Into The Wilds

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We’re constantly amazed by what a wild county France is, our formative image having been one of terrifically chic ladies lunching at an outdoor café next to a table of scruffy artists somewhere near the Tour Eiffel, one of the tamest sights in the world. Actually, hardly any of France is like that.

Take these denizens of the Gorges de l’Ardèche, for example.  They’e scruffy, they’re chicly dressed, they’re lunching, but they’re completely wild.  And they were all over the road, not seeming to be concerned about our car, about the camera, about the state of the world economic crisis, or where to get a cup of good coffee in France, or anything at all.

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We jumped into the wilderness from Saint- Martin d’Ardèche, where we had a cup of quite reasonable coffee, and followed the road for 30 breathtaking kilometers.  The season being over, we shared the road with no more than a dozen cars, although we heard that during the summer you can’t even stop at the numerous overlook points because they’re totally packed with cars and tour buses.

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The Ardèche River cuts an impossibly sinuous path through the gorge and the road follows it faithfully, at times dropping down to water level, but more often offering a bird’s eye view over the unspoiled canyons.

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Shel took advantage of the solitude in the time-honored way, finding the gorge the ideal spot to stop for what the French universally, and adorably, call pipi nature. After all, who was watching?

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Oh, right.  But even though these goats are wild, they’re not afraid of humans, with or without their zippers zipped, and I dare say they’ve seen it all.  There’s even a nudist camping spot along the river, and although we didn’t actually go down to it, it’s in a perfectly lovely spot that just invites one to strip down to the bare essentials.  In fact, most human activities along the gorge involve doing what comes naturally.

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Here, at the other end of the gorge, is the incredible Pont d’Arc, which gives a new meaning to the notion that a river runs through it.  Just to give you an idea of the scale of it all, see those two tiny black and white spots in the water?  They’re not orcas, they’re kayakers, enjoying the glorious emptiness of the river.

Later, over an excellent and startlingly inexpensive lunch at Le Petit Jardin in Vallon-Pont d’Arc, we learned that the very next day there would be a kayak marathon involving up to 2000 kayaks.  I’m sure it’s an exciting event, but we were glad to have missed it.  With that many people and cars, it could only mean goodbye to parking along the roadside every five minutes to linger over the view, goodbye pipi nature, and goodbye goats.

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Later we did see these beautiful sheep, tame cousins of those mountain goats, cleaner and fluffier but no more imposing.

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Except that while the wild billy goat did indeed have great horns, they were nothing compared to the ones this captive sheep sported.

It’s a thin veneer of civilization separating the sheep from the goats in the Ardèche, just as the only thing separating most of us from naked camping and a good pipi nature is a pair of watching eyes.  And fortunately, goat eyes don’t count.

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5 Comments on “Into The Wilds”

  1. zuleme Says:

    I just showed your photo to my husband. We are both kayakers and that looks like Paradise to me. I’ve thought that France didn’t have any wilderness (and we live on the edge of a large National Forest) but your post proves me wrong.
    I love seeing your stories which teach me more about France so I will know more for our next trip. Thank you.

  2. Abra Bennett Says:

    Zuleme – if you’re a kayaker, the gorges de l’Aveyron in the Tarn et Garonne are also beautiful, although perhaps a bit tamer. And for really spectacular scenery, although I’m not sure abut the kayaking, try the gorges de Verdon in Provence.

  3. Charles Says:

    Oh, man. You’re ripping my guts out. If you look closely at the bottom of the second picture, you can see an outcropping that works its way up the cliff, not nearly to the top but to a perfectly frightening height, from which my kids and I spent a warm June day leaping with what can only be called reckless abandon.

    Maybe the best day I ever spent in France. Or anywhere.

  4. geri Says:

    for a few moments I was there…merci beaucoup

  5. zuleme Says:

    Tame is good for my kayaking skills! We didn’t get to the Gorges de Verdun on our last trip since our days were spent like this: get up, drink coffee on the terrace with our friends, get on bicycles, bike up hill to small village, visit market have lunch in charming cafe, get on bikes and bike some more, get back to amazing huge old house, change into bathing suit, lounge by pool, drink something, watch men grill something for dinner, help with side dishes, eat dinner outside at large round table watching moon come up, stay up laughing and talking outside until around midnight, go to bed and get up the next day and do it again.
    It was the best vacation I ever had.


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