Gorges de l’Ardèche

Kayaking the Gorges de l’Ardèche

This weekend, Spring decided to give us a welcome reminder that she is officially approaching. Her warmer temperatures made me long for sun-kissed days. She made me smile with her budding trees and her beautiful blossoms brought joy to my soul. She also made me remember an activity that my husband and I partook in late one spring a while back: kayaking the Gorges de l’Ardèche. And Spring, being her joyful and bright self, didn’t disappoint in evoking this memory… A memory that is sure to put a spring in your step 🙂

The Gorges de l’Ardèche: a wonder. It is humbling to imagine the Ardèche River in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France tirelessly carving out a spectacular canyon through the limestone hills over millions of years – a fitting tribute to what patience and commitment can achieve. It is a place of astonishing beauty: a meandering river shouldered by imposing grey walls of up to 300 metres in height and shrouded with greenery.

My husband and I explored this stunning landscape from a two-seater kayak. There are a number of descents to choose from, ranging from eight to thirty-two kilometres in length. We decided to do the thirty-two-kilometre paddle (not for the faint-hearted), which departs from the Vallon Pont d’Arc. From start to finish, it was a myriad of breathtaking scenic highlights, but not without its challenges, one of which was the manoeuvring of the kayak. I think it’s prudent to warn you all that kayaking can be an acid test for any marriage. It took a few tries for us figure out how to propel our pink plastic vessel in a relatively straight line, but we succeeded fairly quickly. Ahead of us, however, was a war zone of brightly coloured plastic missiles crisscrossing the river in every direction, piloted by red-faced canoeists screaming instructions and hurling insults at each other. Definitely not for the faint-hearted!

Kayaks on the Ardèche river
Kayaks on the Ardèche river

Shortly after beginning, we passed under the famous Pont d’Arc, an awe-inspiring natural stone bridge spanning 60 metres. My husband and I sat in our kayak, mouths agape with wonder, and we weren’t the only ones. The river was constantly teaming with an array of tourists gawking at all of the natural wonders, as canoeing the Gorge is an extremely popular attraction, drawing adventurers from all over the world. Because of this, we experienced a number of traffic jams when arriving at some of the twenty-six rapids. My advice is to follow the example of the ancient river and draw on your patience, using that time to take in your surroundings. You will not be disappointed!

The Pont d'Arc
The Pont d’Arc

Most of the rapids were rather mild, which lulled us into a false sense of security. Every kayak is supplied with a waterproof container for storing all of your belongings and valuables. After having successfully navigated a number of gentle rapids, my husband became very confident in our kayaking abilities. He reminded me that he had, after all, gone white water rafting down the Zambezi River, and therefore knew what he was doing. So, we replaced our closed shoes for more comfortable flip-flops, put our sunglasses on, took out our camera and settled in to marvel at the beauty that was drifting by. Now, for a descent down the Gorges de l’Ardèche one expects to see many things: awe-inspiring views, pebble beaches, even rare birds. However, we were exposed to a natural beauty of an entirely different kind. Approaching what the map suggested was one of the more turbulent rapids we noticed a large crowd gathered on the shore. From a distance, we could sense that there was something a bit different about them. It soon became all too clear. This particular set of rapids is home to a nudist campsite, and a group of happy campers was watching the tourists go whizzing by. And by group, I mean at least 20 pale derrières peering down from the boulders surrounding the rapid. Completely distracted by the shock of seeing certain exposed body parts amid the natural beauty of the gorges, we were oblivious to the quickly approaching rapid. By the time we realised what we were in for, it was too late. Our kayak tipped, sending shoes and sunglasses downstream, never to be found again. We were gallantly rescued by some of the observers, and the look on my husband’s face as he was helped onto shore by two very naked men was almost worth losing our belongings for!

Despite the spectacle which culminated in us capsizing, this trip is something I would recommend for every bucket list. The thirty-two-kilometre paddle is challenging, but you are rewarded for your efforts with absolute wonders of nature, such as La Cathédrale, a stone monument carved out of water and time into the shape of a Cathedral. You can go at your own pace, often stopping on the banks for a snack and swim. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…

La Cathédrale
La Cathédrale

6 thoughts on “Kayaking the Gorges de l’Ardèche

  1. I’ve never been there but it is on my bucket list of things to do in France. Funny there would be a nudist camp right there! I can only imagine my kids laughing at the sight of it!

    1. It was certainly unexpected, but made for a good laugh! 🙂 There were tons of kiddies and families on the river – definitely an activity for the whole family x

  2. Well written, can absolutely see the beauty of the place through your eyes. Wish I could have seen your faces when you came upon the nudist camp 😁

    1. Thank you! It really was beautiful and the naturists added a touch of humour to an unforgettable experience 🙂

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