For such an unassuming country town with a clearly sweet old heart, it comes as a surprise to learn that Privas is administrative capital of the whole département de l’Ardèche! It’s better known as capital of crème de marron and marrons glacés, Clément Faugier the main producer (out on the Montélimar road).

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Huguenot Stronghold

Beyond the eye-sore soaring concrete tower of the town hall, an array of appealing little old squares climb somewhat arthritically up to the pleasingly solid stone penitentiary. Historically, Privas suffered terribly after espousing Protestantism in the Wars of Religion and becoming one of the main French Huguenot strongholds accepted at the end of the conflict. But after the populace attacked the castle when a Catholic became lord and then defied the regional governor, Richelieu and Louis XIII came to camp outside town in 1629, along with 20,000 troops. Although Richelieu tried to stop the carnage, large numbers of Privas Protestants were massacred. One local girl who escaped death was adopted by Richelieu, and became known as la Fortunée de Privas.

Coux

To improve relations, the royalist side saw to the building of the dramatic bridge over the Ouvèze. Coux, a forward defensive post for Privas in times past, has managed to keep its well-armoured head above the modern urban sprawl east of town.

Col d'Escrinet

South from Privas, dramatic twisting country roads lead across the Plateau du Coiron. The N104 main road heads west via the Col de l’Escrinet, a major pass into the southern half of the département, with stunning views as you swoop down towards Aubenas.

For more information on the Ardèche, read the Cadogan guide to the Rhône-Alpes.

Copyright Philippe Barbour 2012