Deep in the Isère Valley in France, at the foot of the Massif du Vercors Regional Natural Park is the tiny town of Pont-en-Royans.
Voted one of the plus beaux village (meaning “most beautiful village”) in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps region, Pont-en-Royans is famous for its colorful hanging houses overlooking the entrance to the Gorges de la Bourne.
A historic town, it is a popular tourist destination in the department of Isère, next to the Drôme and Ardeche. The area has been populated since the Gallo-Roman times, although much of the architecture dates to medieval times.
In the 10th century, the region occupied by the Saracens (Turkish and Arab invaders) who had come north from Spain. The lords of the area grouped together to defeat the invaders, consolidating their power at “de Peyrins et de Royans“.
With a population of less than 1000 these days, visitors flock to this historic town as a break from hiking and other nature sports. The nearby forest trails are popular for randonneurs (hiking), among the high cliffs and the ruins of the ancient fortifications of the Trois Châteaux.
Not to mention the legendary Grotte de Choranche which is just 15 minutes away. So let’s get to exploring the town of Pont-en-Royans, shall we? Allons-y!
Things to do in the area
1) Hanging houses
Known as the “Maisons suspendues”, these colorful pastel hanging houses perched on the cliffside, overlooking the river Bourne.
These charming homes, which are still private homes, were built in the 16th century for inhabitents working in the Vercors forest’s wood trade which came down the river.
In 1944, the hanging houses were designated as Monuments Historiques by the French government. While you cannot visit inside residents’ homes, you can admire the maison suspendues from all along the riverbank on the opposite side.
2) Hiking in the Gorges de la Bourne
The village is at the gateway between the Bourne river and the Gorges de la Bourne, and offers plenty of hiking trails for nature lovers.
Classified 3 stars in the Michelin guide, the Gorges de la Bourne road is the longest of the typical Vercors forest routes.
Just above the village are the ancient remains of the ramparts of the Trois Châteaux.
The first castle dates back to Celtic times, while the second castle with the current vestige above the “mountain three castles” dates back to the arrival in medieval times of the Lords of Royans, coming from Peyrins.
The third castle named Gaillard, dates to the 17th and 18th centuries and was mostly destroyed during a bombardment during WWII in 1945.
3) Musée de l’Eau
Nearly 4000 m2, the musée de l’eau (museum of water) is one of the largest of its kind.
The museum is located in the former industrial premises of an electrical equipment factory (which was previously a silk factory), powered by the waters of the Bourne river.
There are several different exhibits inside the museum, from the water cycle, water in the human body, pollution, inventions and more.
There is also a water bar, with samples from different parts of the world, like Australia and Japan, that you can taste and purchase. Tickets to the museum are around €7/adult and €4.50/child.
4) Grotte de Choranche
About 7 miles (11 km) away from Pont-en-Royans is the Grotte de Choranche (meaning “Choranche cave”). The cave is the only one of its kind in Europe for its thousands of fistulous stalactites providing a one of a kind spectacle.
Partially discovered in 1897, the cave was not fully explored until 1943 which is why it remains so well preserved.
With the stalactites being extremely fragile and vulnerable even to the breath, tourists are led through the cave by experienced guides in order to keep a safe distance.
Tickets cost around €12/adult and €7.50/child. Note: it gets quite cold in the cave due to the extreme humidity, even during the summer months. Warm jackets and clothing are highly recommended. You can read more about visiting the Grotte de Choranche here.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to get to Pont-en-Royans?
Pont-en-Royans is only accessible by car, with the closest train station in the nearby town of St.Hilaire St. Nazaire about 8 miles (12km) away.
How many days should you spend?
About 1/2 a day is enough in Pont-en-Royans, combining with a trip to the nearby Grotte de Choranche which is less than 20 minutes away by car.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about traveling around the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alps.
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