Sunday, 13 November 2016

Sunday 13 November – Vallon Pont d’Arc

Where’s Colin? He's in the pay-Aire at Vallon Pont d'Arc

There was a minor arson attack in our car park in Méjannes-de-Clap last night (the bins on the other side of the large area being the victim), which led to us being rudely awoken by the sound of a large vehicle at 1.22am. Curiosity cured by a peek out of the window to see what was causing the disturbance (Oh, just a fire and a fire engine; no not near enough to threaten us; time to go back to sleep) we soon settled back down.

A trundle around the village this morning, before anyone else was up, preceded a relatively short hop up the road. Today’s destination was under 40km away, so it was only about an hour on windy roads before we pulled into the car park at the Caverne de Pont d’Arc museum. In concept, it’s a bit of an odd thing to be a popular tourist attraction. The background is that in 1994 a cave was discovered nearby, which had been sealed shut by a landslide around 29000 years ago. Inside they found unusually good cave art, dating from 36000 years ago, which had been very well preserved by the sealed nature of the cave. Whereas this region boasts quite a few caves where such art can be seen (and we’re not talking basic petroglyphs here, but actual paintings), all the ones I’ve wanted to visit have been shut. This one was open, but the twist is that it’s not the cave itself that is the tourist attraction. In 2012 a project was launched to create a faithful replica of the cave, and last year that replica (plus an interactive museum) was opened.

With our €13 per head handed over, we were allocated to a tour about half an hour hence, so we wandered around the interpretative boards dotted around the site, before heading off into a big purpose-built concrete hangar which houses the faux cave. The problem I always find with organised tours is that they don’t necessarily go at the speed I would like, and such was the case today, with what felt like half a microsecond being allowed to look at the features in detail once the talking had stopped. Moreover, we were the only non-French speakers on our tour (English language tours are available, but only in July and August), so whereas the rest of the group had an interactive tour with a guide, we had to stay with that group* but with an automatic audioguide which proved to be a bit flaky and not as detailed. However, they were minor gripes in the grand scheme of things and a good time was had. By the time we had seen the replica cave, drunk coffee in the café and exhausted the exhibits in the museum, three and a half hours had passed. (*the next group was hot on our heels as tours set off at 5 minute intervals and all seemed to be well attended.)

Our next stop was the town of Vallon Pont d’Arc, just 6km down the hill, where we opted to pay €6 for the Aire even though we could have parked for free (in a not-officially-a-motorhome-Aire location) elsewhere nearby. Apparently this is a massively popular Aire (holds thirty, overflowed to the tune of an extra 60 in an adjacent car park on one night this summer, according to a report I read), yet for the first time this trip it looks like Colin’s going to be on his lonesome tonight.

With our tea-drinking deficit corrected once we were parked up, I did a bit of research on Google Maps and suggested that we had time before dark to go and walk at 10km route to see the Pont d’Arc itself, that being a spectacular 54m-high natural bridge, where the river has carved its course through the limestone. Of course, it then took us a while to get organised and then out the door. Then, after about five minutes I concluded that navigating the route via Google Maps wasn't going to be feasible, so I paused to download three IGN 1:25k map tiles, then we discovered that the walk was a bit more technical and lumpy than we had appreciated. The nature of the path and the fact that it passed over a couple of ridges was a plus point really, except in relation to our speed and the amount of daylight remaining.

Nevertheless, we made it to the bridge and just about had time to wander around to admire it from various angles before needing to hotfoot it back. Hotfoot we did too; choosing to stick to the road for speed, we arrived back at Colin just as it was getting properly dark.

Looking upriver on our way back, with the light of day fading

So, all in all, a full and most enjoyable day.

^(Canoes! I must mention the canoes! We've not seen any on the river but we've seen hundreds at the many hire locations. Must be the most popular thing to do here in summer.
The weather! Must mention that too - another fine day today and the warmest yet. Didn't see a thermometer today (can't have passed a pharmacy; they always seem to have one outside) but the forecast predicted 13 degrees)

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