I love kayaking in France and to be honest, I only seem to kayak IN France! The rewards have been worth it. Kayaking under the Pont du Gard in Provence. Kayaking under Pont d’Arc in the Ardeche. And most recently, kayaking on the Dordogne river, past beautiful villages and famous châteaux along the way. So, if you’re looking for a fun outdoor activity when you’re in the region, consider taking out a kayak or canoe in the Dordogne region—specifically the Périgord noir region, which is located just southwest of Sarlat.
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Kayaking On the Dordogne River
In June, 2019 I stayed in the renowned village Beynac-et-Cazenac in a wonderful apartment. It is one of the most beautiful villages in France (designated “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”) and there were many companies nearby offering kayak and canoe rentals. The company I chose was called Canoe Vacances and it was just off the main road outside of La Roque Gageac (another “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”). They offered three “routes”:
- La Roque-Gageac to Les Milandes (9km)
- Carsac to La Roque-Gageac (16 km)
- Carsac to Les Milandes (25 km)
The gentlemen running the operation were very helpful and provided good advice. I chose the 9 kilometer route that would take me about 2-3 hours. The cost was 16 Euro. It’s really an affordable and enriching experience that I highly recommend. You can certainly do longer half-day or full-day trips, but I didn’t want to use up the entire day. Plus, I felt the route I chose to travel would show me some of the “best” in the Dordogne. The 16 km route would take me past Montfort, Vitrac, and Domme but I was more interested in seeing the famous sites of Beynac, Castelnaud, and Marqueyssac.
Preparing To Kayak
I decided not to wear my bathing suit and just wore shorts and a t-shirt. I had a hat, sunglasses, a bottle of water, and a waterproof case for my iPhone (to take photos), so I wouldn’t have to keep going into the waterproof container (which, to be honest, would have been impossible when you’re on the river, as the container is strapped into the kayak). So my running shoes wouldn’t get all wet in the event I had to climb in or out (or fall out), I used water shoes.
In addition to the waterproof tub, the company provided me a life vest and paddles. I was shown the route and key sites to see. We agreed on a pickup time and I was off!
Scenery Along The Dordogne River
The Dordogne river winds its way east-west for 472 kilometres in the Dordogne Valley. For my kayaking experience, I went from La Roque-Gageac to Les Milandes. Besides seeing beautiful countryside, here were the highlights:
Seeing La Roque-Gageac down at the water’s edge is entirely different and that was the case with the other towns. You get a totally different perspective (and possibly better photos) when you are kayaking or canoeing on the Dordogne.
Château et Jardins de Marqueyssac
High on a hill overlooking the Dordogne valley and river is the Château of Marqueyssac. Located in Vézac, the 17th century château added elaborate gardens with thousands of trees—boxwood, cypress, oak, and maple—-and many paths but throughout the years it fell into disrepair.
It wasn’t until 1996 that a new owner invested into the restoration of the grounds and today it covers over 6 kilometres, has over 150,000 boxwoods and a park with belvederes providing panoramic views of the area. There is a (very loud) peacock that welcomes visitors as they begin their trek along the paths. Today it is listed as a National Historical Monument. During your kayaking journey you will pass the château and gardens; however, they may be a bit far to see.
Château de Fayrac
During my kayaking journey and hot air balloon ride, I passed by Château de Fayrac. While it is private property now, at one time this 14th-century château had various owners including the lords of Castelnaud, nobility, and powerful political figures. It was given the designation as a National Historical Monument. This photo was from the hot air balloon. In the kayak, you’ll see the top part of the château.
Château de Beynac-et Cazenac
I stayed in the town of Beynac-et-Cazenac for a week and was really happy with my choice of this town because it wasn’t too big and is very picturesque. It also has the enormous Château de Beynac-et Cazenac at the top of the hill. While it is a steep trek to the top, the Château is definitely worth visiting. Besides interesting displays throughout the ruins, I don’t think you can get better views of the Dordogne river and valley. And from your kayak, the views of the town and château are just as impressive.
Château de Castelnaud
Château de Castelnaud is located in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle and considered one of the premier châteaux in the Dordogne. It is especially impressive as you approach it in your kayak.
The fortress was built in the 12th century and not only does it have an extensive collection of medieval weapons inside and outside, but the views from the top are spectacular. Definitely worth a visit.
Château des Milandes
My journey ended in Les Milandes. This is the location of Château des Milandes which has birds of prey demonstrations and lovely gardens. But, one of the most interesting aspects is learning about African-American entertainer Josephine Baker. She was extremely popular in France, particularly in the 1920s. One of her most famous performances was at the Folies Bergère in Paris where she wore a skirt made up of bananas.
Baker purchased the château in 1947 and you can take a tour through the mansion to see what it was like when she lived there. Furniture, costumes, and personal photos are on display. Besides being a singer and dancer, Baker was also a French resistance agent during WWII and she was also a civil rights activist in the 1950s and 1960s. She was awarded the Legion of Honour by President Charles de Gaulle.
Sadly, she lost ownership of the château due to her debt load and in 1975, she died at the age of 68. She was the only American woman to be honoured with full military honours at her funeral which took place at L’église de la Madeleine in Paris.
End Of The Kayaking Journey: The Pick Up
Although I was 5 minutes late at the meeting point on the banks of the river (my arms could only paddle so fast!) it was no problem. There was another guest waiting and after loading up our gear, we were driven back to the starting point and our cars.
Advice If You Decide To Kayak On The Dordogne
- I booked my kayak one day in advance, just to ensure I’d get one.
- I will admit my shoulders were sore! As mentioned, I am NOT a seasoned kayaker, doing this maybe once a year. So take it easy and don’t take on too much. I consider myself relatively fit (I run) but the use of your arms and shoulders is entirely different. If you’re like me and rarely, if ever, kayak, maybe just consider a half-day. It should be fun, not a pain (literally).
- Bring snacks and consider having a picnic or at least a short break on the shores. You could go swimming as well. Just be sure to bring water to drink. While it was warm the day I went, in mid-summer I can imagine the heat and sun could be quite intense.
There are so many outdoor activities you can do in the Dordogne; however, kayaking on the Dordogne river has to be one of the best and you’ll be rewarded with truly beautiful scenery.
If you’re interested in other kayaking journeys in France have a look at kayaking under Pont d’Arc in the Ardèche and under the Pont du Gard in Provence. Be sure to check out the other activities I did during my 2 month trip to France.