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The Pont d’Arc and the Pont d’Arc Cavern, Ardeche

Naturally formed arched stone bridge over a river, the Pont d'Arc in Ardeche, southern France

The Pont d’Arc is a 60m high and 34m wide. It’s a natural bridge carved out of the rock face of the gorge over the Ardèche River in Ardeche, Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes (formerly Rhone-Alpes). It’s a geological wonder and thousands of years of water and wind have eroded the stone into shaping this natural entrance to the Ardeche gorges…

The Pont d’Arc

Early morning in September, when I was there, is not the best time to get photos. The sun isn’t quite up over the cliffs yet. But, something rather magical happens. I was the only person there that early. Surrounded by a vast amphitheatre of cliffs, I strolled down past a little circle of vines in the silence. But as I approached the at least 500,000 year old Pont D’Arc, thousands of birds who live in the rock face, started swirling around and singing an exotic song. You can climb right down to the river and with the lush vegetative and still warm air, it feels tropical and almost magical. I went back later in the day to take photos, but the hushed reverence and the birds had gone. And without them, the sense of mystic wasn’t quite as intense.

Other ways to view this incredibly beautiful bridge are by canoe, hiking and even flying over…

Pont d’Arc Cavern

Replica of prehistoric paintings on a cave wall in Ardeche, France

I wasn’t expecting to be excited by a replica of the Chauvet Cave. it’s about 15 minutes’ drive from Vallon Pont d’Arc (the starting point for the main tourist route along the gorges) but boy was I! The original cave was discovered by cavers in the 1990s. Its location is kept secret in order to protect it. That’s because what those cavers inadvertently stumbled upon 20 years ago is nothing short of staggering: cave art, which dates back 30,000 to 45,000 years to the ice age period. And yet, remains vivid, vibrant and utterly compelling.

The replica is the largest in the world. Set in a lofty orchard of oak trees and limestone paths there are views across the valley as far as le Mont Lozère and Col d’Escrinet. There are also a number of animations and educational galleries. Plus there’s a children’s centre and the Aurignacien Gallery, before you head into the depths of the cave for your guided tour.

The guide explains as you enter that you’re going to feel like you’re in the original cave. And you really do. It’s spine tingling. There’s almost a 3D feel to some of the work. The artists incorporated the contours of the rock face to add depth, movement and humour to their drawings. Scratches and grease marks from the coats of prehistoric bears are still visible. You start to get a sense of the artists, as little details like the bent, broken little finger of one appears again and again in some of the handprints.

As you come back out into the sunshine, with the Mistral wind nibbling at your cheeks, you feel a sense of serenity but also adventure.

Lucy Pitts is a freelance writer, copy writer and deputy editor of The Good Life France.

For more information: www.ardeche-guide.com;  en.cavernedupontdarc.fr

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