…….Granny was happy!
We had amazing views of the med, and the supermarket, shops and bars were only a minute away. Plus we were so close to the swimming pool that when we heard the hourly announcement for the wave machine we could get our trunks on and get down there in time!
The kids loved the main swimming pool’s wave machine and water slide, and when we wanted a longer swim we went to the upper infinity pool which was slightly warmer and with amazing sea views. We also took the train to the quieter Hameau area which has its own swimming pools and supermarket. There is a main pool (good for lengths) and a children’s pool on a large roof terrace area, also with, you guessed it, amazing views.
Apart from the swimming pools the main attractions for the family were the train and local beaches. The train handily stops near the main children’s playground and is so popular that every time it arrives there is a mass-exodus from the playground! If you’re like our family you take the train just for the fun of it [up to 3 times a day!], but it’s also quite handy for getting around the Resort and travelling to the local beach at Dramonts. On Wednesdays the train also takes you to the lovely market at Agay.
We alternated between the beaches at Dramonts and Agay, both with their own advantages. Dramonts is a small and quiet pebble beach with beautiful clear water, while Agay is a larger sandier beach with a choice of restaurants, bars and shops nearby. There is a short cut from the train bridge at the bottom of Cap Esterel over the hills to join the Agay road. It’s probably a 30 minute walk and a bit difficult with buggies but worth the time saving if you like a bit of exercise. There is also a little beach on the main road opposite the entrance to Cap Esterel.
In the Resort itself there is more than enough to keep the kids occupied all holiday. The 9 hole golf course is well looked after, the lake is stunning and there are loads of water sports available. There is also tennis, football, and crazy golf – basically you name it they have it! My wife made good use of the fitness classes and the children’s clubs looked like lots of fun!
On Friday night there was live music in the main resort village area. This is an area above the main pool with the feel of a little tourist town and of course amazing views! There are about 10 restaurants, a lovely cafe with shop, bar and ice creams, plus take way pizza and rotisserie. All were good value with family offers and menu du jours. The ice creams became a favourite with the kids who worked their way through all the different flavours! And at the far side of this area is the L’Esterel hotel with its own swish restaurant.
As for ‘eating-in’, the on-site supermarket was fantastic with its own bakery, a selection of toys, a wide range of food at reasonable prices and even a special section for English customers missing their favourite ale or sauce! We didn’t bother going anywhere else.
All in all we had fantastic family holiday in Cap Esterel and can’t wait to return!
Think of France and one of the first things to spring to mind will no doubt be delicious dishes full of fresh seafood, beautifully cooked steak and, of course, lashing of cheese. From instant crowd pleasers like Moules Frites and Croque Monsieur to après ski favourite Raclette (with some more Frites and plenty of Fromage) and then there’s every school child’s nemesis, Escargot. And of course there are the famous Crêpes, Tarte Tatin, Gateaux, Eclair, Crème Brûlée… is your mouth watering yet??
Of course there’s much more to traditional French recipes than just Crêpes andFrites…and it’s not all haute cuisine or cordon bleu either. So here are our all time favourite French regional recipes, more rustic than refined in most cases, but guaranteed to get your stomach rumbling!
The Alps…for après-ski comfort food
When most of us visit The Alps it’s for lashings of fresh air and winter sports, so we can be excused for wanting to sit down at the end of a hard day’s skiing to some truly hearty fare. It’s little surprise that our favourite Alpine food relies heavily on cheese as the main ingredient! There are, of course, the delicious Fondue and Raclette but one of our favourites is Tartiflette.
Tartiflette is a truly indulgent dish, best appreciated after a strenuous morning on the ski-slopes — or at least a brisk winter’s morning walk. It is important to use a ripe Reblochon, preferably bought a few days in advance and left to reach maturity out of the fridge. Of course, if you have a good cheese monger you will be able to buy one ripe and ready to eat.
Here’s a recipe for the cheese delight, as taken from “The Food of France” by Sarah Woodward:
1.5kg medium-sized red potatoes, such as Desirée
1 large white onion, peeled and diced
2 thick rashers of smoked streaky bacon, diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe Reblochon cheese
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 5.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the potatoes whole, in their skins, for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the onion and bacon in the butter in a heavy frying pan over a medium heat; they should sweat but not brown.
Drain the potatoes and as soon as they are cool enough to handle peel them — the quicker the better. Slice thickly across.
Choose an ovenproof earthenware dish and rub it well with the other halves of garlic. Layer half the sliced potatoes across the base, season, then scatter over the onion and bacon mixture. Add the remaining potatoes and more seasoning.
Place the whole Reblochon on top. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180C/350’F/gas mark 4 for a further 20—25 minutes. The Reblochon should melt within its skin and the fat drip down while the potatoes crisp.
Tartiflette is a filling dish and all you really need to go with it is a nicely dressed green salad.
Alsace-Lorraine…for a German twist
The cuisine of this corner of north-eastern France brings together influences from neighbouring Germany such as Sauerkraut and marinated meat and veg stew, Baeckeoffe, with more typically French flavours. Locals are masters of pickling vegetables, smoking meats, and packing sausages.
The region’s two legendary dishes are Foie gras and Quiche Lorraine: the word quiche is from the German “kuchen”, which means cake. There is some debate about what constitutes a traditional Quiche Lorraine but we like the following recipe for its simplicity:
6-8 slices of bacon, diced
1 1/2 cup of whipping heavy cream
1 or 2 tsp of butter
1/2 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp of pepper
1 pinch of grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 400° F (200° C)
Put bacon dices in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes. Drain. Put in a pan and heat till brown. Drain again.
Roll out pastry in a pie pan. Pastry should come about 1″ up the sides.
Beat eggs, cream and seasoning. Add bacon.
Pour mixture on the pastry, no more than 3/4 of the pie pan.
Reduce heat to 300° F (150°C). Bake for 30 minutes or until pie is cooked. Put a knife in the middle, if it comes clean the quiche is ready.
Let the quiche cool. Do not remove it from the pan. Goes well with a salad.
Just a suggestion: Although traditional recipes do not include it, you can add Swiss cheese such as 1 Gruyère to the egg, cream and bacon mixture, [around 1 cup is best].
Try Quiche Lorraine in Alsace and Lorraine when you stay at one of Pierre & Vacances’ resorts in the region.
Famed for Crêpes, apples, Normandy cider and Calvados, the north-western tip of France is the best place to head if you have a sweet tooth. Apple and Calvados sorbet make a welcome appearances on many menus but our heads were turned by this recipe for Bretton Butter Cake, a classic version from Brittany.
1 ounce instant dry yeast
1 teaspoon plus 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
3/4 cup lukewarm water
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold salted butter
1 egg yolk, beaten
Sprinkle the yeast and one teaspoon of sugar over the warm water and allow the yeast to dissolve for 5 minutes. Stir the flour into the yeast mixture until it forms a smooth, thick dough.
On a lightly floured surface, roll and stretch the dough into a large rectangle, about 9-inches by 13-inches. Dot the surface with 1/4 cup of the cold butter and sprinkle it with 1/4 cup of sugar. Fold the dough into quarters. Repeat the rolling and folding process again, three times.
Preheat an oven to 350F. Once the dough is folded into quarters the last time, fit it into a greased 9-inch round baking pan. Brush the surface of the dough with the egg yolk, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and bake it for 25 to 30 minutes, until it turns golden brown.
Allow the butter cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, run a thin, offset spatula or knife around the edges of the cake, and remove the cake from the baking pan. Serve the cake warm with berries or cream.
Try Bretton Butter Cake in Brittany when you stay at one of Pierre & Vacances’ resorts.
Central France…for heart-warming stews
It’s here in the heart of France that you’re most likely to find traditional dishes such asBoeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin. A good French stew is not something to be rushed – and of course, the crucial ingredient is wine.
One of the most famous recipes from Burgundy is the one that includes its name, Boeuf Bourguignon. This version is adapted from that used by the chef at The Hotel Dieu, Monsieur Vernet:
1.5 kg/3 1/2 lbs stew beef preferably taken from the shoulder or shin
50G/3 1/2 tbsp butter
5 tbsp olive oil
small round onions
100g/1/4 lb fresh bacon
20g/1/4 cup flour
2 cloves garlic (optional)
1 1/2 bottles red burgundy wine
1 bouquet garni
salt and pepper
Marinade the beef, together with a ‘garniture aromatique’ (bouquet garni, onions and carrots,) in the wine and leave to marinade overnight.
Brown thoroughly in oil the drained pieces of meat. Skim off the fat and then sprinkle them with flour.
Add the marinade, the bouquet garni, carrots and onions and cook on a low heat for two hours. During the cooking time glaze until brown some small, round onions, button mushrooms and bacon (cook them in just enough water to cover them and some butter), sprinkle with sugar, cover with tin-foil and cook until the water boils away. Stir from time to time to ensure an even glazing.
Mix with the beef mixture, check the thickness of the sauce and, if necessary, add some beurre manié (butter and flour.) The cooking can be finished in the oven, in a covered casserole, or even covered with flour.
Try Boeuf Bourguignon in Central France when you stay at one of Pierre & Vacances’ resorts in the region.
From eel stew to steaming mussels, the gastronomy of the Poitou-Charentes is heavily based on seafood. The mussel, an inexpensive mollusk, is prepared in many different ways in France, depending on the region. The most spectacular is certainly L’éclade, a recipe from Charente Maritime. For this, the mussels are arranged on a bed of dry pine needles and set ablaze. After a minute or two they are cooked and ready to be eaten sizzling hot.
But this recipe is the simplest way to prepare mussels, and a perfect occasion to gather plenty of friends around the table for a huge steaming stock pot fragrant with white wine and shallots.
5 to 6 pounds mussels, preferably the small bouchots
6 sprigs parsley
10 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup dry white wine
Freshly ground pepper
1 sprig thyme
Wash the mussels, scraping to remove their grassy “”beards”".
Peel and chop the shallots.
Remove the parsley leaves and chop them finely.
Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large heavy skillet or saucepan.
Add the shallots and cook until wilted.
Add the wine, a sprinkling of pepper, and thyme.
Let simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the mussels, cover and cook over high heat, shaking the pan often so that all the mussels open at about the same time.
Take off the cover, remove the mussels as they open, and place them on a warmed serving platter.
When all the mussels have opened, empty the pan, and strain the cooking broth through a fine sieve.
Wipe out the pan and return the broth to it.
Cook briefly over high heat until boiling.
Cut the remaining butter into small pieces.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk the butter into the broth a little at a time.
Correct the seasoning, if necessary.
Pour the sauce over the mussels, sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and serve.
Try Mussels in Charentes when you stay at one of Pierre & Vacances’ resorts in the region.
Paris…for anything your heart desires (as long as it’s Croque Monsieur!)
Of course, all roads lead to Paris when it comes to food, where almost anything from the whole of France is available and where diners can pick and choose from more than 9,000 restaurants.
The immediate environs of Paris provide plentiful game but it’s arguably its pastries that the grande dame is most famed for. That and its bread, the key ingredient to the legendary Croque Monsieur!
Who knows where the tasty snack originated from (the first recorded appearance on a Parisian café menu was in 1910) but today the city’s cafés have thousands of varieties on offer, each bringing their own unique interpretation to this classic dish. Regional variations exist, with either tomato, Bleu d’Auvergne cheese, smoked salmon (instead of ham), sliced potatoes and Reblochon cheese or pineapple.
The classic recipe is hot ham and cheese (typically emmental or gruyère) grilled sandwich. Simple, quick and delicious! Fast food at its most fabulous.
Try Croque Monsieur in Paris when you stay at one of Pierre & Vacances’ resorts in the city.
Picardy...for tarts and terrine
Picardy is known as the market garden of France with bountiful crops, an abundance of seafood and dishes with a distinct, earthy palate. There’s an undeniable Spanish influence on the regional dish of Escaveche (escabeche in Spain), which is a cold terrine of sweet water fish in wine and vinegar, and Flemish influence on another terrine, Potjevlesch. Amiens Duck Pate draws the gourmands as does the Flamiche Leek Pie.
Flamiche aux Poireaux
2 round, puff-pastry crusts, uncooked
3 tablespoons butter
2 pounds (or more) leeks, cleaned and cut into 1/4 inch rounds (don’t use the tougher dark green part)
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1/4 cup grated gruyère or similar cheese (optional)
salt and pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg yolk
Melt the butter in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until soft – about 10 minutes.
Stir in the flour until mixed completely with the leeks. Pour in the milk and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil – about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool about 5 minutes. Stir in nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, line a nine inch tart or pie pan with one of the crusts. Brush the bottom of the crust with the egg yolk mixed with a couple of teaspoons of water. Pour the cooled leek mixture into the crust and top with the second crust. Roll the edges together so that the whole tart is sealed. Make a hole in the centre of the tart so that steam can escape as the tart is cooking and, if you wish, make a design on the top crust with a sharp knife.
Bake for 30 minutes at 375° F. Serve warm.
Try Flamiche aux Poireaux in Picardy when you stay at one of Pierre & Vacances’ resorts in the region.
The Pyrénées…for deep-rooted culinary traditions
From black truffles to Foie Gras and Roquefort cheese, the food of the Midi-Pyrénées has made significant contributions to the wider French dining scene. The region’s traditions and epicurean culture are deeply rooted and fiercely protected. One of the dishes most synonymous with the Pyrénées is Cassoulet.
For the beans:
1 kg (2.2 lb) dried beans: either white navy beans, kidney beans, mojettes, pamier beans or Soissons beans, but the absolute best would be “tarbais” beans.
2 peeled carrots
1 onion, spiked with 3 cloves
1 bouquet garni (thyme, laurel, parsley)
1 large pork rind, cut into 2 halves
8 lamb neck cuts (for taste)
8 lamb shoulder pieces, cut into squares of 100 grams (3 oz) each
8 pork loin pieces, cut into 100 grams (3 oz) cubes
8 mule fat duck thighs cut in half
8 pieces, 5 cm (2 inches) each, of Toulouse sausage (scalded and roasted)
200 grams (1/2 lb) of carrots and 200 grams (1/2 lb) of onions cut into small cubes
6 garlic cloves, crushed and degermed
1 bouquet garni
2 tablespoonfuls concentrated tomato paste
150 grams (5 oz) goose fat
150 grams (5 oz) bread crumbs
Soak the dry beans overnight in unsalted water.
Next day, put the beans in a large pot and cover them with new water, add the two carrots and the onion with the cloves, the bouquet garni and the pork rinds. Season with pepper and DO NOT SALT. Cook at a slow boil and do not forget to progressively skim the froth that forms on the surface.
Using a large ovenproof dish, sweat the vegetables: carrots, garlic, onions and the bouquet garni in some goose fat for 10 minutes, covering on low heat.
During this time use a large frying pan to brown all of the meats in some goose fat (until they are quite brown). Then retrieve and drain the pieces (in order to remove excess fat). Add tomato paste to the large casserole where you cooked the vegetable garnish.
Cook this mixture for two minutes and then add the meats and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place in the oven and cook at 350°F (180°C or th6), covered, for 2 hours.
Check if the beans are cooked. Once they are almost ready add salt and drain the beans (put the carrots in the large casserole that is already in the oven) and set aside.
Use a needle to check if the meats are well cooked. Next, use a fork and a skimmer to retrieve the meat and the bouquet garni. Be careful not to leave any small bones at the bottom of the dish. Remove excess fat from the remaining vegetables using a spoon. Mix these vegetables in a blender and then put through a sieve, pressing strongly in order to obtain a delicious vegetable sauce. Check and adjust the seasoning.
Put the meat, the beans, the sausage and the pork rinds, cut into 8 pieces, in a large terracotta dish (better known as a “cassole” hence the name of this recipe “cassoulet”) and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes at 375°F (210°C ) and serve.
Try Cassoulet in The Pyrénées when you stay at one of Pierre & Vacances’ resorts in the region.
South of France…for a taste of the Med
Whilst regional recipes found simmering in the south of France are still likely to involve stewing, the further you head the south, the more likely you are to encounter seafood or fragrant herbes de Provence in the mix.
The original Bouillabaisse (bouï abaisso in Provençal, meaning boil and press “bout et abaisse”) was from the Calanque coast between Marseille and Toulon , although it is said to be invented at Saint-Raphaël. Although called a soup, this is really a main dish, a full meal in itself.
200ml / 1/3 pint of olive oil
2 onions thinly sliced
2 leeks trimmed and thinly sliced
3 tomatoes skinned seeded and chopped
4 garlic cloves crushed
1 sprig of fennel
1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 strip of orange peel without pith
750g / 1 ½ lbs shell fish e.g. crab mussels, king prawns
2 litre / 3 ½ pints of boiling water
salt and pepper
2.5kg / 5 lbs of fish e.g. monk fish, sea bass etc.
4 pinches of saffron powder.
Heat the oil in a large pan add the onions, leeks, chopped tomatoes and garlic.
Sauté over a low heat for 2-3 minutes until soft stirring from time to time.
Stir in the fennel. thyme, bay leaf and orange peel.
Add the shell fish, boiling water and some salt and pepper.
Turn up the heat and boil for about 3 minutes.
Reduce the heat and add the fish continue cooking for 12 to 15 mins over a medium heat.
The fish should be opaque and tender but still firm.
When the fish is cooked adjust the seasoning.
Stir in the powdered saffron and serve immediately.
Try Bouillabaisse in the South of France when you stay at one of Pierre & Vacances’ resorts in the region.
South West…for something a little rich
The emphasis in south-western France is on rich foods – more truffles, more Foie Gras and duck.
What you’ll need is 4-6 duck portions, rub salt into them and leave in a shallow covered dish for 5-6 hours.
Put your oven on low, 150 C/gas mark 2.
Wipe off the salt with kitchen paper and place all the pieces in a flameproof dish quite tightly, slightly brown both sides of the duck pieces very slowly, this can take 15-20 minutes.
Now cover your duck with enough duck fat to cover completely, pop it in your preheated oven for up to 2 hours. Then leave it to cool.
You can keep your duck preserved like that for a few days.
The idea is to warm the duck portions, not to cook again. The best way we found is to pan fry.
Heat a frying pan without any oil, as you already have duck fat around your pieces of duck.
Place the portions skin down and leave on a medium heat, do not move the pieces until they are a little crispy, then turn and do the other side.
‘Voila’ it’s ready!!
Serve with a salad or Potate Saladaise with Haricots Verts.
Try Confit de Canard in the South West of France when you stay at one of Pierre & Vacances’ resorts in the region.
With spectacular mountains, clear blue rivers, picturesque villages and rolling hills, the Ardèche region in the South of France is a natural beauty. But it’s not just a pretty face, oh no: the gorgeous scenery is there to be climbed, hiked, biked, fished, swam, caved, canyoned and canoed! Located in the South West Rhone-Alpes the scenic triangle of the Ardèche’s mountains and waterways centre on the Ardèche River and Gorges thus provide the perfect combination to make the region the adventure centre of France.
So whether you prefer riding a horse or a bike, climbing into dark caves or canyon jumping, paddling down clear rivers or swimming in them there’s something to keep you exploring. Here’s our top ten must try activities when in the adventure Ardèche:
1. Canoeing and Kayaking
There isn’t a law against coming to this region and not getting into a canoe, but there should be! The Ardèche has some of the best rivers in the whole of Europe for canoeing and kayaking, whatever your level of experience.
The season runs from April to September and you can choose from the Ardèche and Chassezac Gorges, or the rapids of the Eyrieux River. Vallon Pont d’Arc is the main hub for canoe hire and tours of the Ardèche Gorges, a tranquil town in the winter that bursts into life during the season with bustling cafes and bars. There are various trips available, of varying lengths. From Vallon to St Martin there are 32km of gorges with plenty of beaches along the way and the Pont d’Arc itself, a natural bridge 60 m wide and 45 m high, carved by the river.
For something a little different, the boatmen of the Ardèche will take you down the gorges in flat-bottomed boats.
2. Waterways and beaches for swimming
From the warm shallows of the beautiful white riverbank sand beaches to crystal clear deep swimming holes, these waterways are a paradise for plunging. As well as the bigger routes through the gorges there are smaller, quieter mountain rivers with plentiful pools.
3. Wild paths for hiking
The beauty of the Ardèche is equally appealing seen on foot, with some of the most diverse vistas in France – much of it wild and untamed. There are numerous hiking trails and walking paths marked out, with trained guides on hand for those who want to learn more about the landscape.
4. Mountains trails for biking
Second to the Gorges, the Ardèche is probably best known for its cycling. The Tour de France has been known to tackle its winding roads and L’Ardéchoise is an annual cycle race offering non-pro riders from across the globe the opportunity to compete the circuits.
There are miles of mapped mountain biking trails to help adrenaline junkies tackle this rugged, hilly region. It’s not all uphill however, routes such as the old disused steam train track linking Lamastre with Le Cheylard offering much gentler slopes.
5. Treks and mountains for horse riding
Tally ho and ride ‘em cowboy! From pony trekking to mountaineering by mule or good old fashioned horseback riding, there’s a four legged friend for everyone. You can saunter along – even across – the rivers, through forests and vineyards, taking in the scenery at a leisurely pace.
6. The best dark depths for caving
The Ardèche is a veritable speleologist’s nirvana! There are around 10,000 caves and caverns set into the region’s limestone cliffs and gorges, with new ones discovered annually. Uncover your spirit of discovery as you head out with a guide into the dank depths of some of the underground cavities.
7. Gorges for canyoning
Like the idea of caving but just not energetic enough for you?!? Get to grips with the bottom of the Gorges by canyoning – sliding, swimming, jumping and scrabbling your way along.
8. Mountains and crags for climbing
If you have a head for heights (rather than depths) then climbing the limestone crags may be the adrenaline boost for you!
You can also tackle the Via Ferratta or ‘Iron Road’ near Thueyts, a mountain route equipped with fixed cables, ladders and bridges, crossing the upper Ardèche River.
9. Plentiful rivers for fishing
Whether you want to fly fish or ‘cast a spinner’, you’ll be hooked on the fishing in the Ardèche. Trout, carps, eels and pike are river regulars.
Novice anglers can head to Les Pêcheurs close to the town of Montselgues, a fishery consisting of 27 ponds, ideal for perfecting your fly fishing skills.
10. Winter for skiing and snowshoeing!
Not famed for its skiing, the Ardèche does have a handful of resorts for alpine skiing, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
Stay in the heart of the Ardèche
Set in the Ardèche, the Rouret Holiday village is a 100-acre multi-activity resort in a valley surrounded by diverse vegetation of pine, plane, eucalyptus, cypress and green oak trees.