With the Olympics looming and the South East of England look set to become a giant version of Piccadilly Circus, the temptation to escape the Olympics and have a sporting holiday of our own is all too much. So with that in mind, OAG’s Mary Creighton jets to the Rhône Alpes for the ultimate outdoor adventure (and a bit of Olympic escapism.)
THE RHÔNE ALPES. If you’ve ever skied in France, chances are it was here. The North East is home to the French Mega resorts; Chamonix; Tignes; The Three Valleys, they’re all there. But travel south and the departments of the Ardèche and Drôme are incomparable.
More Provencal than Alpine, in the very south of the region there’s an almost Mediterranean feel; olive oil, not butter; stone houses, not chalets; and, crucially for us vitamin D starved Brits, a whole lot of sun.
But the best bit: it has to be the outdoors. The diversity of the region makes it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, whether you’re introducing the brood to camping for the first time, or looking for an adrenaline-fuelled escape.
A long weekend in the Rhône Alpes will see you climbing the iron way in the morning, cycling valleys after lunch and wild swimming before you’ve had dinner. What’s not to like.
What to do
The iconic Ardèche Gorge has long been the go-to shot for holiday brochures, but with it’s blue green water, playful rapids and film-worthy scenery it’s also a must do for canoeists, whatever your ability.
Sit-on-top kayaks are for rent all along the gorges and you can paddle up to 25km of Europe’s Grand Canyon, complete with a stay at one of the many campsites that flank the river.
It’s suitable for beginners and families (so long as you can swim) but be prepared for a topple in the Charlemagne rapids, just before the legendary Pont d’Arc, especially if the water’s low.
Visit www.adventure-canoes.fr for more information.
Translation: being dragged up a mountain by a husky. The well-trained huskys are attached to your midriff via an elasticised leash meaning none of the arm pulling pain of traditional dog-walking.
Read more about our husky-hiking adventure.
With such a diverse landscape, the cycling in Rhone Alpes can be as thigh-burning or as gentle on the legs as you like.
If you want Tour De France style climbs, try the mountainous sections of the Via Rhona, a 650km route that takes you from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, passing through both the Drome and the Ardeche on its way.
If you’re with the kids take them for an amble down the Drome valley starting at Mirable et Blacons. Peaceful roads, gentle climbs and traffic-free sections await you. Safran Tours can organise bikes, routes and accommodation for you.
For a day hike head to the Massif de Crussol. Starting and finishing in St Peray, the 15 km trail passes under the ruins of the Chateau de Crussol, taking in steep, craggy paths, before snaking back around through the woodland. Watch out for fell-runners, Nordic walkers and orchids a-plenty.
There’s also a plethora of long distance paths to explore, from the route de Vercors to the route d’Ardeche.
Combine culture with a bit of adrenaline induced leg-shaking in the Drome Valley town of Crest. Towering over the town is the Crest Tower. At 52m, it’s the highest dungeon in France, and its outside wall just happens to be open for abseiling.
But if 52m wasn’t high enough, its cliff-top location makes it feel even further from solid ground. Only for the strong-hearted…
Follow the iron way with ladders, steps and ropes in the Vercors Alpes or the Devil’s Bridge in the Ardèche Valley. Guaranteed to give your arms a work out and your mind a blast if you’re new to rock climbing, be sure to get a guide.
Stay right on the Ardeche Gorge, just a paddle away from the Pont d’Arc
Where to stay
For bourgeois style retro try the remote, 15th century Chateau du Besset, tucked away at the end of a single track drive in 25 acresof woodland. Great for couples with just three retro-style rooms starting from €175 per night.
For an eco luxury stay right by the river opt for the Lodge du Pont d’Arc.
With canvas lodges from €110 and rooms from €95. You can kayak or wild swim in the Ardeche gorge straight from the Hotel
For happy-go-lucky campers head try Les Coudelets. Family run, child friendly and a great base for exploring the Ardèche and Drome regions. From €14 per night.
How to get there
Fly to Lyon from Gatwick, Edinburgh or Stanstead with Easy jet or with BMI from Manchester.
Take the Eurostar to Paris and then the high-speed TGV to Valence or Lyon.