Stage 4 – Vallon-Pont-d’Arc to Vals-les-Bains

Distance: 43.06 km

Time: 2 hours 24 minutes

Average speed: 17.9 kph

Ascent: 350 m

Total distance: 156.8 km

Total time: 8 hours 48 minutes

We’d planned to eat outside last night on the little terrace of our charming apartment in the picturesque little square. Just as dinner was ready, though, it started to rain. After we’d eaten it brightened up, so we drank our wine out there, trying to attract the attention of a sweet little grey and white cat, which was far more interested in chasing sparrows.

We slept well, conquered the coffee machine, ate the croissants we’d bought yesterday at Lidl, packed the panniers and left along the Ardèche river in the sunshine.

Our host had warned us that thunderstorms and hail were forecast for today, so we were on the lookout for foreboding clouds, but to start with it was all lovely. We passed vineyards and beautifully manicured roundabouts.

We stopped at Ruoms, a pretty medieval village.

As we left the sky was definitely darkening, but we seemed to be staying ahead of it. We cycled on, only 40km to cover today, all slightly uphill but we must be getting fitter already, as we seemed to gain height without expending too much effort.

At the turning for Balazuc, we took the road up to our second pretty medieval village of the day. “Balazuc, Balazuc, can you do the fandango?”, I said. “Don’t say any more!”, said the Captain, at which point I remembered that the next line is “Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening”… Eek!

Balazuc was lovely, we had a good wander round looking at the tiny alleys and its view down over the gorge. There were the inevitable kayakers on the water, one had run aground on a little shallow section, much to the amusement of all the spectators.

We took lunch in a little cafe, and watched the sky getting darker and then lighter again. The run back down to the main route took us past vineyards and more fragrant broom.

We pushed on, and it seemed every turn we took left the sunny day behind and aimed us towards the very threatening dark skies. The two pictures below are at the exact same point on the road. Behind are fluffy clouds and sunshine, ahead doom and darkness!

We knew that at Vals-les-Bains we must keep the river to our left and not cross the bridge, in order to find tonight’s accommodation. Just before the bridge it did start to rain, so we stopped to put on our rain-jackets, cursing as we had so little distance still to cover, but wanting not to get wet whilst trying to work out exactly where we needed to go. Suddenly thunder was echoing around the hills and it was absolutely lashing down. On the right there was a bus-stop, so we pulled in to sit down under cover and work out the route. The rain became even harder, and then turned to the hail as predicted by our host. It was bouncing off the road and the roof of the bus shelter!

Water was coursing down the road in front of the bus shelter and we were at risk of getting drenched by passing cars driving through it, although thankfully they all pretty much all spotted the danger and drove slowly around. A bus arrived and a couple got off, but didn’t dare venture out of the shelter.

Eventually we had enough of a phone signal to work out our next move and the hail and rain abated, so we climbed back on to the tandem to find our lodgings. It was literally fifty yards from where we’d been sheltering!

We got checked in to the lovely warm apartment, and then cycled out to buy provisions for tea. By the time we returned with our spoils it was sunny and the birds were all singing again.

Tomorrow we will finally meet the Loire, albeit in infant form. We will cycle up to Le Gerbier de Jonc to find the official source of the river. Up being the operative word. It’s a big old climb. We are bracing ourselves!

Here’s a video of today’s route and today’s track