Thursday, July 11, 2019

River Kayaking in Provence


On a hot day, river kayaking is a fabulous way to while away a few hours and doing it in Provence is super easy. You can kayak (and stand-up paddleboard) on the Rhône from Avignon (details below) but whenever I get the chance, I love kayaking on the River Sorgue, from Fontaine-de-Vaucluse in the Luberon. You can also kayak on the River Gardon from Collias (a great way to see the Pont du Gard) and while I haven't done it there myself, my friends and clients who have say it's fantastic. If you've never kayaked before, not to worry! You'll get a short tutorial, on the Sorgue there are staffers on the river to help and these are not fast-running rivers. Here are details on everything above!

KAYAKING ON THE SORGUE

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is 15 minutes from Isle sur la Sorgue and if you hit the big Sunday market or smaller Thursday market there (Isle sur la Sorgue), kayaking from Fontaine is a great way to spend the afternoon. It’s an easy trip (about five miles) on clear, cool shallow water and you see lots of lovely, lush countryside. You leave your car in Fontaine and they bring you back by bus.  There are two companies that do it: Kayak Vert and Canoe Evasion. Both are outside town with big signs so they’re easy to find. I prefer Canoe Evasion--they're a bit more organized--but either is fine! If you go with Kayak Vert, there's sometimes a wait at the beginning of the route where you have to climb down some steps, but there's always someone there to help. Both have small snack bars for cold drinks and ice cream.

With Kayak Vert, you can go at your own pace; with Canoe Evasion you’re sort of encouraged to stay with a group of boats but you don’t really have to.  The trip takes 2 to 2.5 hours and there’s a little break in the middle for swimming or just chilling on the river banks. And don't miss the rope swing!  Whether you swim or not you’ll definitely get wet so plan accordingly; it's good to have a beach towel with you. Also, definitely wear water shoes or grippy sandals because there's a place where you have a little walk on slippery rocks.

Both outfitters give you a watertight container for your stuff (still, let's leave those priceless heirlooms at home)...and life preserver vests...and there's staff here and there on the river to help if you need it.

Here are the two outfitters for kayaking the Sorgue and reservations are definitely recommended!

Canoe Evasion: 2019 prices:  20€ pp adults; 10€ for kids under 14; free for kids 3 to 6. Groups of 10 or more: adults pay 16€ each.  Payment is by cash or check (no credit cards). The price includes your gear  (boats, paddles, watertight cans, life jackets) and your return ride in the bus. There’s no minimum age per se, but kids have to be able to swim at least 25 meters and be able to submerge themselves (meaning, not panic if they go under water). In general, the company prefers kids be five or older. Open every day from mid May to mid October.  Departures every half hour, from 9 am to 11:30 and 1:30 to 4:30. To reserve : +33 (0)4 90 38 26 22, canoe-evasion.net

Kayak Vert. 2019 prices:  23€ for adults, 19 € for teens, 12€ for kids. For groups of 10 or more, adults pay 16€ each. Price includes boats, paddles, watertight cans, life jackets and your return ride in the bus. Kayak Vert’s age minimum is six and kids must be able to swim. 23€ for adults, 19 € for teens, 12€ for kids. Cash only, the last time I checked.  Open from the 3rd weekend in April thru October. To reserve : +33 (0)4 90 20 35 44 or +33 (0)6 88 48 96 71, canoevaucluse.com, kayakvert@aol.com.

A Bit about Fontaine

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is an interesting village so leave some time before or after kayaking to explore. This pretty little town (population 600 or so) is best known for its deep-water source or spring at the foot of a steep cliff 230 meters high. It’s the biggest spring in France and the fifth largest in the world; it's where the Sorgue River begins and when the water is high and running strong, the source is truly a gorgeous site to see. Even when it’s not at its peak, the river is super peaceful, bringing serenity in the height of the summer crowds. In 1946, Jacques Cousteau and another diver were almost killed searching for the bottom of the spring, at about 100 meters down. (They weren’t even close, as it turns out: the bottom is at 308 meters.) The spring is the only exit point of a subterranean basin that collects water from Mont Ventoux, the Vaucluse Mountains and Lure Mountain. People have lived in the area since Neolithic times (you know, back when you could still find an parking spot easily). Archaeological digs have turned up more than 1600 coins, from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD. 

Fontaine has an interesting museum in an old paper mill (with a cool shop selling all types of paper products, diaries, puzzles, handmade books, stationary and other goodies around the same theme), a museum about Petrarch and one filled with Santons (traditional Provencale figurines). Plus plenty of cafes and restaurants on or near the water and some cute shops.

And not far from Canoe Evasion is a "parc accrobranche" that kids love. This is one of those ropes courses where you swing from trees on zip lines and such. It's called La Passerelle des Cîmes and friends who’ve been say everyone loves it...all ages. As you approach, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, you’ll see the signs.

KAYAKING ON THE GARDON

To kayak the Gardon River and see the Pont du Gard you can try Canoes Collias but the main outfitter is Kayak Vert; both leave from the town of Collias. You can keep the kayak all day if you like but most people like the basic two-hour paddle, taking them 8 km up to and under the Pont du Gard. What a fun way to see this 2000- year-old Roman aqueduct! All along the river there are little beaches and places to picnic, swim, sunbathe, etc.  The two-hour  time frame is calculated on paddling from Collias to the Pont du Gard non-stop, but you can keep the kayak as long as you like for the same price. As they do on the Sorgue, they bring you back by bus. 2019 prices: 23€ for adults, 19 € for teens, 12€ for kids. Cash and credit cards accepted. Reservations not required but definitely recommended. For a family or small group, try to reserve at least a few days before.  Kayak Vert, Collias/Pont du Gard, kayakvert.com or +33 (0)4 66 22 80 76, contact@kayakvert.com.

KAYAKING ON THE RHONE AT AVIGNON

Run by an association (Canoe Outings Comite de Vaucluse de Kayak) rather than a private company, this is extremely popular with river-cruise passengers, locals and groups, who often bring their own translator or request one because not all the staff speaks English. That said, they're currently the only outfitter offering kayaking in this gorgeous city, their prices are low, they have solid reviews on Trip Advisor so I see no reason that paddling around (before or after dancing on) the famous Pont d'Avignon wouldn't be great fun. +33 (0)6 11 52 16 73, canoe-vaucluse.fr, contact@canoe-vaucluse.fr

Note: The three places mentioned above are by no means the only places for kayaking in Provence; you can do it in the Camargue, on the Gorges du Verdon and in sea kayaks up and down Mediterranean coast. If you have a favorite kayak place and want to share the info, please leave a comment below.

Photos: (1, 2) Kayaking on the Sorgue (courtesy Kayak Vert and Canoe Evasion); (3) At the Pont du Gard (courtesy Canoe Collias); and (4) on the Rhône at Avignon (courtesy Avignon Tourisme).

2 comments:

  1. Great information, as always!! The river is the best way to keep cool in this heat! Thanks for telling us the best way to experience it!

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    1. Pam, can't tell you how much I enjoy this on the Sorgue...just wonderful!

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