Camping in Auvergne
Largely shaped through volcanic activity many thousands of years ago, the Auvergne landscape is truly spectacular. Forming part of a large region known as the Massif Central, this is an area of staggering beauty that comprises jagged peaks, countless volcanoes, lunar-like craters, quaint rural villages, lush green woodland, fertile pastures, mineral springs and deep blue lakes. All that makes Auvergne a wonderful area for outdoor enthusiasts.
In fact, the rich landscape of inland France is ideal for a variety of activities including canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing and even white-water rafting. There are numerous opportunities for walking, hiking, cycling, mountain biking and climbing. While the countless hilltop castles, churches and fascinating extinct volcanoes and deep canyons mean no shortage of things to explore.
Having escaped the main tourist trail for years, largely because of its geography, the Auvergne still relies heavily on agriculture for its income. Thanks to the volcanic landscape, however, there is also a thriving mineral water industry.
The rivers of the Auvergne are a spawning ground for salmon. Its pastures have been enriched by the volcanic action of years gone by. While spa towns, such as Vichy, Chaudes-Aigues and Le Mont-Dore are renowned by many for the thermal properties of their waters.
In a land where the local dialect, ‘Auvergnat’, is still proudly spoken by the majority, colourful festivals are important parts of everyday life, and are used to celebrate religious events as well as mark dates on the rural calendar, such as harvest time. Visit the Auvergne on such an occasion and you may well see locals in traditional costume.
Local cuisine is hearty and typically involves meat, fish and chicken. Whilst for cheese lovers, Auvergne may just be Heaven, as there are numerous local varieties, the most famous of which is undoubtedly Roquefort. Many local wines are renowned for their quality, while the produce of the neighbouring Rhône Valley, including Beaujolais, is also in ample supply.
Camping in the Ardèche & Cévennes
Right at the very heart of France, the Ardèche and Cévennes are regions of jagged peaks, rocky precipices, pretty hillsides and spectacular limestone ravines that channel delightfully meandering blue-green rivers. The product of intense volcanic activity, then painstaking sculpture by wind and water over millions of years – the natural features of these regions make it the perfect place for a relaxing or action-packed holiday.
In fact, whether it’s taking it easy, sightseeing, walking, hiking, climbing, mountain biking, horse riding, or canoeing along one of those many sleepy rivers, you won’t be disappointed.
Forming the far eastern flank of France’s awesome Massif Central, the hillsides and valleys of the Ardèche and the Cévennes are dotted with some of the country’s most picturesque villages, as well as the ruins of feudal fortifications and age-old reminders of Roman times. A place offering a wealth of outdoor activities for the entire family, the Ardèche is home to the ‘Grand Canyon of France’, a 300-metre deep gorge carved over countless years by the Ardèche River.
Then there’s the Aven d’Orgnac, a vast series of illuminated underground caves. Plus the incredible Pont d’Arc, a huge limestone bridge carved out by the river at Vallon Pont d’ Arch, must not be missed. Gently paddling a canoe beneath this amazing natural wonder is a holiday adventure you’ll fondly remember.
The town of Vals-les-Bains is famous for its hot springs. Montélimar is the home of nougat. Numerous opportunities for tasting delightful local wines exist across the countryside. And Armagnac – the perfect conclusion to any meal – is distilled in nearby Gascony.
After a busy day exploring, you’ll no-doubt have worked up quite an appetite. Thankfully, the dishes of this rural landscape are simple yet particularly satisfying and can include pork, potatoes and vegetables. A speciality of the Ardèche is ‘Cousina’ a hot and creamy sweet potato soup.
Nothing in the preparation of this famous blue-marbled cheese is left to chance and in the caves of Roquefort-Sur-Soulzon you can see the meticulous care that goes into making Roquefort. From the careful selection of Ewes’ milk to the use of rock cellars and oak storage tables deep in the heart of a mountain, the entire cheese-making process is steeped in tradition.
Reputed to be the deepest gorges in Europe, the beautiful Gorges du Tarn stretch for almost 50km, and provide an awesome canyon for the Tarn River. Along the Gorges du Tarn, you will find half-hidden ancient castles as well as many vantage points providing quite incredible views.
Sitting in a valley created by the River Volane, Vals-les-Bains is home to over 100 springs, each containing different minerals. In the town’s park, a spring erupts skyward, to a height of around 25 feet, four times a day.
Carved out over the centuries by the Ardèche River, France’s ‘Grand Canyon’ provides a fascinating afternoon’s drive. (For the best views, take the D290, but drive carefully!) There are spectacular vistas along the route and some clearly signposted footpaths to follow.
Often considered as the “Gateway to the Cévennes”, Anduze is an attractive market town. The town is renowned for its Roman history, garland-decorated pottery and its proud association with the Protestant faith. The town’s clock tower is all that remains of the ramparts that were destroyed in the 17th Century. See the giant bamboos of the nearby Bambouseraie de Prafrance and take the little tourist steam train into the hills to St Jean de Gard.
With its massive ramparts, attractive 12th Century bridge, majestic 14th Century Palais des Papes, statues, museums, and cobbled streets, Avignon is nothing short of breathtaking. Exceptionally cosmopolitan, the city was once a leading artistic centre, something that can be witnessed through the lavishly decorated buildings that adorn its streets. Take in the views from the top of the ramparts. Enjoy a leisurely stroll down the stylish Rue Joseph Vernet. And, if visiting between mid July and early August, soak up the street theatre that accompanies the annual Festival d’Avignon.
The town has a richly decorated Roman triumphal arch and a splendidly preserved Roman theatre that is still used for shows today.
Carved out of the surrounding landscape by the Ardèche River, this incredible natural bridge is around 60 metres wide and almost 50 metres high. Hire a canoe or kayak locally and paddle beneath the archway.
They’ve been producing delicious nougat here for over 300 years, using nuts, honey, vanilla and egg whites plus other tasty ingredients. You can tour several of the nougat makers’ businesses and stock up on your favourite sweet treats!
With their incredible illuminated rock formations and breathtaking chambers, the Aven d’Orgnac caves are a must-see on your Keycamp holiday to the Ardèche. The route stretches for some 500 metres and the professional guides explain how the stalagmite and stalactite formations were created. You return to the surface by lift.
Located at the meeting point of the Rivers Dourdou and Ouche, Conques was once a popular resting place for pilgrims. Today, with its ancient winding streets and medieval houses clinging to the hillside, the village makes a fascinating destination for exploring. For the best views of Conques, try to plan your visit slightly later in the afternoon when the majority of sightseers will have headed back to their holiday accommodation. If you have time, visit the village’s abbey church of Sainte-Foy.
With its 16th Century château and beautiful arched Gothic bridge, charming Estaing simply has to be one of the most beautiful medieval villages in France. The Church of Saint Fleuret holds the remains of Estaing’s patron saint and every first Sunday in July, the village comes alive with a spectacular feast commencing with an hour-long procession.
Sitting above the River Ander, St Flour is a bustling market town with narrow streets, an amazing old quarter and an imposing gothic cathedral. The old streets, with their quirky houses, are fascinating, as is the Postal Museum (Musée Postal d’ Auvergne). To find out a little more about cheese-making in the region, visit the Musée de la Haute-Auvergne.
The enchanting town of Espalion lies alongside the River Lot and boasts old balconied houses, a wonderful 13th Century packhorse bridge and a particularly grand 16th Century château. Espalion was once a centre of leather production and if you head along the riverside quarter, the old houses you’ll pass were once used as tanneries. In more recent times, Espalion was the home of the inventors of diving suits! The 11th Century Château de Calmont d’Olt enjoys breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and the Musée Joseph Vaylet provides an insight into local life.
This charming restored medieval town has proclaimed itself as the ‘First Duchy of France’ and is famous for its colourful Saturday market, narrow streets, squares and Romanesque bell tower. The market is a particularly good spot to pick up local herbs and can be found on the aptly named Place Aux Herbes. With its shaded squares, Uzès is also the perfect place to relax over a coffee and watch the world go by.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pont Du Gard aqueduct provides a breathtaking reminder of the skills of Roman architects and engineers. Standing 50m high and built on three levels (the longest covers no less than 275 metres), the aqueduct spans the River Gard and was built to supply water to the Roman city of Nîmes. The aqueduct stands in a beautiful setting and is a must-see during your Keycamp holiday to Cévennes.
If you visit the Pont du Gard aqueduct before exploring Nîmes, you will be well-prepared for the Roman splendour that awaits you in this elegant city. Often referred to as the “Rome of France”, Nîmes has a well-preserved amphitheatre, an elegant Roman temple (Maison Carrée), the Castellum (the distribution point for water from the Pont du Gard) as well as a fascinating archaeological museum with a rich collection of Roman artefacts. The narrow streets of the old town are worth exploring, as is the sparkling arts complex and the glitzy stores. Nîmes hosts regular festivals throughout the year.
L'Ardèchois is perfectly located, on the banks of the River Ardèche and close to the stunning Pont d'Arc. Excellent facilities are also available on parc.
On the shores of the beautiful Lac de la Selves, an impressive parc in beautiful unspoilt countryside, which offers superb views and the chance to explore the region.
A combination of excellent parc facilities and a peaceful location make this an excellent choice, with plenty of opportunities to explore the villages and gorges of this lovely area.
With commanding views of the Cévennes National Park, Val de Cantobre is a favourite for walkers and nature lovers.
An ideal parc for those who enjoy the great outdoors, located in the breathtaking Ardèche, close to the beautiful town of Largentière.
With its own private beach on the banks of the River Ardèche and situated at the foot of the Château de Sampzon, this is an attractive parc with a friendly atmosphere.
The perfect opportunity to have a second Keycamp holiday!
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