Every June, National Go Canoeing Week celebrates all things paddlesports, and you may not know it but France’s land is intersected with rivers, canals and estuaries. From the Seine to the Loire, the Garonne to the Dordogne, France’s network of waterways consists of 100 canals and rivers, offering a beautiful means to explore some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes.
Whether you travel by land, dropping your canoe into the best picks of the waterways, or you join a river cruise and explore from coast to coast, discovering France by water opens up an abundance of destinations. Plus, it’s a great way to work on your tan and burn a few calories in the process – so you will have really earned that extra glass of vin or petit four come evening!
The Seine stretches for 485 miles, every one of them navigable. With its source in Burgundy, it flows through Champagne to Paris, meandering through Rouen before meeting the sea in Normandy at Le Havre. This stretch of water shows off some of France’s classiest destinations.
Expect Medieval-style buildings clustering along the banks of the Seine, and towns interweaved by cobbled streets and steep inclines affording shockingly beautiful views.
Top canoeing tip: Put Honfleur on your must-see list. This quaint port inspired many an Impressionist painter, and it’s still easy to see why today.
- Rhône – Avignon
505 miles long, the Rhône flows from the Swiss Alps and feeds through to the Med, just West of Marseilles in the South of France. River cruises are very popular along this stretch, with big barges meandering along gastronomic paths, taking upwards of three days to complete the whole route.
The river has land-based links with Burgundy (one of our most proud wine regions), so is a great choice for visitors hoping to stock up on local food and wine, which you can then take back to the UK if you’re cruising all the way home! Another highlight is the Palais des Papes in Avignon, one of the most renowned Gothic buildings in Europe, which looms over the river.
Top canoeing tip: Take a waterproof camera and paddle your way under the Pont d’Avignon (remember the old nursery rhyme?) soaking up the historic wonder of this UNESCO World Heritage area.
- Rhône Valley
From Lyon to Marseilles, the Rhône Valley produces consistently excellent wine. The region has introduced us to Côtes du Rhône, Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and has 27 wine-producing appellations, growing 27 grape varieties.
Leave your canoe behind and take a wine trail in the Rhône Valley. Whether through Luberon, around Ardèche, or Avignon, a wine trail will have you exploring the vineyards, sampling wines and meeting local French wine makers.
Top canoeing tip: Mix things up with a night-time paddle in Avignon. The Palais des Papes is illuminated come sundown to offer an ethereal and spectacular backdrop to your guided excursion.
- The Dordogne and the Garonne
The 300 mile-long Dordogne meets the 341 mile Garonne River in Bordeaux, transforming into the Gironde estuary. This area is a water-lover’s paradise, with everything from calm canoeing merging into action-packed surfing and Jet-skiing as freshwater meets the saltwater. Plus, there’s the added adventure offered by the wind and tides from the Bay of Biscay.
Bordeaux is the main attraction in this region, with remarkable architecture and world-famed wine, making this a beautiful destination for a city break, packed with gorgeous places to stay, things to do, and restaurants to sample. In Bordeaux alone there is roughly 10,000 wine-producing châteaux! This results in around 850 million Bordeaux bottles a year, so they really do know a thing or two about grapes.
Top canoeing tip: During periods of heavy rainfall, the rivers’ flows can become excessively fast, so keep an eye on forecasts, and know your strength before you get in the water.
France’s longest river is a whopping 629 miles long, stretching from the Ardéche-based Cévennes to the Bay of Biscay. Touching Orléans, Tours, Angers and Nantes on its way, the Loire offers a slower pace of life. Another famous wine region, expect to be indulged with plenty of delicious food and wine along the way!
The heart of the Loire Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the region is populated with incredible châteaux and picturesque vineyards. This area is also well-known as a wildlife hotspot. A sunset picnic in a sunny spot on the banks of the Loire is hard to beat!
Top canoeing tip: The Loire is a popular river to canoe along, so there are plenty of hire companies, as well as guides and maps to help you make the most of your trip.
Canoeing in France – safety tips
- Always wear a buoyancy aid
- Pack plenty of drinking water
- Check the weather forecast before you get out on the water
- Make sure you know the river’s restricted areas and sanctuaries
- If you’re unsure of your capabilities, go with a trained group of paddlers
- A map in a waterproof case is a good idea
- Never paddle under the influence of wine!