Canoeing/Kayaking is the perfect way to see some of the natural splendour of Provence from a new perspective. This is not white-water rafting, it is a gentle trip downriver that is ideal for families. You can be accompanied or not, stop off for swims and picnics, and you will be returned to your point of departure at the end. Here are our Provence canoe and kayaking recommendations.
Sorgue River – Fontaine de Vaucluse
The Sorgue River emerges from deep underground at Fontaine de Vaucluse, and just outside of town you can rent a kayak and ride the gentle waters down to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which you can do in 1-2 hours, depending on your pace and whether you stop. The river is crystalclear and the bottom a dazzling emerald green (it’s also bracingly cold as it has just come out of the ground!) This is a beautiful nature outing as well as a fun activity for all ages.
Kids love it, though there is a minimum age of 3 or 6 years old, depending on the operator. The distance is about 8km/5 miles, and it is gentle, unless there has been a lot of rain over a period of time, which makes the river higher and the water faster. You do need to get out at a couple of points to get over weirs, and so footwear is important, as wet steps are slippery.
There are a few obvious spots you can stop off at for a break and a swim, one is a small sandy beach, and there are a couple of small islets.
Wildlife: the Sorgue is alive with wildlife. Look down into the water and in the deeper sections you will see fat trout idling against the current. In the air it is common to see a kingfisher, and irridescent damselflies are everywhere. Along the banks are voles and the occasional otter.
Choose your operator: there are two possibilities, Kayak Vert and Canoe Evasion. If you want to go off on your own choose Kayak Vert. If you want to go in a small group with a guide, go with Canoe Evasion. Kayak Vert starts from slightly higher up the river, so has a slightly longer ride down river. Both end at the parting of the waters at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, and bring you back to the start by bus.
They have kayaks for 1, 2 or 3 people, and if you have two small children you can go as a 4 with the children together in the middle.
If you like good customer service, you may be disappointed by Kayak Vert. They are busy in summer and it shows. If you arrive at journey’s end between 2pm and 3pm, you will find the staff are on their lunch break. So you need to set off before 12 or after 1. This is not the case with Canoe Evasion.
Age limits: 3 years old for Canoe Evasion and 6 years old for Kayak Vert.
Pont du Gard
This superb course starts at Remoulins, west of Avignon. There are several organisations running trips along the river. In the past we have always chosen Natu’ Rando who have several itineraries of differing lengths and starting points.
The most family-friendly trip is the 7km, the company will provide the necessary equipment and take you to the start point upriver in their mini-bus. After an instructional briefing you will be ‘launched’ into the river, which is incredibly clear, warm and calm. The trip is unguided so you get to choose your own speed and can stop off anywhere you like to swim and picnic.
The region of the Gorges du Gardon is stunningly beautiful, quiet and calming. You will see plenty of wildlife, especially birds. You will pass the castle of St Privat and then the crowning moment is when you get to see the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pont du Gard for the first time and are reminded of the incredible resilience of Roman engineering as you pass safely underneath.
Just before the finish there is a low weir which can either be walked around or you can have one last fun challenge and try to pass over it in the kayak. Then it’s back to the starting point in Remoulins.
Other Provence Kayaking Venues
- Lauris: On the south side of the Luberon mountain, either from Cadenet to Lauris (8km/5 miles), or Puy Sainte Reparade to Lauris (18km/111 miles) .
- Cassis (near Marseilles): Sea kayaking to discover the beautiful calanques, this is more taxing than on a river, the fitter you are the further you can go in exploring the calanques.
- Gorges du Verdon: Adventurous fun taking in the stunning scenery.
Wear shorts or swimming trunks, T-shirt and shoes with grip that don’t mind getting wet. You will get a wet bottom, and more if you swim in the cool waters. Also bring sun block and a hat, water, maybe a snack, and a towel is nice if you swim. Put all your items in waterproof drums tied to the kayak – ask for these at the beginning, they are called bidon in French, although English is spoken by the staff.