The Ardèche (in Occitan Ardecha) is a river in the south of France, a right tributary of the Rhône. It gave its name to the department it irrigates in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, but its watershed also concerns the departments of Lozère and Gard (Occitania).

125.1 km long, it has its source, at an altitude of 1,467 metres (4,813 ft) above sea level in the Vivarais, near the Col de la Chavade, in the forest of Mazan in the commune of Astet (Massif Central). After the towns of Aubenas and Ruoms, it collects the Chassezac and the Beaume and plunges into its famous gorge below Vallon-Pont-d’Arc. It flows into the Rhône at Pont-Saint-Esprit.

The river has an average discharge of 65 cubic metres per second (2,300 cu ft/s) but experiences severe floods, called “coups de l’Ardèche” (Blows of the Ardèche), in spring and autumn and periods of very low water in summer. During flood events in 1827, 1890, and 1924, it reached 7,800 cubic metres per second (280,000 cu ft/s) and the water level rose to a record 21.4 metres (70 ft) in the gorge.

Despite the Ardèche’s short length, the flow of the river at 65 cubic metres per second (2,300 cu ft/s) is relatively high—higher than the Gardon at 32 cubic metres per second (1,100 cu ft/s), the Cèze (22 m3/s), the Hérault (44 m3/s), or the Agout (55 m3/s)—major rivers south of the Massif Central but much longer.

The Ardèche is protected along almost all of its course. These protected areas are:

  • The sources of the Ardèche: Astet and Mayres, ZNIEFF type I
  • The Upper valley of the Ardèche, between Thueyts and Ucel: ZNIEFF type I
  • The Riparian forest and floodplain of the Ardèche, between Ucel and Vogüé: ZNIEFF type I

  • The Middle Valley of the Ardèche and its Tributaries: Natura 2000 site
  • The National Nature Reserve of the Gorges de l’Ardèche
  • The lower valley of the Ardèche: ZNIEFF type I.

Tourist attractions

The Gorges de l’Ardèche – The Gorges de l’Ardèche (Ardèche Gorge) is located between the villages of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc and Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche. The road along the north rim of the gorge (the Corniche) has views into the gorge and over the river.

Pont d’Arc (arched bridge) – A natural stone bridge across the river near the town of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc forms the natural to the Gorges de l’Ardèche.

Chauvet Cave – This limestone cave, which is named after its discoverer, is in the Gorges de l’Ardèche. It contains early Stone Age cave paintings of great variety and expressiveness. Since the cave is not open to the public, photographs of cave paintings are displayed in an exhibition in Vallon-Pont d’Arc.

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