Vals-les-Bains lies in a hole shut in between steep hills, it commands no view, it trails like an ugly worm along the bank of a petty stream; whereas Aubenas, hard by, accessible by electric tram, is throned on a height, sits as a queen on a platform of rock, and commands such a prospect as is worth going thither from England to see if that were its only attraction.
Are there good hotels in Vals? So there are in Aubenas. Shops? As good in both. Electric illumination, telegraph and telephone? Each is similarly supplied. That which draws a crowd in the season to Vals is the baths. But the baths are a mere excuse. The fashion has set in and the crowd follow the fashion.
The river Ardèche, after having ploughed its way through beds of basaltic lava, runs between the prismatic columns as though sweeping through a forest of petrified bulrushes. It emerges above Aubenas into a broad, luxuriant, and well-peopled valley, where white walls smile and glass windows wink in the sun as far down as the eye can reach, and as far up the sides of the hills as folk choose to climb to their homes.
Moreover, factories stretch their long roofs below the rock of Aubenas and throw up their smoke, but without disfigurement to the scene or vitiation of the limpid air.
Come to Aubenas from the junction at Vogué on a Sunday evening, and you will see something of merry girl-life. The factory-hands from the lower country are returning from their homes to resume their work on Monday morning. They swarm into every carnage, crowding in at every station, each with a basket in one hand and a sack over the shoulder or under the arm. All are chattering, laughing; one wiping away a tear