Sweet chestnut land in Ardèche

Ardèche © T. Joly
Taste fresh or roasted sweet chestnuts and discover how they are cultivated. Visit medieval castles and villages. In autumn the Ardèche department offers numerous possibilities of cultural and gastronomic stays in a superb natural environment.

[ Practical ]

- Getting there
By road
600 km from Paris to Privas on autoroutes A6 and A7 till exit 16 then on N304 till Privas.
By train
TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon to Valence, then car rental to get to Privas, 40 km away, on autoroute A7 till exit 16 then on N304
- Lodging
Hotels
La Chaumette in Privas
Hôtel Helvie in Vals les Bains
Bed and breakfast
Château Clément in Vals les Bains
Porte de Besse in Chalençon
Domaine Lavenant in Boffres
L’Oustalou in Rosières
- Restaurants
Le Castagno in Antraigues
Ferme auberge de Combeyron in Silhac
Châtaignes et champignons in Chalençon
Ferme auberge Les Champs d’Aubignas in Chirols
Ferme auberge de Jameysse in Desaignes
La Chaumette in Privas
- Getting around
It’s necessary to have a car
- Cooking lessons
Atelier de Christiane : 0475389420
- Castagnades 2017
Saint-André-Lachamp : October 8th
Saint-Pierreville : October 14th and 15th
Meyras : October 15th
Saint-Laurent-les-Bains : October 19th to 21st
Privas : October 20th to 22nd
Joyeuse : October 21st and 22nd
Desaignes : October 22nd
Antraigues : October 28th and 29th
Chalençon : October 29th
Vesseaux : November 4th and 5th
Joannas : November 11th and 12th
- Information
- Castagnades
www.castagnades.fr
- Ardèche Tourist Office : 0475640466
www.ardeche-guide.com
Nested between the Massif Central and the Rhone Valley, the department of Ardèche possesses a rugged territory and spectacular landscapes that take a Mediterranean aspect in its southern half. A third of its surface is protected by the Parc Naturel Régional des Monts d’Ardèche that covers one part of the Cevennes.


Sweet chestnut grove © Rissoan
 The castagnades
From the end of September, once autumn has come, this region adorns itself with blazing colours and for two months lives in rhythm with the sweet chestnuts harvest. A fruit that was for a long time the staple food of the local farmers and that’s why the sweet chestnut tree is also called “breadfruit tree”. Two museums, the Maison du Châtaignier, in Saint-Pierreville, and the Musée de la Châtaigne in Joyeuse, highlight this economic but also cultural and historical importance. Today this tree still covers 16 000 ha. 6 000 ha are effectively cultivated and give 5 500 tons of sweet chestnuts per year. That makes Ardèche France’s biggest producer. Every year from mid October to mid November the fruit is celebrated through feasts named “castagnades”. Taking place each weekend in a different village, they include musical animations, traditional games, popular balls and markets.


Castagnade Desaignes © DR
 Incredible diversity
They gather together basket makers, creative craftsmen working the wood of the sweet chestnut tree, artists, farmers selling local specialities and, of course, castanéïculteurs, name given to the producers of sweet chestnuts That’s the perfect place to discover and appreciate their incredible diversity as there are 65 varieties : the Bouche Rouge, the Sardonne, the Comballe, the Aguyanne,… Each one has its own flavour and has a more or less sweet taste. Nevertheless all have a common point. They are less productive but more tasty than the modern hybrid varieties grown everywhere else. It’s enough to taste them fresh or roasted to be convinced and understand why the sweet chestnuts from Ardèche are the only ones recognised with an AOC (Appellation of Controlled Origin). Besides, 30 % of the production is used to make an everyday wider range of salty and sweet products : flour, cakes, pastas, cream, honey, jams, beer, liquor,..


Ardèche © PNR07
 Strolls through the countryside
Those are made by craftsmen or by castanéïculteurs who launched out into the transformation. There are also some confectioners such as Clément Faugier, Sabaton or Imbert and their most renowned speciality is the Marron Glacé.
During these castagnades horse rides and hikes are also organised through the countryside to discover the sweet chestnut groves, see how the farmers maintain them, their installations, and the harvest. On the contrary of other regions, in Ardèche there is no orchards where the trees are well lined up and irrigated. Sweet chestnut trees grow between 300 and 900 m of altitude on steep hillsides or on small terraces sustained by man made stones walls. Most of the times fruits are hand picked and taken away in 25 kg bags on men’s back. During this period most restaurants and “tables d’hôtes” propose on their menus sweet chestnut cooked according different recipes : soup, gratins, puree and so on...



Cooking lesson © T.Joly
 Cooking lessons
Quite often in association with mushrooms and wild game dishes since it is also the right season for this food. Meals to be enjoyed accompanied by local wines, relatively unrecognized but excellent. And for the ones who wish, several chefs offer lessons, training courses and workshops where to learn how to cook sweet chestnut and make bread and pastries with it.
Gastronomic and gustative interludes that can easily be combined with cultural visits as Ardèche is full of medieval villages and castles all built of stones that turn golden in the sun. Hosting one of the first castagnades of the year, Jaujac keeps numerous 15th and 17th century houses as well as an old bridge going over the Lignon river. In addition, the 15th century Rochemure castle and the 13th century Castrevieille one stand nearby.



Balazuc © T.Joly
 Picturesque villages
As to Antraigues-sur-Volane, perched on a promontory on the first slopes of the Cevennes, it conceals hold houses with facades are decorated with sculpted heads. A castagnade is also held there. As in Joyeuse, where ramparts surround a gothic church as well as 17th and 18th century houses and private mansions. But the two most beautiful of those villages are without doubt Balazuc and Vogüé. Sure, they are not located within the chestnut production area, however they are very close of it and worth a little detour. Dominated by a castle and stuck to a cliff, both are made up of a maze of alleys, arches, and outside staircases which wind through stone houses and come down up to the edge of the river Ardèche.

August 20, 2017
Thierry Joly 


[ Wines ]

Several appellations are found in Ardèche. The AOC Vivarais, in the south west of the department, near Vallon Pont-d’Arc. The AOC Cornas, Saint Joseph, Côtes du Rhone and Côtes du Rhone Village located nearby the river bearing the same name. And lastly the Vins de Pays des Coteaux de l’Ardèche which are for one part produced in the area where chestnuts are cultivated. The vineyard of this appellation covers 7 700 ha and is planted with a large varieties of grapes. Sauvignon, chardonnay and viognier are the main white ones while syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, gamay and grenache are the most common red ones. About twenty winemakers also produce chatus, a red grape that almost disappeared in the 20th century. Nowadays planted on almost 50 ha, it gives original and tannic wines with a deep purple colour and aromatic finesse that shouldn’t be missed. And to learn more about the Ardèche wines, in Ruoms, the Uvica Cooperative boasts a discovery centre named Néovinum that invites you to discover them, their terroirs and their history in a fun and interactive way.
Here are some estates located nearby the villages where the castagnades are held.
UVICA Vignerons Ardéchois, in Ruoms.
Domaine du Grangeon, in Rosières
Domaine de Cassagnole, in Casteljau
Domaine Salel, in Faugères
Cave Coopérative de Lablachère
Cave Coopérative de Montfleury, in Mirabel
Domaine de la Clapouze, in Vallon Pont d’Arc
Cave Coopérative d’Alba La Romaine
- Information :
www.ardeche-wines.com