The French locals call Ardèche, France’s ‘little secret’ and the secluded medieval villages, rugged gorges and canyons, are a testament to its unspoilt character. It’s so untouched that celebrity survival expert Ray Mears did a programme on this hidden landscape. But all the best secrets are eventually revealed and the UK’s latest travel entrepreneur, Danny Cummin, is all set to do this, with the launch of his exclusive activity holiday company, Experience Ardèche, in this rare part of Southern France, which remains largely unknown to British tourists.
Put away all thoughts of ‘roughing it’, as Experience Ardèche is also a luxury break – a sophisticated option seldom associated with activity holidays. If there’s one word that anyone with a passion for travel looks for, it’s something new, and what Experience Ardèche offers is a great new destination for holidaymakers seeking a range of tailor-made relaxing and adventurous activities, from painting and photography, to horse-riding, caving, canoeing and canyoning.
Most importantly, Danny’s company remains committed to protecting this ancient landscape, by working closely with local businesses. Rather than altering the area by building new accommodation, Danny’s company uses the long established Belvedere Hotel, which nestles on the edge of the Nature Reserve. This hotel is renowned for its fine wine and gastronomy exclusively sourced from the region, including the local signature delicacy, ‘Caille rôtie aux marrons d’Ardèche’ - Quail roasted with Ardéche chestnuts. Another added luxury is that for the first year ever, the Hotel has cut away a pathway, so Experience Ardèche holidaymakers will be the first to enjoy direct private access from the hotel to a breathtaking secluded beach.
Most popular holiday spots have tourist attractions that have been common knowledge for centuries, but once again, Danny has chosen a place that is unique and different from other destinations. Only as recently as 1994 did Ardèche hit the news, with the magnificent discovery of the Chauvet Cave with it’s 32,000 year old prehistoric paintings, the oldest ever uncovered. This makes it the perfect place for anyone interested in a painting holiday.
The area also boasts the largest natural arch in Europe, The Pont d'Arc, as well as the Gorge de L’Ardèche, known as France’s Grand Canyon. Furthermore, this region’s architectural delights match the magnificence of these natural landmarks, and holidaymakers can take ‘time-out’ from organised activities to visit places such as the medieval village of Vogue, christened by the French as the most beautiful village in France. Naturally Vogue is included in the painting itinerary.
The best bit about Experience Ardèche is that Danny knows exactly what British people require from a holiday. Danny says,
“ When they first come here, most people just want to relax and wind down from the busy, hectic 24/7 life that they lead in the UK. We do everything to make them comfortable from the offset and the first meal at the hotel is complimentary. The tutors are skilled at offering beginner intermediate and advanced levels of tutoring, so holidaymakers don’t need to feel awkward trying out a new activity. The beauty about Experience Ardèche is that it really offers something for everyone. And being only an hour away from London by plane, it is perfect for the traveller who doesn’t want to spend hours travelling, but nevertheless wants to feel as if they have visited a remote part of the world. ”
The biggest secret about the Ardèche, is it’s intoxicating power to offer a life changing experience and Danny’s story is proof of this. No stranger to the outdoors, (Danny’s list of coaching qualifications is longer than most people’s shopping list), he’s well travelled and has had many years working in the outdoors pursuits industry at home and abroad. But when he visited the Ardèche he knew this was the one place capable of making him change his life forever. Over the past few months he’s packed away his old life in the UK, lock stock and barrel and invested everything in launching Experience Ardèche.
But Danny’s no gambler when it comes to important decisions. He’s an informed man who knows his business inside out and is certain he’s onto a winner. When asked, if he found setting up this business more frightening than finding himself up the creek without a paddle, he replied,
“ By far, but I always have a spare paddle! And I guess ‘the spare paddle’ of this business is my intimate knowledge of this venture. The outdoors and the river in particular, may be unknown territory to many businessmen, but it’s my comfort zone. The ‘extra paddle’ is that I am confident that I have dealt with and will deal with anything that comes my way. ”
What qualities do you think it takes to make a go of setting up a new business?
“ Diligence, determination, a sense of reality, flexibility and faith in the concept. ”
What has been the hardest part of this whole project?
“ The total commitment to the project and long months spent pre planning for every eventuality. The hard work’s been done and now I’m ready to enjoy the thrill of the plunge. ”
What has been the best part?
“ When the website went live just a few weeks ago and everything finally fell into place. The feedback from people who visit the site has all been really positive and it seems that the impression I was hoping to create has been achieved. ”
What's the most exciting experience that you’ve enjoyed in the Ardèche?
“ Night paddle - midnight descent of the river! Beautiful, scary, peaceful, exhilarating. I needed to know the river by heart and know when to hug the side to avoid certain rapids in the dark. ”
What's the most dangerous thing you've ever done?
“ Well it’s not related to outdoors pursuits at all! Probably working as a Labourer in London or as an Electricians mate (where I electrocuted myself twice!). Most people probably think that the outdoors activities/jobs that I have done are more dangerous, like white water canoeing, canyoning, mountaineering etc, but the right equipment, not exceeding your own abilities and proper instruction where needed, helps to manage the risks. It’s more of a perception of danger. Often, in properly managed programmes, the most dangerous thing people do is drive there! There is more danger and risk in something they do everyday and take for granted, but new activities can appear more threatening because they are out of their comfort zone. ”
Many people are exhausted when setting out on holidays. Do you think activity can be a form of rest?
“ Definitely as it helps you feel more alive, re-charged, re-invigorated. Activity doesn’t mean exhausting! ”
Do you think an inactive holiday can be more tiring than an Experience Ardèche break?
“ Of course, doing nothing makes you feel tired and without energy, especially if the weather is depressing. A lot can depend on the organisation of a trip, having to
sort out any problems can put a real drain on the holiday, such as accommodation issues, or travel arrangements, or opening/closing times for specific attractions etc, but Experience Ardèche takes care of all of this. ”
Could somebody who has never had an active life enjoy your holiday?
“ Yes, yes, yes. ”
“ The painting and photography weeks don’t involve any over-exertive activities but give a focus and engages clients via their chosen medium. Even during the activity weeks, anyone can try each activity as much or as little as they want in a supportive and relaxed atmosphere with like-minded people. The activities are tailored to the groups needs, allowing everyone to gain a great sense of achievement and enjoyment whilst best experiencing the local geography and the stunning scenery that surrounds them. It could also potentially introduce them to a sport that they may not have previously considered/experienced, leading on to future participation and a healthier lifestyle. Also the Ardèche boasts an average of 300 days sunshine a year. ”
Did your family ever go on activity holidays?
“ No never. I went on my first with some friends when I was about 15, coincidentally it was to the Ardèche - I suppose it has called to me ever since! ”
What was your best ever holiday experience?
“ Evening paddle on the Ardèche river, sun setting, nobody about, just cruising gently down the river watching all the wildlife come to life - beavers swimming next to me, eagles circling above. Or my experience of canyoning...what an amazing day and a great healthy way to get a pure invigorating adrenaline rush! ”
What’s an adrenaline rush – describe it?
“ It’s an overdose of nervous energy. The more nervous you are the greater the build up. The adrenaline ‘rush’ comes from the release of this, usually on the immediate completion of whatever the task was, creating an overwhelming feeling of wellbeing, invincibility and achievement. ”
What sort of activity do you do to get an adrenaline rush?
“ Anything that is outside of your normal comfort zone e.g. standing on as stage, jumping out of a plane, canoeing rapids etc. Adrenaline will generally increase in relation to how far out of ‘play’ area (or normal comfort zone) you go. The idea is not to fall into mis-adventure as this is from where ingrained fears can be born (fear of heights etc) or injury is more likely to occur. These fears can be channelled, and changed by controlled experiences within the adventure or ‘stretch’ zone. ”
Do you think there are people out there who are afraid of experiencing such a rush from an activity holiday? If so, why?
“ Yes, I think their fears (whatever they are) prevent the individual from trying to push boundaries. Often avoidance is the most common and painless coping mechanism. I feel that they think that whatever will give them a rush is too dangerous or embarrassing etc. With Experience Ardèche even they, in this safe environment with expert guidance, will be amazed at what they can achieve. ”
Where do you hope to see yourself in a year?
“ Hopefully with a number of bookings, happy clients and the development of photography and cultural/gastronomic tours. Also being featured in UK travel magazines and newspaper supplements, radio and TV slots, would be a brilliant boost for Experience Ardèche. ”
What are your long term plans?
“ Eventually I can see the company expanding, specialising in other beautiful, lesser known, areas of Europe. The concept is franchisable and the main ingredient for success lies in sourcing excellent local knowledge and quality instruction. ”
So the secret’s out. If the powerful captivating nature of the Ardèche has changed Danny’s life for good, there’s no denying this will be the 2008 destination of choice for those seeking a new type of holiday. It’s guaranteed that Experience Ardèche won’t remain a secret for long and as far as new UK travel entrepreneurs go, Danny Cummin is a name that will definitely be associated with quality activity holidays in the future.
Additional Information for Editors:
Prices vary depending on dates and type but are from £749 - £949, and includes, accommodation (half board - continental breakfast, lunch and first evening meal), full board is available at a slight premium, transport to and from all programmed activities/excursions, (the programme for activity and painting trips are on the website), and advice/suggestions of where to go during free time.
Transfers from Nimes or Avignon airport/ train station. All holidays excluding flights.
People can choose to drive so as to have mobility when there, maybe as part of a European tour, or come by train (the green option) on the TGV. There are a few budget flights with Flybe (Southampton-Avignon) and RyanAir (Luton / East Midlands / Liverpool-Nimes or via Brussels from Manchester, Glasgow, Dublin or Shannon). Although having their own transport or hiring a car gives clients greater flexibility, they do not need it. Transport is provided for all included elements, though many clients will just relax by the hotel, walk along the beach, swim in the river and just enjoy the tranquility.
Danny is available for Interviews:
Contact: Daniel Cummin
Telephone: +44(0)1749 812109
Mobile: +44(0)7763 879251
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