The worst campsite I've ever found, after 28 years of camping
12. Juni 2014 um 02:37:41
We arrive at 1730 on Friday 16th May, 2014, to find no-one at reception, despite the sign saying open until 1800. No problem, I walk down to the canoe rental place by the river and chat to the super-friendly guy hauling kayaks about, who gives us the code for the gate and tells us to pitch our tent anywhere... (it is pretty quiet at the moment, low season), and check in tomorrow morning. The location is beautiful, we make camp under the shadow of the soaring limestone cliffs across the river and cook dinner. The place is almost deserted, and as it gets dark we turn in for what looks like a very quiet night's sleep. At about 2130, however, the music starts.
Further down the beach, a big group of teenagers - maybe 30 or 40 - have a pair of very large speakers pointed towards the huge cave in the cliffs opposite (I know this because I see them, with a young guy sleeping next to them, as I walk up the river with my dog the next morning) - the acoustics are incredible, we can hear every drum hit and every rumble of bass. It'd be a perfect venue for a music festival.
At around 0100 in the morning, the music stops, to be replaced by the guy with the guitar playing everyone his three chords. There is singing, there is tribal drumming on the canoes, there is tinny music from a handful of car stereos. There is no sleep. Eventually, at around 0300, the crowd disperses, and we are finally given some peace - except for the six young guys who wander over to the beach below our tent skimming stones and chatting until 0730, when they drag a few canoes around to make beds for themselves to pass out in.
At this point, I have to admit our own fault - when I check in at 0845, I don't say anything about the music coming from the campsite next door. Naively, I assume that someone, anyone - hopefully a member of staff from either this campsite or next door - will have noticed the ridiculous level of noise last night, and something will have been done about it. Having checked in, I wander up to the shower blocks, hoping for a soothing hot shower to prepare me for the day, but cold water spews from the jets, and only for as long as you keep your hand pressed on the button, making washing difficult. I remember a time when hot water was something of a rare luxury on campsites, but those days are long gone (especially in this price bracket).
We enjoy our day, soaking up the knowledge at the Chauvet Cave museum and strolling around Vallon, before heading back to the campsite in the afternoon to lounge around in the river. We take the short walk up the beach to the Pont d'Arc, a truly incredible sight, and we lazily float back down the river in our inflatable rubber ring under a brilliant blue sky. As we near our tent, we pass the large group of teenagers staying at the campsite next door, playing in the river, jumping off the rocks opposite. The speakers, silent for the moment, are still there, facing the cave in the cliff. I shudder at the thought, but I am certain that the truly astounding events of last night won't be repeated.
We get dressed and drive to Vallon to eat dinner at a brilliant Thai restaurant and, well-fed, we head back to the campsite. As we drive down to the gate, we can hear the music already. "You have got to be joking," my girlfriend says, but it obviously isn't a joke - it's not very funny. We sit in our folding chairs with a mug of river-chilled rosé wine, reading by the light of our head torches under a starry sky for half an hour, hoping for an early finish to the music, but eventually we give up and crawl into our tent.
If I had a pen and paper handy, I could have written down the name of almost every track they played for the next four hours. The music seems louder and clearer tonight, and I find myself wondering if they have switched to a bigger and better sound system. The crowd, too, sounds bigger - I'd put their number at around 60 or 70 tonight - they cheer and whoop, their cries echoing around the natural amphitheatre. They sing along to the music. Every now and then I stick my head out of the tent to see what's going on, and I am amazed to find the cliffs towering over us illuminated by a laser-and-light show. This is not just a group of teenagers having an impromptu party, this is an event that someone has spent time planning.
Part of me thinks "Why don't you just down the rest of that bottle of rosé and join in...", but that's not what we are on holiday for. I'll mention at this point that I've done a lot of work at music festivals, catering backstage mostly, and I am used to camping and sleeping through the most incredible levels of noise. But at a music festival you are prepared for it - on the edge of a nature reserve, you expect your campsite to be a little quieter.
At 0130, the music stops, and we are given a repeat of last night's show - hours of the guitar, the tribal drumming on canoes, the muffled music of car stereos, the a capella singing. As happens after events such as these, small groups of people slowly drift away from the epicentre to find a quiet place in the shadows to stand around laughing and joking. One such group stands thirty metres from our tent, and at 0515 I stick my head out to request, loudly but quite politely given the circumstances, for them to shut their mouths, in a mixture of English and French. "Oh, better move along," the group chortle, "We've annoyed the English!"
At 0530, the noise has dropped enough for us to drift into a fitful sleep.
Early in the morning, we pack up our tent and drive to the front gate, and I am waiting at reception as the lady arrives to open up. My French isn't perfect, but I give her the basic rundown of the above story as best as I can.
"Ah, yes, it's always a problem at the weekends..." she sighs.
"But if it's a regular problem, why didn't you mention anything yesterday morning when we checked in!" I reply.
"But you didn't complain about the previous night's noise, either..." She has a point. We should have complained.
"You obviously don't stay on the camping overnight, then? Is there a member of staff who does?" I ask.
"Yes, we have a very reliable man who stays in this house right here," the owner says, waving his hand at the building next to us. He has arrived after learning of our complaint.
"Can we speak to him about the noise of the last two nights?" I ask.
"No," the owner replies. "He is sleeping."
Their argument is that because the noise came from the beach below the campsite next door, it isn't their problem. We posit that because you could hear the music loud and clear from hundreds of metres away and that they have had the same thing happen in the past, apparently on a regular basis, that it is a problem that they need to address. We refuse to pay the full price. The owner threatens to call the police, taking a photograph of our car numberplate. We agree that he should. My girlfriend stays at reception talking to the girl on the desk, whilst the owner and I walk down to where we pitched our tent, and I indicate where the worst of the problems were. There are still teenagers passed out on the beach below our tent. Others have stolen canoes from the long line of them stacked at the top of the beach and are floating around lazily on the river. A dying campfire, lit at around 0130 to the sound of raucous singing, smoulders in the centre of a cluster of tents, a hundred metres from where we were camped.
The owner and I walk back to reception. We are given a discount of 25% - thirty euros for these two horrible nights is still disgustingly overpriced, but we are desperate to leave this terrible campsite and carry on with our holiday. We find instead a wonderful campsite just across the river from Vallon, and enjoy our remaining three days in this beautiful place.
In short, I recommend the area of the Ardeche Gorge without reservation, but steer clear of Camping La Rouviere at the weekend, unless you are looking for a rave with incredible acoustics.