The Ardèche is a mountainous and rural region in France ¾ of the way down and towards the right side of the country. It’s known for its chestnut trees, peaches, mushrooms, Pogne, and locals navigating hairpin roads in rattling cars at speeds that make Canadian country roads look pokey.
D and I were married in the Ardèche and taking the kids there was something we’ve wanted to do for a while. I got a bit philosophical with Bou when we arrived and waxed on (and on) about this being the land of my grandfather and that it was in our blood. He nodded and asked for ice cream. But I think I made an impression. Or the land did.
Drive up from the Midi, crest a ridge of hills higher than the last and you’ve arrived. The region’s gorges, rivers, and caves attract kayakers, hikers, and spelunkers and Vallon-Pont-d’Arc is the site of some of the most spectacular Paleolithic-era cave paintings. These are off-limits for preservation purposes, but there are plenty of other ancient and medieval remains to visit.
In my early 20s I crisscrossed France for a few months with a friend, camping and driving an old Citroën 2CV. After being rained on for close to a week, and thoroughly wet, cold, and hungry, we pulled up in front of a café. The owner and his daughter took pity on us and filled us up with hot chocolate and goulash. Once they discovered we were Canadian out came old family albums. Seems the proprietor was a cabbie in Montréal for a few years—the Canadian one.
Several hours later, after the many bowls of warm stew had done their job, we prepared to leave and began saying our goodbyes. When the ex-cabbie learned we were headed to the Ardèche he insisted we stay at his family home in Montréal—the French one. He handed us the keys to his house, gave us directions, told us to stay as long as we liked, and then leave the keys under the old flowerpot beside the front door when we left. Little wonder I love it so much.
We still have family in the Ardèche and no shortage of places to stay. First it was close to Valence and home of the best Pogne anywhere. Later it was in Saint-Pierreville where we were married. The village is perched on the side of a mountain and off the beaten path. It’s not on any train or public transit routes. If you don’t have your own transport, you won’t get there.
I’m torn between bragging about Saint-Pierreville and keeping it secret, but I’ll trust you to take good care of the place should you wander into the mountains. In the main square and across from the Mairie is a bakery that makes a great pain de campagne. Stroll up the hill and veer left for the butcher-épicerie. He sells local jams that are delicious. Also, you MUST buy confiture de marrons (or crème de marrons); a sweet spread made from chestnuts. That’s all you’re getting for now. I’m afraid I’ve said too much and the small hotel and campground won’t be able to handle the visitors.
After the first morning exploring the kids declared they loved our village. My job is done. It’s in their blood.