Recently I decided to hire a canoe from Canoes Vallée Vézère in Les Eyzies de Tayac on the river Vézère.

On arrival, parking is free and we were kitted out with life jackets, paddles and water-tight containers then driven by minibus up river to Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère. This starting point was my choice. It is a 19 km route that takes roughly four hours (including a few stops) but there are others that are further away or closer to the end point.

Once in the canoe, we spent just over four peaceful hours, slowly paddling down river enjoying the millions of bright blue dragonflies, Kingfishers, clear waters and silence. We canoed past the impressive La Roque-St-Christophe prehistoric cave, Maison Forte de Reignac and Le Village de la Madeleine troglodyte village before ending up back at Les Eyzies. We stopped twice, once for a picnic opposite the 55,000-year-old Roque-St-Christophe and again on an island in the middle of the river for a swim.

In all the years I have lived in the Dordogne, I have been canoeing on the river Dordogne many times and absolutely loved the experience. Canoeing on the lesser-known river Vézère is just as good but in a different way. Being taken up river first, meant that we didn’t have to worry about getting to a designated pickup point at a certain time. We were able to take our time and just rocked up when we were ready. The river Dordogne is very popular for canoe hire and you have great views of castles, La Roque-Gageac and Beynac. But at certain points it can feel like a bit of a canoe motorway. On the Vézère, for most of the time, we never saw another canoe. It was totally unspoilt, natural, peaceful and the tranquillity was amazing. Although I wouldn’t consider it a negative point, the current isn’t as strong as the river Dordogne (although even that isn’t strong) so you do have more paddling to do but it’s great for the arm muscles. One negative point was that some of the best views are obscured by the trees.

Les Eyzies de Tayac is a busy town in the summer and built around the famous pre-historic caves. It has lots of cafés/bars and restaurants and I noticed quite a few campsites nearby. It is within easy reach of Montignac for the world-famous Lascaux cave and Sarlat.

St-Léon-sur-Vézère is a pretty little village on the river with buildings constructed out of golden stone. It is classed as one of the most beautiful villages in France (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France). There are quaint little streets, a Roman church, Benedictine priory and Manoir plus quite a few craft shops and small restaurants. The village also has a small campsite and camping car park. As we canoed past, I noticed a quirky little restaurant right by the river on the campsite side of town. Definitely one to try next time.

The cost to hire a two-man canoe for the 19 km route was 23 euros per person (includes parking, minibus transfer, life jacket/paddle/waterproof container hire). My advice is to take a towel to put on your seat otherwise you’ll get a numb bum. You might also want to take suntan cream, swimsuit, a hat, shoes suitable for walking in the river plus a picnic. There is nowhere on the route to buy anything (a positive point in my book).

There are lots of canoe hire companies operating in the area. It is best to pre-book on the internet.