Canoeing the Dordogne from Montignac to Trémolat

We parked our van at Le Bugue, a great starting location for exploring one of the most attractive areas of the Dordogne valley. From elegant Chateauxs perched on limestone cliffs to dramatic river valleys, Alex and I had 4 days of canoeing 63km from Montignac to Trémolat. We navigated along both the Vezere and Dordogne rivers on our trip.

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1st June day 1 – Montignac to near St Leon

We booked our trip with Canoe Eric, a friendly local company run by Eric and Chantal. Meeting at 8:45AM, we’re equipped with a Canadian canoe, paddles, buoyancy aids, and waterproof barrels for our camping gear. With a choice of accommodations on route, Alex and I decided to mix it up with one night camping, one hotel night and one night in our van for the 4 day trip.

We are transferred 45 minutes upstream from Le Bugue to Montignac. The Perigord region in France is infamous for ancient caves, the sensuous taste of foie gras and truffles and the unspoilt beauty of the river valleys. It was my two passions rolled into one – delicious food and the great outdoors!

With setting off in the canoe, we passed the infamous Chateaux de Lossea. The castle had fairy-tale like pointed towers and was built with bright yellow bricks that are characteristic of the Dordogne region. We passed a local football stadium and rescued a new-looking football floating in the river. It soon became a new game – throwing the ball a few metres ahead and canoeing downstream to retrieve it again. It was 31 degrees on our first day and floating along the river on a scorching day felt wonderful.

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We reached St Leon (approx 10km away) very quickly and proceeded towards Camping Le Paradis. Prior to reaching the campsite, we noticed an island emerging in front of us, splitting the river in two ways, left or right.

We followed the faster, more concentrated flow of the river as the water ebbed it’s way forward. Our canoe glided towards the trees until, like a sudden snap of a mousetrap, our canoe flipped upside down. Two humans, two barrels, sun-cream, bottles of water, and paddles went flailing out the boat. My first emotion was total shock. I bobbed to the surface of the water and thought “Oh, treading water means I am kicking off my shoes, best not lose those”. We swam to a steep sided bank and grabbed hold of a few branches. The canoe was upside down and filled with water as we watched our barrels (housing our passports, money and books) drift away from us.

Alex managed to find a foothold on a rock by the bank. With brute strength and soaking wet clothes, he lifted the canoe vertically until enough water escaped for the vessel to float again. We boarded the canoe like drowned rats, and paddled at full speed to try and retrieve our goods. Two barrels and a sleeping mat that had floated approximately 500m away from us.

Another fellow canoer spotted our barrels and stopped them from floating away any further and we thanked them gratefully. My camera had sunk to the bottom of the river and my iphone screen flashed with jagged green lines. I’d lost two devices within the first 10 days of our trip.

We disembarked at Camping Le Paradis. With the sun beating down above us, we sat at picnic tables and dried off very quickly, albeit in stone cold silence. I’d lost over 100 photos taken during our trip and had a waterlogged phone, thus I was pretty angry. Alex sulked as I was silent, and I sulked as Alex wouldn’t respect my need for silence.

We took a few hours to read and relax at Paradis Campsite. The 30 degree weather only became a paradox for our mood as we lightened up for the afternoon. Neither of us could stay melancholy for long as we evaluated the situation – an insurance claim was submitted the same day for the camera and we still had one phone between us. Everything was ok!

One weird thing about camping in France is that campsites do not differentiate between a walk in tent, small car or 10ft motorhome. The price of a pitch is the price regardless of how much space you take. We weren’t keen on parting with 29 EUR just to sleep on the grass so we continued on in the canoe, intent on finding an island or patch of ground to sleep on.

A lot of the Vezere river has steep sided banks, with few options to stop overnight in a canoe. After a couple of trial and error stops, we came across a patch of flattened grass running alongside a secluded track. There was a pile of ash where wild-campers had stopped here previously. We drag the canoe onto the bank and set up our tent for the night.

 

I’d describe the night of the 1st June of one of the worse sleeps I’d ever had. I’d wake up every couple of minutes and would peer at the cheap green screen of my Casio travel watch. 1:41AM, 2:17AM, 4:09AM….I mumbled to Alex that my body felt like a twisted pretzel, whilst he stirred in agreement.

2nd June day 2 – Somewhere near St Leon to Les Ezyies

Following a light sleep, we awoke to a roar of a Land Rover pulling up next to the river bed. A couple of fishermen off-loaded their gear whilst we hid in the tent until they left.

Setting off early at approximately 7:30AM, we pushed towards Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil. The allure of a soft bed, hot shower and crispy croissant had my eyes sparkling with anticipation. We were dirty, hungry and had run out of water.

The bridges marked the start of civilisation as we disembarked at ANCK canoe hire. We arrived into Les Eyzies at 10:30AM in the morning and were both anticipating the hotel stay with absolute joy.

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We approach the reception desk sheepishly, looking like dirty river monsters in a quaint hotel setting. Despite arriving at 10:30AM, the hotel were kind enough to provide a room that was ready. We freshened up and went into the town centre.

We stopped at the first eatery we could find. I picked a sandwich off the menu without knowing what it was in pure excitement to eat (cornichons means pickles!) Together we devoured a ham and pickle sandwich made with world class french bread. Served with a hot, crisp portion of frites and a cooling apple juice, the late breakfast went down an absolute treat! The aching hunger, heat, and terrible nights sleep felt instantly cured after a delicious sandwich.

We covered our entire days canoeing by 10:30AM, thus Alex and I proceeded to go and read in the local park. By reading, I mean we instantly fell asleep lying in the sun. We were awoken in an almost comical fashion by a local musician trying out his trombone. I woke up to the largest pool of dribble on my forearm, a novel displaced next to me and the sun close to burning the back of my legs. We bundled ourselves back to Hotel Des Roches relishing the simple beauty of running water, a swimming pool and a soft bed.

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On 2nd June, Alex and I treated ourselves to our first dinner out in 2 weeks of travel. We went to Restaurant Mentalo which offered a deliciously smooth duck pate as a starter and a lemony trout for the main course.

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Everything about the Day 2 was a juxtaposition of Day 1. We had delicious food at a local restaurant compared to surviving on boiled eggs the previous day. We had a warm bed instead of wild camping on the hardest patch of ground we could find. It is truly one of the great joys of travel – that you find appreciation and joy in the every day.

3rd June day 3 – Les Ezyies to Le Bugue

Waking up at Hotel Des Roches, we proceeded back to our canoe for our onward journey towards Le Bugue.

When we arrived at our canoe, we noticed that the buoyancy aids and paddles were missing. We approached ANCK canoe hire to ask if they stored the equipment somewhere overnight. After a brief phone call with Canoe Eric, they ascertained that the items were taken by a passerby by accident, or a thief. ANCK canoe hire kindly provided us with the equipment to continue our journey back to base.

Flowing into Le Bugue and being back at our van was like reuniting with an old friend! We’ve gained one football (found) and lost one camera. With another scorching day reaching 31 degrees, we spent the evening cooking a simple guacamole based dish and enjoyed a sunset beer by the river.

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4th June day 4 – Le Bugue to Tremolat

Today we finish our canoe trip with a 21km journey towards Tremolat. We stop off at Limeuil, a village located at the confluence of the Dordogne and Vézère rivers and often described as one of the most beautiful villages in France.

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We couldn’t help but find giddy delight in trying out the first baguette machine that we’ve encountered in France. Placing a Euro into the machine, we hear the mechanisms whirr into life. The drawer opens, presenting a freshly baked baguette that we enjoyed for lunch.

Whenever the river was shallow enough, we often delved into a bit of makeshift fun –‘treasure hunting’. Being stupid enough to lose my camera in the river must mean that there are a plethora of cameras, rings, and maybe even “Heart of the Ocean” Titanic necklace all floating in this river. We dreamt of finding sunken gold caskets and clusters of diamonds and not having to go back to work as a result. One can only dream!

 

We arrived into Camping Tremolat at approximately 4:30pm, with our scheduled pick up at 5:30pm. After our canoeing trip, we drove 50km onto Marsac Sur l’isle, towards the infamous vineyards of Bordeaux, where we wild parked next to the riverside for dinner.

Dinner that evening: potato, lentil and sausage hash

Dinner that evening: potato, lentil and sausage hash

Trip Tips

  • We booked our trip with Canoe Eric who are a fantastic local organisation. They lent us the equipment and provided the transfers for the trip. There is a free car park for customers in a river-side area of Le Bugue down a quiet road. The cost of the trip is 72 EUR per person for the 4 day trip. They kindly let us leave our camper van at the car park for the 4 days that we were on the trip for.
  • The trip is suitable for beginners and I’d highly recommend to have any devices strapped to you when you’re in the boat!
  • Accommodation: There is a choice of booking hotels or camping and these have to be booked independently.
  • Bring a hat, the sun exposure on the river is high.
  • I’d highly recommend Restaurant Mentalo in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, delicious food and fantastic service. There is a 2 course set menu for 15 EUR per person.
  • If you choose to book hotels, try to go directly on the hotel website. We checked booking.com and other 3rd party websites and we noticed a 5 EUR cost saving if you book directly on the hotel website (Hotel Des Roches).
  • If you have any questions about arranging the trip, please feel free to comment here or email me.

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