We hardly had time to recover from our trip to Morocco, when we found ourselves from yet another flight. Destination this time was Nîmes, in the south of France. This time, it was not just the two of us. We had a couple of friends with us. Waffles colleagues, Vanessa and Guy. Waffles parents have a second home right at the gorge of Ardèche, at the side of a medieval village called Aiguèze, that would be our base camp.
It was a very beautiful spot. Right next to the water tower, on a hill above the village. Nicely isolated in solitude with a splendid view. Freezing cold as well, since it happened to be the first week of winter over there, we got to enjoy temperatures of 0 – 6 degrees, also in the house.
Aiguèze is listed to be one of the most beautiful villages in the whole world, or at least in France, and it is nicely lit during the evening hours, so of course a short walk was required. We strolled towards the center of the village, on narrow streets, stared at the bell tower and sniffed the cooling evening air. The village indeed is very pretty.
The next day we were expecting a bad weather, with heavy rain and wind, temperatures hardly climbing above zero. Everybody woke up with not so big expectations, only to find nicely brisk and sunny morning outside, topped off by a distant call of a hunting horn. A road trip day turned into a day with short hikes.
We started off, walking through Aiguèze and headed for the plateau, which is sliced by the canyon of the river Ardeche. Despite the chilly temperature, the sun heated us up quickly while walking up the hill. The soil over there pushes up wild herbs. So that you end up walking through the sent of thyme and mints, while acorns crackle under your feet. There you really can experience nature strongly with all your senses.
Those grounds are full of boar. You see their marks everywhere, the whole bed of the forest seems to be turned around in the vigorous hunt for truffles and other mushrooms. We happened to come around when it was season for hunting boar. It didn’t take long until we met the first hunters, who had already gotten lucky with the hunt. They warned us about maybe angry boar, but let us continue further in any case.
We ended the walk to vineyards, already prepared for winter. We looked closely enough, and found some grapes left behind. So sweet they were, could have stayed with the for quite some time. Talking about the ways of the world.
The rain clouds rolled in, so our gang hopped into a car, and headed for a scenic route alongside the canyon. An hour or two we drove the serpentine roads, hopping into the wind and rain every now and then to snap pictures. Our destination was the biggest natural arch in Europe, being Pont d’arc. Magnificent stone formation, no denying that. That was our relaxed start for the weekend. Sunday and the main hike through the Ardeche canyon was still to come.
In the morning we found our noses stuck to a map and breakfast. We were looking for a good loop for us to walk. The one chosen would take us down a mild descent, right to the bottom of the canyon. After which we would be able to follow the river for a few kilometers until returning back up to the plateau.
Weather was treating us pretty good. The day was perfectly chilly for hiking and the sunlight lit the white walls of the canyon and gave the river a set of different colors too. We explored a cave too, found trails and slides of otters. It was a very pleasant day hike that one. The silence in the car on the return journey told the story of rather happy and tired hikers.
The last day we still payed a visit to the Mediterranean, the blue sea on the other side and snow covered mountains watching after us while we crossed the salt flats of Camargue. What might be a surprise for many, is that in Camargue there is a healthy population of flamingos. We were still able to spot a few of them, resisting the cold of oncoming winter.
I have a slight feeling Ardèche region might be calling us next year too. The area is lovely to hike, it is filled with hidden swimming paradises and has about the best weather of whole Europe. And if we happen to grow bored of Ardèche, there is always the national park of Cévennes right around the corner.