Tales from the Riverbank – Canoeing on the Dordogne   8 comments

Time to get back on the water.

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Early morning mist over the valley

We’ve really enjoyed both our kayak trips down the Tarn gorge, this year and last year so it was an easy decision on what to do with our full day in the Dordogne. We’d booked in the night before and even though it rained overnight the day dawned bright and sunny with fog still lingering over the river valley, a sure sign of a cracking day and so it proved. After breakfast we walked across from our hotel to the Canoe Loisirs HQ where we were issued with two Canadian style canoes.

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deliverance

TBF was very nervous about taking command of a boat but the Dordogne is wide and forgiving and she was soon paddling with confidence (despite D’s advice, all of which was wrong!).

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L leads the way

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TBF in control

We’d chosen a route from Vitrac to Beynac a journey of 16km that took us past the major sites of this stretch of river. A bus would collect us at the end of the day and return us to Vitrac. It was a stunning day with a deep blue cloudless sky and rapidly warming temperatures. The first long stretch took us to Cenac, 3km downstream and a great chance to get used to the river and the canoes. The scenery is vastly different to the Tarn, much more open and pastoral with a succession of towns, bridges and castles to admire from the water. Vitrac itself was once a busy port centred on transporting wine and the raw materials for its barrels made of chestnut. As you approach Cenac, the fortified village of Domme is visible high above the river on a rocky spur (Cenac was the port for Domme).

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Rafting up, Domme on the hill in the background

After passing under the bridge we took a stop for some fruit on the bank and for the kids to watch the small fish in the rock pools. The Dordogne here is not especially deep and you can see masses of larger fish pretty much the whole way down.

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Resting on the rocks

The river flows fairly quickly with a few small faster stretches to provide some excitement. Mostly however its just lazy paddling with plenty of chance to lie back and admire the views which are superb. It’s obviously popular and well-known, especially with Brits – lots of familiar accents – but as the river is so wide it never feels especially crowded.

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Limestone cliffs before La Roque Gageac

After a section of limestone cliffs the river winds past the achingly pretty village of La Roque Gageac with its golden stone houses clinging to the cliffs and the water’s edge.

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La Roque Gageac

The site has been occupied since prehistoric times and there have been numerous flint tools found in the caves. The cliff stairway is a relic from the time of Viking invasions when villagers sought refuge from the pillaging and stuff. These fortifications were strengthened by the Bishops from the nearby town of Sarlat in the middle ages. Like most of the towns on the Dordogne it was an important port until the trade declined.

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La Roque Gageac

It’s now a major tourist hotspot for obvious reasons with bars, cafes and restaurants and boat trips along the river.

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Jardins de Marqueyssac

From La Roque Gageac its a long straight paddle to the next bridge at Castelnaud with its massive and imposing Chateau towering above the river.

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Chateau de Castelnaud

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Chateau de Castelnaud

There is a beach by the bridge so we pulled over for a swim and a picnic lunch. A mighty fine place it was too with the view of the castle through the arches of the bridge.

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Picnic by the river

A picnic and a river swim is my idea of heaven on a hot sunny day. More about the castle and its history in a later post.

From Castelnaud it’s a short paddle downstream to Beynac et Cazenac.

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View upstream to Castlenaud

Like La Roque Gageac it’s a stunning and imposing town with the same golden stone buildings and a mighty castle perched high on the outcrop above the river.

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Beynac et Cazenac

The castle has a fascinating history. It was one of the four baronies of Perigord, was captured by Richard the Lionheart and used as a base by the sinister Mercardier whose men pillaged the countryside. During the 100 years war the Dordogne was the frontier between the English and the French and there were constant skirmishes between the castles of Beynac and Castelnaud. It was abandoned in 1798 until 1961 when the present owner embarked on a massive renovation project that is expected to take 100 years. Today it’s a majestic site but a visit would have to wait for another day.

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Chateau de Beynac

We finished our excursion a couple of miles downstream of Beynac with long lingerg views back down the river to the castle.

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View upstream to Beynac et Cazenac

It had been a great day out, totally different to the Tarn Gorge trip but no less interesting and fun. We finished the day with another lazy late afternoon by the pool and a hearty meal in the restaurant.

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8 responses to “Tales from the Riverbank – Canoeing on the Dordogne

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  1. Great photos. I bet looking at today’s weather, this trip seems a rather distant memory!

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    • Thanks Mark. I could almost feel the warmth of sun from the photos, very therapeutic. What a totally dismal week, hard to believe I was sat outside in the sunshine on Sunday afternoon

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  2. Now I have done rivers in a Canadian canoe, as my parents used to have one.
    We’ve been inspired by your French wanders this year, as we’re thinking of going back to France again next summer, but suddenly realised the other day that many of the areas you’ve described would probably be too hot for our doggies in August. We may have to re-think stuff…

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    • I would say it’s pretty damn hot down near the coast and the coastal lowlands but a bit further north in the Massif Central, the Dordogne and up in the mountains it was fine, no hotter than it gets in the UK from time to time. Happy to give you any more background if you have any questions that I haven’t covered in my posts, just drop me an e-mail to andmadley”at”hotmail”dot”co”dot”uk.

      I’d love to just spend a whole summer wandering through France in a Motorhome, so much to see and do and we’ve barely scratched the surface – I guess you may have already sensed my passion for these trips through my blog 🙂

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      • Thanks for that Andy, I’ve put your e-mail address in my contacts so if we need any info I’ll give you a bell! Interesting that you say the Massif Central isn’t too bad, as that was one area that we haven’t visited before that we had wondered about. After all, we can’t own a motorhome and then go away for 6 weeks and leave our precious doggies in kennels!

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        • I’d say a trip around the Auverge/Massif Central and Dordogne (they are pretty close together) would be superb. Some decent sized mountains, volcanoes, gorges and rivers for swimming and kayaking, and some stunning towns/villages and castles to visit would make a cracking trip. The well known places can be a little busy but I’d be certain you could find some quiet spots. My brain is off into holiday planning mode again 🙂

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  3. Wrote a long, erudite and no doubt witty comment for this post on the ipad a few days ago and then threw a wobbler when the ipad refused to post it. Really appreciated your choice of music: marvelous stuff!
    This looks like an absolutely stunning day, what views! I think the other canoeists would just reassure me in a ‘safety in numbers’ sort of way. I know one think though: our kids would never consent to being passive passengers – they would want to paddle. Little S is lethal with a paddle.

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    beatingthebounds
    • I feel cheated that I’ve missed your very first erudite and witty comment 🙂

      It was a stunner of a day, one of the real highlights of the whole holiday. There is a whole host of great stuff packed into about a 20 mile radius but the canoe trip is the business and very well organised. The high quality castles overlooking the river really set the whole thing off. S, lethal with a paddle? Now why am I not surprised

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