The second gorge we visited in France was the Gorges de l'Ardeche. Out of the three gorges that we drove through, this one was my favorite for a couple of reasons, but mostly because I felt like it was the best marked with signs and markers along the way and had good viewpoints with plenty of parking and space to look around. The Gorges de l'Ardeche begins at one end at the Pont d'Arc, a large natural stone arch over the Ardeche River. The water was a bit chilly for me (after all, it was still early April), but Danny swam out to the middle of the river while we were at the Pont d'Arc, joining kayakers and canoers, as well as a few other brave swimmers (mostly kids and teenagers). The water was peaceful and the beach was nice and sandy, so I imagine it only increases in popularity as the weather heats up.
We stopped at nearly every overlook as we drove through the gorge and felt like the vast majority of the overlooks offered really good views. Of course, some were a bit obscured due to foliage or trees, or some were just better than others due to their placement along the river, but overall we were really happy with how everything was arranged and organized. Information about the three gorges we visited (Gorges du Tarn, Gorges de l'Ardeche, and Gorges du Verdon) wasn't quite as thorough as I might have liked in my guidebook and online, so I would say if you were only going to pick one, based on quality of infrastructure and amount of overlooks, I'd choose the Gorges de l'Ardeche. Plus the Pont d'Arc at the beginning is pretty special.
I'd be remiss if I didn't note that we were warm when visiting in early April, so if planning a visit, do take note of the time of year, weather forecast, etc. Spring and fall are probably the best times to visit. I highly recommend the Gorges de l'Ardeche - stunning scenery, chances to get in/on the water, and well-marked viewpoints along the way, plus before and after entering the gorge, we visited the lovely towns of Labeaume (more here!) and Aigueze (come back tomorrow)!
D - Like Shannon, this was probably my favorite gorge that we drove through. It was...well...you know...gorgeous. The only down side is that the drive through is pretty long, so you might find yourself battling Museum Syndrome. Museum Syndrome is what I call the phenomenon of being so surrounded and inundated with beauty that it causes one to under-appreciate all of it. This happens because beauty starts to feel like the norm. You begin to take beauty for granted. If I saw just one masterpiece from the Prado, I would probably be much more amazed by its beauty than I would be if I had just looked at hundreds of masterpieces in moments just before. I'm not saying people shouldn't visit art museums. I'm just saying that people need to be careful when they do. Go slow. Take everything in. Stop and smell the roses. At any rate, this is an incredible drive. The river looks super blue throughout the drive and I love impromptu swims more than just about anything else in the world. My only regret is that I didn't have any goggles! Next time for sure...
See more from our road trip around southern France: our day in Toulouse here, and all of our stops on our first day: Cahors, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Bouzies, Rocamadour, Padirac Cave, Loubressac, and Figeac. We began our second day in Marcillac-Vallon and Belcastel, made a stop at the Viaduc de Millau before heading into the Gorges du Tarn, and finally checked out the lovely Sainte-Enimie. That night, we stayed in Le-Pont-de-Montvert.
We started our third day in Labeaume before driving to the Gorges de l'Ardeche.