Saturday, 21 July 2007

The Ardeche

This post covers our descent down the Ardeche in canoe and our stay at.... yet another vineyard!

On Sunday 15 July we headed towards the town of Vallon Pont D’Arc in the Ardeche region. The first town we came to was very picturesque, but it was difficult getting through the narrow streets, Ace only just managing to squeeze through in a couple of places. Up and up we drove around hairpin bends, eventually driving along a plateau, passing small towns, the odd vineyard, and lavender fields. On some parts of the road, there were signs warning the road was crumbling away at the sides! We then drove down the steep descent to Vallon Pont D’Arc. Every second car we saw was Belgian, I’m not sure if there is anyone left in Brussels this time of year!
Left: Lavender in the Ardeche region

We parked up at a canoeing place and decided to do a 6km descent of the Ardeche. Being a weekend in summer, the river was packed with canoes. It was very hot and Sarah and I applied several layers of sun cream. They told us it would take an hour and a half to do the descent without stopping, but we managed to do 4km in about 40 minutes, so we stooped near the Pont D’Arc for a rest after we’d managed to successfully steer through the rapids. Pont D’Arc is a natural bridge formed by water wearing away at the rock over centuries. There are a few small beaches here and as this areas is several hours from the sea, they were packed. At 3pm we got a minibus back from the pickup point, returning to an extremely hot Ace. After driving up yet another hill for a view over the Ardeche, we looked up our Aire de Service and France Passion books.

We headed to the town of Saint Remeze where there were already 6 motorhomes parked up for the night in the hot sun. Most of the shade had been taken by their tables and chairs, so we headed to a nearby… wait for it… vineyard! By choice of course, the aire was fine but on a main road and not much room or privacy.
Left: Me on the Ardeche

We arrived at ??? where a friendly lady came to speak to us and showed us where to park up, right next to the grapes. We then asked to visit the cave and she took us into a huge sheds. We sat down for a degustation (tasting) surround by huge stainless steel vats. I chatted to her in French about the vineyard, her family, the wine and our travels. We tried the Rosé, Rosé Merlot, Gris de Grenache Rosé, a white wine and a Syrah red. After all this we were starting to feel a bit tipsy! We bought a bottle of Grenache and a bottle of Merlot rosé.

The vineyard also grows Lavender which is then taken to the local Lavender distillery and turned into Lavender Oil. After she heard this could not only be used as a disinfectant but also as a weapon against pesky insects, Sarah couldn’t help herself! Sarah got me to ask if you could clean the toilet with it, but as it turns out, she only meant an odour disinfectant!
Above left: Some would say the best view of Sarah? JOOOOOOKE!!!!
Below left: Pont D'Arc

Sarah sat outside enjoying the sunshine, occasionally going non-nighs after our restless nights sleep. I was in the kitchen, getting stuck into the Grenache cooking up some chicken and home made chips! After dinner I sat out in the chair watching the sun sink over the grapevines, enjoying the Grenache a few metres away from where they were grown. It doesn’t get any better than this!

The next morning we went and said our goodbyes to Madame who was doing a wine tasting with some Danish people. We thanked her for letting us stay and returned to Ace. Monsieur was blocking the road with his tractor, using a huge hose to fill it with water. We gestured to us to drive on the grass around him and we shouted “Merci!” as we drove off. We drove a few kilometeres to Saint Remeze, the fourth time we had been through this village in 24 hours. There was an aire de service here so we filled up with water and emptied the chemical toilet. We used our hose to fill Ace but it wasn’t filling up very quickly so Sarah started using a plastic 5 litre bottle. A French family offered us the use of their hose but after thanking them we declined as we were almost full anyway. Just as we were driving off, I spotted another woman sprinting across the car park towards us, we’d left the small access door to the chemical toilet open! Oh the shame…
Left and below: Lavender Museum

We went and visited the Lavender distillery we’d been told about, which is also a Lavender Museum. There was a lot of different lavender products in the shop and it seems like Sarah got a good deal buying direct from the farm. Somehow we managed to sneak accidentally into the museum to look at some displays on how lavender oil is produced. My very basic understanding is that the lavender is thrown in a big cooking pot, the steam which contains the essential oil then goes through a still and then into a vat where the water and lavender oil separate because one is denser than the other. Smelling sweet as erm.. lavender, we headed off on our next adventure.

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