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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Exploring Aigaliers and surroundings

Hiking distance : 11.6, 9.5, 8.7, 8.2 km ; Hiking time : 3h30, 3h, 3h, 3h

tour d'horloge d'Aigaliers
tour d’horloge d’Aigaliers
Here are 4 trails that explore the landscapes around the village of Aigaliers (located in the Uzège region of the Gard department).

As a guide to the points of interest, there are various pin markers on the accompanying maps. Here is a short outline.

Glass works : In the 17th, 18th and 19th century, the right to manufacture everyday glassware objects was reserved for the local signorial family. In Aigaliers this was probably the D’Aigaliers family. Sand and evergreen oak, which on conversion to charcoal burns very hot, were locally available, so rudimentary glassworks were commonly set up in evergreen oak forests. In Aigaliers, the glass works is located south of Le Chabian. The ruins are not hard to find, and several parts are still standing. The author is not sure when glassmaking ceased, but the Aigaliers glass was somewhat known around the region. There are references to Aigaliers glass in historical sites as far away as Claret in the Herault department.
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Bauxite

Hiking distance : 12 km ; Hiking time : 03:30

abandoned mine works / mine abandonnée
abandoned mine works / mine abandonnée
This circuit starting from Maussane-les-Alpilles winds along quiet streets and through a golf course in the shadow of the fortress of Les Baux-de-Provence before passing by remnants of the bauxite mining industry. Bauxite was first discovered in the area around 1820 and from 1850 industrial methods to extract extract aluminium from bauxite became available. Several mines were in operation around the village of Les Baux-de-Provence and until 1939, France was the world’s largest single producer of bauxite. The name bauxite, of course, derives from the village name les “Baux”. Nowadays the mines are abandoned and in at least one case, flooded, but satellite images make it fairly easy to see where the mines were : the barren landscapes are tinted ocre red. Along this walking route there is a small mine gallery entrance, probably the result of exploratory digging. The largest bauxite mine site is near Mas Rouge (not near this route). However near the above-mentioned gallery entrance, there are 2 large abandoned bauxite quarries (too dangerous to visit).
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Bourdic’s strange rock sculptures

Hiking distance : 11 km ; Hiking time : 3:30

This circuit starts from the Bourdic wine coop, just north of the centre of the village. Apart from the chance to sample or buy some local wines in the coop, the main attraction of this walk is to pass by a set of unusual coloured rock carvings on a low rock face surrounded by vineyards. Despite an (uninformative) article in the local newspaper, I have never been able to discover information about the date or the artist. The carvings are never-the-less recent, probably done between 2010 and 2015. There is also an interesting old dovecote in the village of Garrigues. See the pictures below.