Périgord, the first-ranking French department (1) for nautical leisure activities, counts some five navigable rivers: the Dordogne, the Vézère, the Dronne, the Auvézère and the Isle.
Each has its own character, landscapes, history and heritage and all five are listed under the same catchment listed by UNESCO as a “Man and the Biosphere Reserve”.
Leisure canoeing-kayaking is open to all from the age of 5. Renters provide the equipment: boat, oars or paddles, lifejacket (compulsory), waterproof barrel. You can also take your dog with you, your cooler to enjoy a picnic along the bank or on an island, and a bit of courage to weather the current, of course not so strong during the summer period.
Isle, upstream to downstream
Far from the crowds on the Dordogne River, Isle invites to taste tranquillity, and as such appeals to many. With the whole downstream trip literally free from the rush of rowers, the river crosses White Périgord from one end to the other, entering the department by the gateway North of Jumilhac-le-Grand and exiting it after Moulin-Neuf, on the border with Gironde. It is not possible to sail between these two points but the trip between Corgnac and Montpon-Ménestérol (over several stages) offers a wonderful downriver ride at the very heart of the valley.
The Isle River, reserved for gold-diggers upstream, can be easily taken on as soon as you approach the limestone plateaux of the truffle-filled Causses. The river, shaded and even a little mysterious when it criss-crosses through Coulaures’ groves and walnut orchards, entertaining when it livens up with fast little rapids around Savignac-les-Eglises, widens and settles down considerably as it approaches the domes of Saint-Front Cathedral. On each bank, Périgueux tells the tales of yesteryear’s merchant inland waterway transportation and deckhands.
As the journey continues, the civilized scenescape fringed by the Château des Izards and the greenway is slowly but surely taken over by an itinerary alternating heritage and nature. The islets and beaches at Annesse-et-Beaulieu, the castles - Puy in Saint-Astier, Beauséjour in Saint-Léon, Neuvic, Mauriac and Douzillac pass by as you cruise down the river.
A fun-filled downriver trip
Apart from the remarkable and incredibly-diversified fauna and flora which those curious by nature will love identifying, a host of waterway equipment and facilities (human- and non-human-made installations) delightfully punctuate the journey. Forebays, windmills, little dams with fishways which children always call “boat slides”, docking areas, bridges ans “desert islands” offer the downriver trip a rather fun-filled aspect.
After sailing past Mussidan and among the Double and Landais forests, before reaching Montpon, you’ll even get the chance to go through a lock by the Duellas Mill in Saint-Martial-d’Artenset, occasionally accompanied by the local gabarre (traditional flat-bottomed boat)… Impressive indeed!
(1) on a par with Ardèche
Several rental centres are located along the downriver route. Find out more from the local town and village tourist offices.