GLIDING through the water in your canoe as you pass the turrets and towers of Castlenaud on the river Dordogne, all you can hear is the splash of your oar as you head downstream.
With the holiday upon us, and the sun still warm on your back, now seemed a good time to take a trip down the river from Vitrac to Beynac.
The 15km route is a gentle three hour trip taking in some of the most popular sights in the Dordogne, but letting you see them from a completely new perspective.
From our canoe base near Vitrac we took charge of a two person canoe, with room for a small rucksack between the seats and we were brave enough to refuse the small charge for a water tight container that others used to stow away cameras, mobile phones and other valuables.
Setting off down the Dordogne
With a wobble we were soon off into the middle of the gently flowing river Dordogne, catching the occasional glimpse of a small fish in the water and heading towards the first of three bridges we had to pass under that we used as way markers along the route.
The morning sun made stretches of the limestone cliffs we passed glow with a brilliant white, while they reflected off the river in a dazzle and we caught the blue flash of a kingfisher as it darted across the water.
Swallows swooped over the water, dragonflies hovered then darted back and forth, with the occasional duck dipping out from beneath the overhanging trees on the riverbank, it was a simple, peaceful way to glimpse the nature around you.
Heading under our first bridge we passed through a steep gorge, with trees clinging to the cliff face and the deep forest running down to the edge of the riverbank, only to be greeted by a dash of the 21st century.
River photographer captures visitors
Sat in the middle of the river was a photographer on a small boat under a blue and white canopy taking pictures of canoeists as they passed by and then sending the images back wirelessly to a small caravan, perched on the water’s edge, 200 metres further along the river.
Soon after La Roque-Gageac came in to view, a village I’d only ever seen from the tight road that runs beneath the cliffs and with its many visitors sharing it there is little chance to take in the sights while driving.
But from the canoe it is a different matter, bobbing along in the river you can pick out small houses and the steep pathways that connect them as your eye gets drawn up the rock face and where in some places it is being held back with steel pins and netting.
And then a diesel engine fired up and with a full compliment of day trippers a wooden gabare slowly eased away from the quayside, with a guide on board telling people about some of the sights along the river and leaving us in its wake.
Slowly paddling down the river
Paddling along with just the breeze and the occasional canoeists or kayakers for company, the easy rhythm of the river and the fact that there are no roads running alongside the water’s edge at this point made for a peaceful time.
Up ahead the gabare was making a turn beneath Castlenaud as it headed back up the river, so we made sure we kept out of its way before slipping under our second bridge with the flags on the castle’s towers rippling in the wind.
By now the river was beginning to clear as lunchtime approached, just like on dry land, nothing can get in the way of bread and cheese and thankfully with no time limit on our trip, you are almost encouraged to pull up onto the river bank and stop to have a bite to eat.
Taking a break for lunch
From the canoe a shady patch of grass was targeted and with a bit of a wobble and a clamber up the bank, a rug was rolled out and a restful hour feeding ourselves and the passing ducks enabled us to charge up the batteries before heading towards our third bridge and Beynac.
This short final stretch was into a strengthening wind, and we ended up tacking across the river once or twice to make progress, but again coming into Beynac from the river with the castle and church towering above you, lets you see the village in a completely different way.
Heading to the quayside, where we had to meet the mini-bus back to Vitrac, we pulled the canoe up out of the water and were told that we had just missed the bus, but within fifteen minutes another arrived to pick us up.
And we were soon bouncing along the road, picking out spots on the river we had seen from the canoe, while our driver swerved around pedestrians at La Roque-Gageac.
Last Updated on 3 July, 2023.