This was our boat in all those summers in la belle France. A little 4.5 m = 14¾ inch whitewater canoe with a canvas cover and spray skirts.
The Loire is a beautiful river in northern France that can carry a canoe in a most delightful way all along the chain of famous castles on its banks. But it’s not only a natural artery through the heartland of French civilization and history, it’s also a reserve of natural beauty in itself. On its upper reaches the Loire is still pretty unchanged in its natural flow with many sand banks, washed-up tree trunks obstructing the natural passage sometimes, and very little industry polluting the water.
The Loire is mostly quiet and peaceful.
But there are many other fabulous much more lively paddling rivers in France:
La Malene on the Tarn.
St. Chely-du-Tarn, the beginning of a wild, romantic canyon:
We had this crazy little motorcycle in our van and used it for all the shuttling along the rivers. With its fat, bouncy tires this bike was a suicide machine; I had several crashes with it and did not keep it for long.
The Ardèche is a very popular lively river not far from Avignon. In the holiday season (in the month of August the whole nation is on holiday!) thousands of boats float down the Ardéche, nobody knows how to navigate the rapids, they all fall into the water, it’s warm, no one cares, it is a zoo…
La Cave, up there on the cliffs.
The Vézère is another very beautiful little river running into the Dordogne, less touristy and equally pretty as the Dordogne. There are many caves with remains of prehistoric dwellings in the Vézère valley. Lascaux is not far, it’s considered to be the number one prehistoric site in all of Europe. The paintings on the site date from 17,000 to 15,000 years ago.
“Pique nique” somewhere, looking for other paddle rivers.
We never paddled the Verdon but hiked along its banks and through it.
I remember a tunnel down there from a never completed railroad project, under gigantic cliffs, cutting straight through a meander of the river. Standing at the entrance and peering in, you could see a tiny little spot of light in the black hole: the exit about half a mile away on the other side of the mountain. We actually went in and made it through without a flashlight, stumbling and falling many, many times. Sorry, we just had to do it.
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Looking into the Gorge de Dalius and down on the wild river Var.
This was one of our most exciting explorations by boat. I had seen pictures of the canyon as a child: A gruesome chasm in red vertical rock and a white river tumbling through it. Man, what would it be like in there? The image colored my dreams throughout my youth. Later I found out about the name: Gorge de Dalius, it rang in my mind for years. Later again I learned the location: France, oh my, so far away! But that was about all the information I had when I finally stood up there one day and saw it with my own eyes. I had no clue if it was navigable by boat, but I had to go in there. There are only a few places where you can look down and investigate at least parts of it, there didn’t seem to be major drops with really dangerous falls. We took this little inflatable kayak, launched it a bit further up under a bridge, and went in, hoping for the best.
It was absolutely fantastic! The canyon is only a few meters wide in some places, it’s dark down there in the middle of the day, the walls up to 300 m tall. There is a deafening noise from the turbulent water. We crashed against walls – the rubber boat was just the right thing – bounced over rocks, bruising our butts, flipped a couple of times, but made it through. I’ll never forget the feeling of suddenly spilling out of the exit into the open, still racing along, the boat completely full of water, paddling like crazy to avoid rocks.
Today I would probably see it with different eyes, not such a big deal. But at the time it was marvelous. Parvin is the brave one who trusts me and goes along. One can have all kinds of opinions about things like this. It seems stupid to take unnecessary risks. However, that remains the question. Is life a security problem, a never-ending struggle to avoid danger? Or is it a journey, inevitably a dangerous journey, on which it ultimately doesn’t matter if you arrive but if you were present on the way when it all happened.
And for more about our adventures on the Durance: (click here)
Klaus October 6. 2011