Imagine a crystal clear river lazily winding its way through a gorge of towering limestone cliffs, topped with the greenest of trees that grow beneath a bright blue sky with the sun sparkling on the water. Then imagine sitting in a canoe in that river, slowly paddling your way down the flowing water, with not a soul around you apart from the occasional eagle soaring above your head and small fish swimming beneath your boat. Imagine passing by the most amazing geological formations, from 300m limestone cliffs to the famous archway of the Point d’Arc, all in utter silence apart from nature slowly revolving around you. This is the Ardeche River if you go during the spring.
The locals insist that the conditions in the spring months are preferable. The sun is not too hot, a cool breeze keeps the air fresh and the river runs at a cool temperature perfect for swimming. As well as this, the water levels are a little higher from the previous months winter melt, so there is less chance of your boat hitting rocks on the river bed.
In the summer months, the Ardeche River is awash with up to 5000 tourists per day, loudly crashing their way down the river. However, if you go in April or early May, it’s a whole different ball game. It’s a common occurrence to paddle down the river and not see another soul. Hire a canoe and spend 2 or 3 days canoeing down the river, camping on its banks in the designated bivouacking sites. You can stop off at any point and have a picnic, exploring the multitude of caves and caverns that feature in the cliffs on either side of the river. You can marvel at the vast size of the rock faces that tower above you, occasionally spotting a rock climber or two making their way up. Sit back and marvel at the beautiful scenery around you. Lastly, if you are lucky, as you come round the final bend of the river, you may be mesmerised by a wooden recorder being played deep in the woods, echoing off the cliffs; a truly fantastic natural auditorium.
At the end of your trip, you will be picked up by the hiring company and taken back to your car. It couldn’t be easier.
So, if you know when to go, the Ardeche doesn’t need to be a chaotic trip of boat crashes, school trips and thousands of tourists. It can be a surreal and wonderful experience, opening your eyes to how beautiful and dramatic nature can be.