Dordogne canoeing vacations

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
Ratty may not have been in France when he extolled the virtues of river travel to Mole in the Wind in the Willows, but we couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. In the Dordogne, there simply is nothing better than floating along with the current in your very own canoe, pulling up for a picnic lunch, spotting clifftop chateaux and cobalt kingfishers along the way and enjoying overnight stays in some of France’s best-preserved medieval bastide (fortified) towns.

Kids will love it too, with Dordogne canoeing vacations along the wide, gentle river suited to absolute beginners and easygoing families. Let a Dordogne expert plan it all for you and all you’ll need to worry about is where to stop for a swim, how much cheese is too much cheese and how on earth you’ll ever face work again.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Dordogne or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

What does a Dordogne canoeing vacation entail?

You can expect to cover around 15 to 20km equating to around three to six hours of paddling time per day, however you won’t be on the river every day. Your water-bound days are interspersed with time spent exploring a succession of medieval towns – you might be wandering the honey-coloured stone alleyways of Carennac, hiring a bike to reach the perched, clifftop village of Rocamadour, hiking to the remarkable underground limestone world of the Grotte de Lacave or exploring Sarlat’s gourmet food markets.
The canoeing is self guided, so you won’t have a guide with you on the river. But before you set off you’ll have a safety briefing and a canoeing lesson on a tranquil section of water, and you can expect your first day to be particularly easygoing, giving you plenty of opportunity to get used to handling your boat. You’ll also be provided with detailed route notes, and lots of ideas and help planning where to go and what to do on your days on dry land. Local representatives from your Dordogne vacation specialists will be a phone call away should any problems arise along the way. They’ll also arrange to transfer your luggage between hotels so your bags are always there waiting for you when you arrive at your next destination.

If for any reason it isn’t possible to canoe – for example exceptional rains may make the river run too high or too fast for safety – then you will be offered bikes and the local representatives from your Dordogne canoeing specialists will work with you to craft a pedal-friendly trip that still showcases the best of the Dordogne.

Donna Webber, from our Dordogne canoeing specialists, Headwater, shares some insights around the experience of canoeing down the Dordogne: “The Dordogne is an ideal canoeing river, not too fast flowing, mostly quite shallow and with a gravelly bottom so it’s more difficult to run aground, even in high summer. The experienced and confident canoeist can request their own kayak, otherwise we provide 2-3 person canoes.”

Where will I stay?

You’ll enjoy the hospitality of a selection of hotels dotted along the river, moving every other night when you hop back into your canoe to reach your new destination. Your hotels are picked for their local character – from quaint guesthouses to renovated 11th-century chateaux – offering two to four star half-board accommodation in en suite rooms with excellent restaurants and on-site bistros serving up Dordogne delicacies. Most will also provide a picnic lunch, if you prefer, at an additional cost.

How fit do I need to be?

You’re going to need to enjoy being active and outdoors, but Dordogne canoeing vacations are far from strenuous. While you can expect to paddle for between three to six hours per day, the river currents to much of the work for you so the effort is leisurely and you’ll have plenty of time to pull up to rest, swim or simply enjoy the spectacular riverside views as you paddle. Most importantly you’re going to need to be able to swim at least 50m fully clothed to be able to participate in this type of trip.

Can I take the family?

A wholehearted yes! This is a fantastic way to explore en famille, as long as your little ones are aged eight years old or above and can swim at least 50m fully clothed. Usually your kids will share your kayak or canoe, but single-person kayaks are available for experienced children over 12 years old should you prefer. The distances covered – particularly with the ever present help of the river currents – mean there is plenty of time for splashing, swimming and river shenanigans before you reach your destination each afternoon. Remember, if you do decide to hire bikes on your days away from the river, cycling helmets are compulsory for children under 12 in France – and these are often not included.

Best time to go canoeing in the Dordogne

Donna Webber, from our Dordogne canoeing specialist Headwater shares her favourite time of year on the river: “Any time from June to September. The beauty of canoeing is that even in the summer heat, down on the river, temperatures are refreshingly lower than on land”

With warm, mostly dry days perfectly suited to river adventures, canoeing vacations in the Dordogne happen in the summer months. You can expect the July and August summer vacations to be hottest, but busiest – and you’ll need to book early especially if you want to reserve family rather than double rooms along the way. If you’re not tied to school vacation dates then the crowds ease earlier or later in the season while the weather remains pleasant for paddling.

Responsible canoeing in the Dordogne

Do I need to fly?

In a word, no. A flight is quicker, and cheaper perhaps, but if you’ve got the time and would rather keep your vacation near carbon-free then Souillac, just 20 minutes from Martel, the starting point for our Dordogne canoeing vacations, is readily accessible by train from most European destinations. Take the Eurostar (or other international service) to Paris, from where intercity trains run directly to Souillac from the Gare d’Austerlitz. Alternatively Souillac can also be accessed on a direct line from Toulouse.

Responsible tourism tips

Consider environmentally-friendly sun creams which will biodegrade in water and not damage the river’s fragile ecosystem. These are widely available – look out for creams that don’t contain Oxybenzone or Octinoxate. Try to visit the Dordogne’s most popular sites out of peak season – or outside peak times – to help ease the threat of overtourism. Consider staying overnight in locally-run hotels or guesthouses if you can to ensure your visit pays its way. Hire a bike rather than a car to reach sites away from the river on your rest days – most places you’ll want to visit – Rocamadour, Sarlat, the underground wonders of the Gouffre de Padirac – are all a short (if sometimes uphill) cycle ride away. Don’t be disappointed about seeing replicas of the Lascaux Caves rather than the real thing. When these opened to the public in 1948, the thousands of visitors which flocked to see the prehistoric paintings changed the atmosphere inside the caverns which had been previously sealed off, irrevocably damaging the artwork.
Donna Webber from our Dordogne canoeing specialists Headwater shares her responsible tourism tips: “Whether walking, canoeing or cycling, follow the country code at all times, exercise consideration for the environment and wildlife around you and always take your litter home with you.”
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: Jebulon] [Intro: Jebulon] [What does a Dordogne canoeing vacation entail?: Roland Tanglao] [Best time to go canoeing in the Dordogne: Roland Tanglao] [Donna Webber advice: Joan Vilafranca]
Convert currencies