Canoeing Down the Ardeche, Southern France

Having canoed down the Gardon river the week before, descending the Ardeche, which forms the border between the departments of Gard and Ardeche, was high on our list of musts for our last two weeks in France. Watching the daily forecast – the weather can still be somewhat turbulent in June and you definitely don’t want to go on a windy day – we picked a Friday in the middle of the month.

There are a number of companies that offer similar packages (we chose Aigue Vive). The first is a short 8 k trip down the upper part of the gorge, under the Pont d’Arc, a natural bridge.  Or, there are two all day options – the shorter 24 k trip starts downstream of the natural bridge and the longer 32 k trip covers the entire serviced stretch of the river from Vallon Pont d’Arc to Sauze. They also offer the longer trip as a multiday decent with camping options along the way. Having done the 32 k trip on the Gardon with headwinds in lowish water we were pretty confident that doing 32 k in one day on the Ardeche would not be a problem. 52 € for the two of us.

We were told by the staff at Aigue Vive that for the longer trip you need to start your descent between 8 and 9AM, stressing that it takes 6 hours of paddling to reach the pick-up point in Sauze. The pick-up is strictly between 4 -5 pm and it takes about an hour by van to get back back to Vallon Pont d’Arc. Turns out with the mid-June currents running fast, it didn’t take more than 4 hours of paddling. Check with the company about river conditions and ask to start later or take your time descending the river to avoid a long wait at the end.

For someone who doesn’t canoe much – this was only our second descent – the trip was a blast. The setting is a gorgeous canyon of pink and gray limestone cliffs with thick green vegetation along the banks and raptors and swallows swooping overhead.

The river winds through a series of not too difficult rapids, from very mild – just bounces you around a bit – to more serious – you need to pay attention so you don’t crash into that rock and drench the person sitting in front, that would be me.

If you want to hang out and make a day of it there are numerous attractive picnic and swimming spots along the banks. On this particular Friday there were quite a few people out, but the river was by no means packed.

There were, however, 4 large groups of British school kids who bunched up traffic at a couple of the rapids. Once past them, it was smooth sailing, or rather paddling, down to Sauze.

Deciding between the 24 k and 32 k trip?

The best part of the river, i.e., rapids and dramatic canyon views, is after the Pont d’Arc. So the only real difference between the two trips is paddling under the natural bridge which, in my opinion, is very cool and worth the extra time and energy.

Deciding between the Gardon and the Ardeche?

While both rivers offer a fun canoe trip through a picturesque canyon in similar terrain, the Ardeche has more dramatic views and rapids. It is a faster and deeper running river making it possible to do the longer 32 k trip in the summer months, whereas the longer trip on the Gardon is only available in the spring. For the shorter 8 k trip, the descent is not that different. Thus the choice between the two rivers becomes the Pont D’arch versus the Pont du Gard, an intriguing natural wonder versus an awe inspiring historical site.

June 14, 2013

For links to all the posts in this series see the South of France page.

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