A French Adventure
I centered the first few days of my stay in the town of Les Vans, within a short drive of the famous Gorges de l'Ardeche. I stayed at the Hotel Carmel, the converted abbey that has the feel of a medieval convent, the cuisine of a three-star French hotel, and the prices of an American Holiday Inn. I took day trips to run the Gorges of the Ardeche in a small boat (the river is easy enough for beginners to do alone, and guides are readily available), and another day trip with "Explo" to explore the Chassezac River by "canyoning." This sport is well developed in Europe and virtually unknown in the United States. Wearing wet suits and helmets and equipped with harnesses, a small group of us hiked and swam and dove and rappelled our way down the Chassezac River's upper reaches, finishing an exhausting and rewarding day by drinking a pastis at an outdoor cafe. By night, Hotel Carmel owners Marc and Elizabeth Verignon set a beautiful table, focusing on specialties of the region like wild game garnished with herbs and light wine sauces. One specialty of the area is anything made out of chestnuts, from famous marrons glacis to a sweet chestnut liqueur. I sampled it all, guilt-free after my active days.
Another day I based out of Vinezac, a tiny village of 60 people where Jean-Luc Charmasson runs the Hotellerie Le Charbonnel. This was the kind of pearl that you would never, ever find in a small town in the United States. Helped in part by grants from the French government to refurbish villages like these, Vinezac's XIIeme century church is in fine state, and wondrous chefs like Jean-Luc can set his table with incredible treats, many of which he prepares with herbs and wild mushrooms he grows or cultivates in the surrounding countryside or buys fresh from local farmers.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication