MTCE Spring Meeting 2016: Ardèche / France
"Loup à Coucouron, cigale à Vallon"
("Wolf in the North, cicada in the South")
This picture of an old saw indicates the variety of the region. The Montagne Ardéchoise and the Cévennes are the southern foothills of the Massif Central, located at the transition to the plains in front of the Mediterranean coast. Here the Midi begins, the Mediterranean South of France. Wild rivers like Ardèche, Tarn, or Jonte meander through one of the most impressive regions of France. Deep canyons, rough high plains, huge stalactite caves, barren mountains, and colourful chestnut woods conflate to a unique nature spectacle. The uncountable scenic attractions fascinate every visitor, hence it will be easily forgotten that there are tiny towns with castles, which are the most beautiful ones in France, formidable lonesome bastions, and famous vineyard along the way.
The special charm of the Ardèche is the change of culture, climate, and vegetation zones and the harsh, extreme beauty of the landscape. The area around Privas is known as "green Ardèche" because of its woods and meadows, which are in contrast to the better known "Ardèche méridionale", the Mediterranean southern part. Along the river Rhône there is wine at the hillsides, but west of St-Pierreville and Aubenas there are untouched valleys and endless chestnut woods which glow colourfully in autumn.
The hills rise continuously going west from the Rhône valley, and the vegetation changes in parallel to the altitude. Conifers, beeches, and sweet chestnuts dominate in the Montagne Ardéchoise, more and more mixed up with gorse, heather, and blueberries. Water is everywhere, coming from innumerable springs, often bottled as mineral water or used in sanative thermal baths.
"Midi moins le quart" - the locals call the zone between the Massif Central and the coast plains of the Languedoc "a quarter to South". You will already find Mediterranean plants in the sunny south of the department Ardèche, olive trees, rape-vine, oleander, lavender, and the Garrigue with evergreen oaks, strawberry trees, juniper, low shrubs, and acerbly smelling herbs. The majestic Rhône in the east is the border between the departments Ardèche and Drôme. Hikers, bicyclists, and climbers find their little paradises in one of the diversified regions of southern France: pure nature, medieval villages, nice quarry stone holiday homes, colourful markets, charming pebble beaches on Ardèche and Chassezac, lavender fields on the Plateau de Gras. Not to forget the most spectacular attraction, the Canyon of the Gorges de l'Ardèche.
The way to a man's heart is through his stomach. This is nowhere more true than in France. Though Ardèche and Cévennes are not the center of star decorated restaurants, kitchen and wine cellars appear at their best. The local cooks access the products of the moutains, rivers, and woods of the Massif Central as well as of Mediterranean plains. You will not find meat from industrial livestock farming on your table. There is no need for it since sheep, hogs, and cattle graze on the meadow nearby. Beside rabbit. lamb, pork, and venison there are cabbage, asparagus, cèpes, or chanterelles. And fresh herbs are ubiquitous, as well as chestnuts.
A good base to mount the bike and enjoy the fantastic little roads, twisting through the valley and up and down the hills. These are often just single track roads since there is simple no more space left over for civilisation traffic in this unpolished diamond of landscape.
The MTCE Spring Meeting 2016 was from May 29th to June 4th, 2016.
Base camp was Camping Les Charmilles in Les Clapas. Location: N44° 38.022' E4° 30.421'
Very many thanks to the owners Maaike and Martin whose hospitality let us have such a great time.