Trek Notes - France

The Ardeche

The Ardeche

Facing the Alps across the broad valley of the Rhone lies a walker's paradise of hills where the Ardeche, Loire and Haute Loire regions meet. This is a watershed for some of France's great rivers, a land of steeply terraced slopes, halfhidden valleys and tumbling streams, largely absent from the guidebooks. Massive ruined farmhouses seem to have grown from the landscape and the bleat of goats and call of a wild bird are often the only sounds you will hear.

Access is via a small private steam railway which runs from Tournon, in the Rhone valley, westwards up the winding valley of the R.Doux to the village of Boucieu le Roi, a provincial court in mediaeval France (see From your hotel at nearby Le Crestet next day , take an ancient drove road, partly through orchards, to the market town of Lamastre, set amongst hills covered with ancient chestnut trees of enormous girth. Turn North now and climb to the old spa town of Lalouvesc, perched at 1100m above the Rhone valley, with views East as far as the snow covered Alps on a clear day. Skirting the Haut Vivarais, looking down on tiny red roofed hamlets clinging to steep grassy slopes, continue to the hill village of St. Bonnet le Froid; then South through fields yellow with wild daffodils in late Spring, skirting the Lac de Devesset (good for a possible dip on a warm day) to St Agreve, its narrow main street crammed with old fashined shops, selling Le Puy lentils, and Rhone wine from the barrel. Set against the backdrop of Mt Mezenc, and Mt.Gerbier le Jonc, the source of the mighty R. Loire, this small market town is a centre for cross country skiing in winter. (The 10 night circuit now goes South past the ruined Chateau de Rochebonne overlooking the R. Eyrieux, to the narrow valley town of St. Martin de Valamas; then back to St. Agreve next day by a different path). Both circuits then head West along an ancient mule road, the "Voie des Marchands", with breathtaking views of the meticulously terraced slopes of the Haut Vivarais to the North, on the way back to Lamastre


This circuit should present no difficulties for anyone in reasonable condition and accustomed to walking.



Day Stages

Walking between 12 and 23km per day with some level days on high forested plateaux, and some ascents / descents of 700 - 800m.


Various, often the Red/White mark of the Grande Randonnée long-distance paths. See daily route notes.

The trail follows, in the main, well-established paths and presents no special difficulties.

General Information

Baths: it is not normal for your room to have a bath, the main reason being that it takes up a lot of space, some hotels/guesthouses may have a separate room in the house where a bath is available to guests, but in the main it is showers.

Breakfast: in countries such as France are usually coffee and toast/croissant, if you want more for breakfast then we would suggest you purchase some food the night before. It is important for you to tell us if you have any dietary requirements when you book your holiday so that we can inform everyone that you are staying with.

Single Supplements: are payable on most of our tours. 1) The single supplement guarantees the privacy of your own room, however, rooms can at times be small and in some places may not enjoy the same facilities as double/twin rooms.

Language: Note that you will not necessarily come across people speaking English. Remember you have left home to find things different bring a phrase book, try to learn a bit of French!

Luggage: When staying in hotels, sometimes your luggage will have been taken to you room awaiting your arrival. However don’t be surprised if your luggage is waiting for you to take it up to your room.

Accommodation & Meals

(Facilities normally ensuite unless otherwise indicated)

Half-board (evening meal, bed and breakfast) all the way through.

Picnic lunches are not included, but can be ordered from the hotel the night before (for about 8-10 Euros), though it is fun to shop locally for crusty bread, quiches, saucisson etc. Route notes indicate where there is a restaurant on the trail.

Traditional dishes on menus here include “caille”, a tasty meatball like a rissole, and Crique Ardechoise or “rapee” - rather like rosti. You will be offered “fromage sec or fromage frais” and should try the latter, fresh white cheese served with cream and sugar, and preceding, not instead of the dessert.Accommodation (8-day tour)

Night 1: Le Crestet. A small friendly hotel ( ** Logis) overlooking the winding valley of the R. Doux.Facilities are ensuite. Meals are served on the vine-covered terrace on warm evenings.

Night 2: Lamastre. A long-established family-run hotel (**Logis) in a quiet shady corner near the center of the small market town of Lamastre; conveniently situated opposite the station, comfortable rooms with ensuite facilities.

Night 3: Lalouvesc is perched at an altitude of 1100m and enjoys splendid views across the Rhone valley to the distant Alps. Our simple walker’s hotel (*) is in the main street of this old spa town. The Patron, M.Guironnet, is a welcoming host and you will eat well in the 1950’s décor of the enormous dining room.

Night 4: St Bonnet-le Froid. You enter the department of Haute-Loire tonight, to stay at a smart modern hotel (**Logis) with indoor swimming pool. The old stone building was formerly a convent. Rooms are comfortable and the restaurant is of a high standard.

Night 5: St.Agreve. A tall narrow hotel ( ** Logis) in the central square of this busy little market town, it is family run, and recently refurbished. Food is locally grown, often with wild mushrooms from the woods, and a superb chestnut ice cream. The bar seems to be the hub of the town, and previous customers have reported a particularly warm welcome here.

Night 6: St. Agreve.

Night 7: Return to Lamastre.

(10-day circuit)

Nights 1 to 6, 8 & 9: Accommodation as 8-day circuit.

Night 7:At St. Martin de Valamas you stay in a lively little hotel(*) in this small town, deep in the narrow Eyrieux valley.

Night 8: Return to St. Agrève

Night 9: Return to Lamastre

Outline Itinerary

(8-day circuit)

Day 1: Individual arrival at your hotel in Le Crestet, overlooking the winding valley of the R.Doux.

Day 2: Le Crestet to Lamastre 14km. Climb out of the village on a waymarked trail through orchards into wooded hills.The shady path follows an ancient drove road, where flocks would be transferred to the summer pastures in days gone by.

Day 3: Lamastre – Lalouvesc. 20km; 6 hours walking. Views back over Lamastre as you climb out of the valley on a well-graded path. Thereafter glimpses into steep little valleys and views across towards the pretty hill village of Rochepaule.

Day 4: Lalouvesc to St Bonnet le Froid. 19km. Steep terraced slopes fall away to the South as you descend in to a wooded valley, and the views are particularly good from the church at St. Pierre du Doux, an excellent spot for a picnic.

Day 5: St Bonnet-le-Froid - St Agreve. 23km. A level day in woodland and high open countrypast the Lac de Devesset to St Agreve (pop 2723) at 1050m.

Day 6: St. Agrève.Circular walk (optional). A Rest Day in this small market-town on the edge of the Mezenc plateau , or there are several possible walks, one of which takes in the ruined Chateau de Rochebonne, with magnificent views of the Sucs – thestrange volcanic hills nearby.

Day 7: St. Agrève – Lamastre. 20km. 5 hours walking. Leaving the high plain of St.Agreve by small paths you join an ancient mule-road, whose paved causeway can still be seen. The old village of Desaignes is worth exploring, then the trail follows the high ground overlooking the valley of Doux to regain Lamastre. 

Day 8: Depart after breakfast.

(10-day circuit)

Days 1 to 6: As the 8 day circuit.

Day 7: St Agrève – St. Martin de Valamas 14km.From the plateau of St. Agreve you head South towards the strange outline of the Mezenc range, passing the dramatic ruins of the Chateau of Rochebonne, on your way to the village of St. Martin de Valamas.

Day 8: St Martin de Valamas to St. Agrève 12 km.The climb back to St. Agrève is partly along a former railway, with a gentle gradient.

Day 9: As Day 7, 8-day tour.

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