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Circular Tour through the Gorges de l'Ardèche, Gorges de l'Ardèche

Pont d'ArcPont d'Arc
The circular tour described below is approximately 150km/93mi long. In addition to the wildly romantic scenery this trip is also impressive for the karst caves, especially those of the Aven d'Orgnac, which are among the most important caves in France open to visitors. The vistas which open up on this drive are extremely impressive, particularly the many ever- changing views downwards to the rushing turquoise river.
The visitor who wants ample time to appreciate the scenery is recommended to devote a whole day to this tour.
Leaving Pont St-Esprit the road crosses the Rhône - not far north of its confluence with the Ardèche - on an old stone bridge nearly 1,000m/1,100yds long. There is an exceptionally charming view of the river frontage of the Old Town.
From Pont St-Esprit follow the N86 for a short distance and then bear left on to the D901, signposted "Gorges de l'Ardèche". This road, which is not within sight of the river, gradually climbs to the undulating higher slopes which are covered with scrub and bushes. Near Laval-St-Roman turn right off the D901 on to the D174 and, following the signs "Aven d'Orgnac", it is a further 9km/6mi to the village of Orgnac l'Aven, near which lies the cave.
Leaving Orgnac l'Aven, follow the D317 (which later becomes the D176) west. In a few kilometers there is a rewarding view on the right. In Barjac, turn north and cross the Ardèche this side of Vallon-Pont d'Arc. On the far side of the bridge turn right and follow the sign "Route Touristique des Gorges de l'Ardèche". The road (D290) now follows the course of the river for the most part. At first it winds through rock galleries; here there are some little grottoes including the Grotto of the Tunnel.
The road continues at varying distances from the river, which in this reach has dug its bed many hundred meters deep into the chalk. At the viewpoints (belvédères) there are adequate parking places; falling rocks are often a danger on this stretch.
On this part of the route lie the viewpoints of Belvédère du Serre de Tourre, Belvédère de Gaud, Belvédère d'Autridge and Belvédère de Gournier. Beyond the last-named the D590 branches off, and after just over 5km/3mi on this road we reach the Aven de Marzal.
The stretch of the D290 beyond the D590 turning follows the river; this section is known as the "Haute Corniche" and is especially charming. Here lie the best viewpoints - Belvédère de la Cathédrale (a view of the Cirque de la Madeleine), Balcon des Templiers and Belvédère de la Maladrerie (a magnificent view of the huge bend of the Ardèche), Belvédère de la Rouvière, Belvédère de la Coutelle, Grand Belvédère at the end of the gorge, Belvédère du Colombier and Belvédère du Ranc- Pointu, above the last bend of the river, with a fine view into the Rhône valley.
The return route to St-Esprit, where the tour started, is via St-Martin d'Ardèche.
The visitor with little time at his or her disposal can curtail the tour by taking the last part, the Haute Corniche, in the opposite direction from Pont St-Esprit. In this case the views become more impressive as far as the Balcon des Templiers. The visit can end with the Aven de Marzal.

Vallon-Pont-d'Arc - Aven d'Orgnac Cave

Aven d'Orgnac is one of the most splendid caves in France which are open to the public. In this dripstone cave, which was discovered on August 19 1935, there is an almost constant temperature of 13°C/55°F, so that in addition to stout footwear warm clothing is recommended. A visit, with a guide, lasts about an hour.
Only those parts of the extensive system of caves which were opened up by 1939 are accessible to the public. Continuations have been discovered since 1965 and to a great extent have been explored. Near the entrance stands a memorial to Robert de Joly (1887-1968), the discoverer and first investigator of the caves.

Historical Museum

In the hall of the building at the entrance a plan of the cave can be seen on the wall, and above it are displayed a number of objects which have been found there, including bones, pottery, etc. The cave is entered by an artificially constructed tunnel which leads to the "Great Hall" with its almost 25m/82ft high stalagmites. Visitors are photographed inside the cave and can take the photographs away with them when they leave.

Regional Museum of Prehistory

The Regional Museum of Prehistory is nearby. It includes displays depicting life from 350,000 to 750 BC.

Aven d'Orgnac - Forestière Aven and Cave

Not far northwest of the Aven d'Orgnac we find the Aven de la Forestière, a dripstone cave with some interesting formations; it was discovered in 1966 and since 1968 has been accessible to the public. It must be said, however, that it is not nearly so impressive as the Aven d'Orgnac.
Blind cave fish can be seen swimming in the waters in this cave.
Address: Route Départementale 217, F-07150 Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, France

Pont d'Arc

About 4km/2.5mi from Vallon-Pont d'Arc a large bridge-like rock arch can be seen on the right and through it flows the River Ardèche. The arch has headroom of 34m/112ft above the normal water level and a breadth of 60m/197ft at water level. The sandy stretches on the banks are popular as stopping places for people in boats. The best view of the Pont d'Arc is from a short distance away after driving round a little bluff.

St Remèze - Aven Marzal Cave

The dripstone cave Aven de Marzal was systematically investigated in 1892 by the famous French speleologist Edouard Martel (1859-1938), then it was forgotten again. Not until 1949 was it rediscovered, and it is now open to the public. There are guided tours every day between April and October; these last about one hour.
The cave is notable for its wealth of stalactites and stalagmites, sinter formations and crystals, the colors of which range from pure white through shades of ochre to brown. In the cave museum can be seen equipment - ladders, boats, diving apparatus, etc. - which was used in the various phases of the exploration of the Aven de Marzal.
The cave goes 125 meters below the surface and includes giant cauldrons, and fascinating speleothems in the Tomb Room and the Diamond Room.
The cave is next to the Museum of the Underground World and the Prehistoric Zoo, which has life-size models of prehistoric animals.
Address: Saint-Remeze, F-07700 Ardèche, France

Ardèche - Madeleine Grotto

The Grotte de la Madeleine has beautiful dripstones - among them the completely irregular "excentriques" - and sinter formations. A guided tour lasts about an hour. Nearby is the viewpoint Belvédère de la Madeleine.
The grotto was discovered by a shepherd in 1867, but it was not opened to the public until 1969. The caves have domed ceilings with thousands of stalagmites and stalactites which shine with the help of artificial lighting.

Belvédères de la Corniche

On the Circular tour through the Gorges de l'Ardèche, after Grotte de la Madeleine, the stretch of the D290 beyond the D590 turns following the river. This section is known as the "Haute Corniche" and is especially charming. Here lie the best viewpoints - Belvédère de la Cathédrale (a view of the Cirque de la Madeleine), Balcon des Templiers and Belvédère de la Maladrerie (a magnificent view of the huge bend of the Ardèche), Belvédère de la Rouvière, Belvédère de la Coutelle, Grand Belvédère at the end of the gorge, Belvédère du Colombier and Belvédère du Ranc-Pointu, above the last bend of the river, with a fine view into the Rhône valley.
The return route to St-Esprit, where the tour started, is via St-Martin d'Ardèche.

Gorges de l'Ardèche Circular Tour - Shorter Alternative

The visitor with little time at his or her disposal can curtail the tour by taking the last part, the Haute Corniche, in the opposite direction from Pont St-Esprit. In this case the views become more impressive as far as the Balcon des Templiers. The visit can end with the Aven de Marzal.

St Marcel d'Ardeche Caves

A hunter accidentally discovered the caves in 1837, but they were used almost exclusively for research until they were opened to the public in 1989. The caves were formed by one of the oldest fossil rivers running through the continent. There are numerous galleries and large rooms with draperies, soda straws, pillars, stalagmites, stalactites, and shallow pools. The natural wonders are enhanced by an intricate lighting system.
Address: BP 2, F-07700 St-Marcel d'Ardèche, France

Vallon-Pont-d'Arc - Tunnels Cave

The cave was discovered in 1937 and opened to the public in 1953. There are numerous stalagmites, many of which are still growing in humidity levels that often top 90%.
Address: Route des Gorges, F-07150 Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, France

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