Friendly Satillieu in the beautiful Ardèche

By Philip Wagenaar

It was raining when we left Amsterdam on our way to France in May 2003. I put the car on autopilot and drove south until the sun came out.

We found ourselves in Satillieu, a typical small town in the French Ardèche.

We checked in at the 2-star Chaleat Sapet (Place de la Faurie, 07290, Satillieu, France; phone 011 33 4 75 34 95 42, fax 011 33 4 75 69 91 13, e-mail or visit, situated on the Place de la Faurie, an attractive, quiet square full of tall trees. The hotel is a member of the Logis de France group.

An attractive place to stay

The welcoming owners not only provided us with a lovely room but offered demipension (half board) with a choice of whichever item on the menu we liked. The meals were superb, and the price of €72 (about $83) for room, breakfast and dinner for two was unbeatable.

It was the perfect setting for a week’s stay in which to indulge in hiking, our favorite pastime.

Each morning at 6 a.m. I followed the heavenly fragrance of the freshly baked buttery croissants and pains aux raisins (raisin rolls) to the boulangerie (bakery) to pick up an airy, crusty baguette, which I carried, wrapped in its usually flimsy piece of paper, back to the hotel for our picnic lunch.

I was never alone. Many of the town’s inhabitants followed me into the bakery to each collect their supply of the morning’s offerings. After all, in the French tradition, all pains (breads) must be fresh when eaten. Consequently, baguettes are baked six times a day.

Next, it was on to the “Presse” (newsagent’s), where a steady influx of Frenchmen had already preceded me. The first day I entered the store in quest of the Herald Tribune, my favorite newspaper, the owner said she normally did not carry it but would order it for me on a daily basis. Going to the Presse every morning also gave me a chance to check out the weather in Aujourd’hui en France, a journal that gives the 5-day forecast for all of France in pictogram format.

After breakfast I would set out to buy our lunch fixings at the grocery store, joined by heavyset, dark-apron-adorned women doing their shopping. After having made their purchases, how these women waddled back up the mountainside carrying huge plastic bags filled with provisions was a sight to be seen.

Hiking in the magnificent Ardèche

On the day after our arrival, to obtain rambling information, I drove to the tourist office at the mairie (town hall), which occupied a stately, 18th-century castle situated on a picturesque plaza overlooking the town.

When I saw a lady leave the building and lock the door behind her, I quickly jumped out of my car, figuring she might be the one I needed. After I explained my wishes to her, she graciously went back to her office and provided me with a beautiful set of pamphlets describing hikes of varying difficulties, all within an hour’s drive of our hotel.

For a week we drove to the various trailheads on the peaceful, paved back roads of the magnificent Ardèche and rambled on glorious trails offering stunning views of undulating hills covered with green grass and heavenly, sweet-scented, yellow scotch broom.

We walked through woods and farmland and through tiny medieval villages dominated by tall church spires. We passed ancient farmhouses, surrounded by walls of loose stones held together without mortar, where farmers wearing typical French berets were tending their machinery.

People in the Ardèche invariably were very friendly. When it rained on one of our hikes, not only were we invited by the lady of the house to take shelter in the barn, but she brought out chairs and offered us coffee.

Where is the department of the Ardèche?

The Ardèche lies in the southeast of France between the Rhône Valley and the Massif Central, west of the A7, roughly between Tournon-sur-Rhône and Orange. The Michelin Local Map 331, Ardèche/Haute-Loire, which shows the scenic roads with a green line, is indispensable in navigating the absolutely fantastic countryside. As an additional benefit, this map underlines in red every town that has its accommodations listed in the red Michelin Guide “France.”

The predominantly rural department, with 286,000 inhabitants, offers many other sports besides hiking, including canoe-kayaking, mountain biking, paragliding and climbing.

While the northern Ardèche has a moderate climate, the south basks in a Mediterranean clime.

Don’t miss the beautiful drive (or bicycle ride) along the Gorges de l’Ardèche (Ardèche River Gorges), between the Pont d’Arc (Bridge of Arc), a natural arch over the river, and Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche.

While we drove from Holland, you may want to travel to the nearby towns of Lyon, Valence, Aubenas, Tournon-sur-Rhône or Orange by plane or train. (For train information, visit SNCF at Car rental is available in Lyon, Valence, Aubenas and Orange.

A week in the Ardèche makes a superb, relaxing and unbelievable vacation.

—The Discerning Traveler is written by Philip Wagenaar.