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With its calm and clear waters ideal for canoeing, kayaking and loads of activities, the Dordogne River will leave even the most "ground-loving" people with a smile. So get ready to get wet!
In 2012, the Dordogne River basin was named a Unesco Biosphere Reserve for its outstanding setting and heritage. Boasting warm crystal-clear waters and a delicious blend of natural and man-made beauty, it's no wonder so many thousands of visitors flock to the region in search of the perfect holiday in the sun.
The Dordogne is one of France's main rivers for canoeing and kayaking, offering umpteen first-class sights within a stone’s throw of the water. Its 130 mile long itinerary is framed with walnut orchards, rock-sculpted villages, fields of sunflowers, eye-popping views and stone fortresses that patrol the cliffs above.
What type of canoeist are you ?
The Dordogne welcomes 4 types of canoeists to its river every year: The beginners, the experienced, the easygoers and the daredevils.
Whilst the easygoers put their paddles on their laps, lean back and trust the current to take them gently down the river, the daredevils are eager to do a hundred mile stint in just a couple of days. Easy peasy...
The river offers a variety of conditions to suit all levels including a few thrilling rapids. Please note that children under 7 and non-swimmers are not allowed on canoes.
Keen paddlers should start at Argentat where the river is faster with lesser crowds. Past Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, the river widens, the current eases and the first limestone cliffs begin to appear. The river runs through stunning landcapes, near gorgeous villages such as Carennac, Gluges, Saint-Sozy, Lacave...past pebbled beaches and fairytale castles like Belcastel or La Treyne.
Vitrac marks the beginning of the busier (but still as delightful) part of river and beaches which entices many a rower to stop off for a picnic. From Carsac, the river winds round in s-shaped loops below medieval fortresses and stunning villages like Domme and La Roque Gageac.
The crowds fall behind past Château de Beynac and although the cloud-topping sights become fewer, the scenery remains just as gorgeous. If you can make it to Limeuil, the confluence of the Dordogne and Vézère offers great views of the two beautifully meandering across the floodplains in different directions.
Preparing your canoeing trip
So how does it work? Numerous companies operate along the river and offer reasonable rental prices which may differ from area to area but not excessively.
From the base, canoeists can be either driven upstream in a minibus and paddle back down or set off from the hire centre and be collected at a chosen location further down.
Most rental companies offer half-day excursions (typically 14km) or a full day (anywhere between 14km and 28km). Paddlers opting for the shorter route are free to take their time and make the most of their day on the river.
Good to know...
Prices are based on the length of the route chosen and not how long it takes for them to complete it. It's also possible to start much further upstream, canoe down over several days and stop over in a campsite on the way. The length of these trips can vary between 2 to 5 days. Excursions are also possible on the Vézère River or the River Dronne which usually start at Brantôme.
Canoeing is not available for children under 7 and adults who can't swim. Most rentals have 2 to 4-seater canoes so the whole family can jump into one. Rafts for up to 6 people are also available in Carennac.
It's better to book beforehand especially during peak season. A waterproof box to store personal items is provided as is all the necessary safety gear. There are plenty of spots along the river where canoeists can pull over for a rest or swim. Don't forget to take a picnic with you to enjoy lunch with a view on a quiet pebble beach.