Today, Geneviève takes us west, into the Rhône Valley, at the foot of the Ardèche Mountains.
Privas is the absolute contrast to Orcières. You will find it around 240km west of Orcières, in the eastern part of the Ardèche, where it is very rural. The town, with its 8000 inhabitants, is the ”Chef-lieu” of the department.
Small as the town is, it has an impressive past. It was a major Huguenot centre in the 16 – 17th centuries, until the Siege of Privas in 1629 in which the city was destroyed.
Privas was also widely known for its silk industry and iron ore mining. Both industries ceased to exist by the Second World War. Today, it is renowned for its “crème de marrons” and for its “marrons glacées” (sugar-coated chestnuts). It is also the gateway to the Parc Naturel des Monts d’Ardèche.
You can discover the town by starting at the Tour “Diane de Poitiers”, (1500 – 1566). This formidable woman is remembered as a patron of Renaissance architecture and for being King Henri II’s mistress. Follow the historical path with its 24 information boards. Then, relax on the terrace of a café, before you decide to climb the Site Montoulon where you will find 3 crosses, and a sculptured Pieta (Madonna) and can enjoy the panoramic view of the town and the Ardèche mountains. Take some time as well to have a look at the Louis XIII bridge which is a “listed” historical monument. Built in the XII century, it was restored by Louis XIII. It is the oldest witness to the history of Privas. The river it straddles is also an indication of what rivers to expect in the Ardèche mountains.
That be the historical setting. There are, of course, many outdoor activities which can be done here: walking, cycling through the mountain passes and mountain biking in the Ardèche mountains. The Col du Benas has an altitude of 795m.
About 40km from Privas, you can have a look at an “atelier d’emaux” (enamel atelier) run by Claude and Mady Michel. Located in La Garde Adhémar, you can also learn how to create enamels or buy their beautiful and amusing creations.
At Meyras, 27 km east, you can immerse yourself in a medieval village and listen to the street hawker “Dédé l’Ardéchois” when he opens his cabinet of tales and shares with you the better and perhaps not so pleasant moments of everyday life in bygone times.
The surrounding area of Privas, is abundant with castles. One random example, the Chateau de Vogüé, 36 km southwest, dates from the 17th century. Here you find a suspended garden, a dungeon, chapel and, unusually, a stateroom. (Salle d’etat). Far from being a stuffy old building, there are many activities for you to do as well.
Privas is a great place to have a base for other day trips. Valence is a mere 40 km northwest, whilst nougat lovers will be in clover when they drive to Montélimar, which is slightly closer, but in the opposite direction. Only 37km southeast separate you from heavenly, sweet indulgence.
Down from the Alps, in the Rhône Valley, at the door of the Ardèche mountains, is a place, like so many here in France, that will sweep you up and carry you away. And we didn’t even mention food and restaurants.