The Villaret Trail

Hiking distance : 5.5 km ; Hiking time : 2

Doorway in Massufret (1769)
The Luech river starts at the foot of the “Signal du Ventalon” (a 1300 m summit in the Bougès range) and runs through a steeply banked upper valley past Vialas and on to Chamborigaud to eventually join the river Cèze. The upper reaches of the river are fairly wild and remote, formerly a land of subsistence agriculture and small scale mining. On this hot morning in August, we decide to walk the 5 or 6 kilometers starting from the Col de la Baraquette (alt 1000m) on the D35 ridge road (La Tavernole to Pont de Montvert). We started the drive in the industrial town of Alès. The road from Alès to the Tavernole intersection is in good shape and fairly interesting passing through old mining villages and near the Portes chateau. The D35, starting at la Tavernole, is an experience however. Too narrow for 2 good sized vehicles to cross, too winding to allow any speed and lots of “vistas” (otherwise known as steep cliffs much too close to the road’s edge).
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Easy walking around Villeneuve-les-Avignon

Hiking distance : km ; Hiking time :

Le prieuré de Villeneuve-lez-Avignon
Villeneuve-les-Avignon is located on the right bank of the Rhone river, right across from Avignon. In 1292, thanks to the politics and land swaps of the time, the position became a post on the frontier of the royal domains of France. To the east, on the left bank of the Rhone, barons and kings pledged allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire, not to France. So in 1292, Philippe-le-Bel, king of France, agreed to the construction of defensive fortifications including the Philippe-le-Bel tower (what else?) and the Saint-André fortress. Not long after, Avignon became the home of the Catholic pope giving the French king even more reason to watch his neigbours. These defensive constructions, preserved to the present day, are landmarks of the modern city and visible from multiple angles along this route.
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Ardèche volcanoes

Hiking distance : 15 km ; Hiking time : 5:00
Mount Gerbier de Jonc, well known site near Rieutord

The high plateau in the Ardèche department, north of the upper Ardèche valley is full of examples of ancient volcanic activity. In this case, ancient is relative. These volcanoes are believed to have ceased activity relatively recently on the geological timescale – near the end of the last ice age about 10 to 12,000 years ago. Accordingly, natural erosion has had less time to erase the visible signs of volcanic activity. Interesting geological phenomena are visible in many locations and recognising the substantial interest of this area, UNESCO recently accorded the label of Geopark (see this link in french) to the regional park.

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A hikers guide to the Ardèche Geopark

Topoguide : Balades et Randonnées, Monts d'Ardèche
Topoguide : Balades et Randonnées, Monts d’Ardèche
In the French “massif central”, between Clermont-Ferrand and the summits of the Haut-Languedoc, there is much evidence of ancient volcanic activity. While still ancient, the most recent volcanic activity took place in the the Ardèche Mountains, now a Regional Nature Park. This park, created in 2001, extends roughly from the market town of Les Vans in the south to St Agrève in the north. In 2014, the area was granted UNESCO Geopark status recognizing the remarkable landscapes and sites of geological interest resulting from volcanic activity. Geologists have determined that some of this volcanic activite may have been as recent as 10 000 years ago so it is common to see this area referred to as the “young” volcanos of the Ardèche.

The Geopark is magnificently suited to wandering, walking and long distance hiking with many marked trails providing access to well known sites (such as Mount Gerbier de Jonc – the source of the Loire River) and to less well-known ones throughout the area.
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