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Vals-les-Bains

43km (27 miles) W of Montélimar; 138km (86 miles) SW of Lyon

In a depression of the valley of the Volane River, Vals-les-Bains is surrounded by about 150 springs whose existence was discovered around 1600. Scientists have never understood why each spring contains a different percentage of minerals: Most contain bicarbonate of soda, some are almost tasteless, and one -- La Source Dominique -- has such a high percentage of iron and arsenic that it's poisonous. Waters from Dominique are piped away from the town; others are funneled into a Station Thérmale adjacent to the town's casino.

In the park outside the Station Thérmale, a source intermittante erupts, Old Faithful style, to a height of around 7.5m (25 ft.) every 6 hours or so. Small crowds gather for eruptions usually at 5:30am, 11:30am, 5:30pm, and 11:30pm.

The Belle Epoque Casino de Vals-Les-Bains (tel. 04-75-88-77-77), avenue Expilly, is open daily noon to 3am; admission is free. The only casino between Lyon and Aigues-Mortes, it's mobbed on weekends by locals playing roulette or the slot machines, the only options offered. The bistro-style theme restaurant, Le Venetian, is open nightly 7pm (Wed 7:30pm) to midnight and Sunday noon to 3pm.

Other than the scenery, the town's most unusual site is about 23km (14 miles) south, beside the highway to Privas. The 16th-century entrance gate of a ruined feudal château stands here. The views over the confluence of two ravines and the valley are worth the detour.

Lamastre

42km (26 miles) N of Vals-les-Bains; 30km (19 miles) W of Valence

Many connoisseurs of Ardèche architecture view Lamastre as the most unaltered and evocative village in the district. Its most important site is its church, in Macheville, the upper part of the village. Built of pink Romanesque stone, it encompasses portions that date from the 12th century, and it's a frequent site of weddings. Most visitors use the town as a base for nature walks and hikes through the surrounding hills and valleys. A series of brown-and-white signs marks each trail.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.