If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times – our trip to Sarlat was fantastic. The whole weekend was fabulous, and it was our day kayaking on the Dordogne that really set this trip apart from others. I’ve talked about “pinch me” moments (coincidentally, that was another French adventure), but this was the perfect day. Even months later, I cannot stop raving about our time in Sarlat and our favorite part was kayaking the Dordogne and visiting Le Jardins de Marqueyssac.
On the Sunday of our trip, we set out on kayaks down the Dordogne to tour the gorgeous villages set along its banks. After, we visited the beautiful Les Jardins de Marqueyssac, set high above the river and admired the beautiful views.
Kayak Tour on the Dordogne
Originally, I had hoped to do a stand-up paddle boarding tour on the Dordogne. I absolutely love SUP and have only gotten to do it a few times, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get my fix and do some touring. I found a tour out of Cenac with Stand Up Paddleboard – Perigord and was hopeful the weather would cooperate for some SUP in the sun!
Andrew, however, wanted to kayak so we could see more of the river. With so many beautiful medieval villages to see, this ended up being the better option for us. Andrew found a 4.5 hour trip with Canoes Loisirs and we booked that for the Sunday of our trip.
Canoes Loisirs is located right on the river in Vitrac and it was quick and easy to get our kayaks and life jackets. We arrived early for the 10AM tour, and the bus out to our starting place departed on time. We wove along the countryside roads, passing gorgeous stone villages and chateaus as we went, which got us even more excited for the beautiful views from the river.
With maps in hand from Canoes Loisirs, we set off on our kayak adventure from Carsac-Aillac!
Upon moving to London, I read The Plantagenets by Dan Jones. The English royal family before the Tudors, they had come from France, maintaining power in the Aquitaine region, among others. The Hundred Years War was fought by these rulers, who struggled to maintain their hold on French soil after conquering Britain. The Dordogne was an important setting for this conflict and part of the reason so many fortified medieval villages cropped at strategic vantage points along its shores.
Montfort is one of those villages, named for Simon de Montfort who was a key player in the conflict siding with the Plantagenets. He burned the castle to the ground during the fighting, so pretty interesting that it is named for him.
Our kayaking was so peaceful. The water was tranquil and the shores so lush and green. Not knowing what waited for us behind its many bends added a sense of adventure and added to the journey’s calmness, as our way unfolded slowly before us as we paddled along. It was hard to imagine what the soldiers went through in such an obscured battle front. Approaching by river, they would have been fearing for their lives instead of enjoying the beauty of this area. I can’t even imagine how terrifying the chateau would have been during an approach at that time!
After Montfort, we paddled for a long while before reaching another village. There were other boaters out with us in kayaks and canoes, fewer at first, then many others the further along we went and the later the morning went on.
At this stage, we admired the natural beauty of the area – the winding river, the greenery and the sporadic cliff faces that the river cut through over the past thousands of years.
During one particularly beautiful cliff scene, we passed a photo point where a photographer sat in a raft. Suckers that we are, we pulled over to the little kiosk and purchased our pic.
As we drew closer to the larger riverside villages, the number of boaters began to grow. Larger motor boat tours started appearing and more riverside attractions began popping up alongside our route.
We approached La Roque-Gageac at one o’clock, making it the perfect place to stop for lunch. Nestled beneath a cliff on the water, this beautiful village looked like something out of a fairy tale as we made our way closer.
The red roofs, the sand colored stone, and the chateau at the far end beckoned us in! We pulled our kayaks over to the side and climbed up to the town’s main street to find a place for lunch.
We were able to snag a table at The Patio, which was a fabulous setting on such a beautiful day. The food wasn’t that memorable, but the experience of sitting outside resting our arms over lunch and a glass of wine was just bliss.
Enchanted by the beautiful village, we decided to go for a walk to explore the picturesque streets more. Up the steep stone roads we went, climbing up toward the cliff to the top of the town. It was beautiful.
After a walk, we headed back to our kayaks to continue on our way!
Not too long after getting back into our kayaks, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle came into view. The magnificent Chateau de Castelnaud was a sight to behold looming over the river. From our water vantage point, it looked enormous!
We debated docking our kayaks and climbing up to check out the town and the view, but our journey was taking longer than anticipated, so we carried on.
During this stretch, I had to admire how many people were out on the water. Tourists and locals alike paddled along, all in high spirits. It was even warm enough for some people to brave the cold water and swim!
Each of the villages and chateaus were absolutely awe-inspiring in a way that pictures do not do justice. The grand finale was indeed approaching Beynac-et-Cazenac.
This beautiful town is located on a bend in the river after a long straightaway. The village is set both at the base of the cliff along the water and on top of it, with a chateau and chapel looking out over the river. It’s an incredible sight and the approach is just beautiful.
There’s not really a place to dock until after you pass this magnificent village, where there is an adorable looking café right on the water. With time passing quickly, we were sad to decide to skip stopping off at this spot as well.
We continued on a ways more before reaching our final destination where the bus would pick us back up and return us to Vitrac. There was a lovely little outdoor snack bar there where we enjoyed an ice cream before the shuttle arrived to bring us back.
What to Know Before a Dordogne Kayak Tour
Five hours is a long time in a kayak, so if you’re not used to the movement, I’d recommend a shorter tour. We love kayaking, so the four-and-a-half-hour version was perfect for us. It did take us longer than that with our stop for lunch and walk through La Roque-Gageac. I slowed us down a bit, as I chose to rent a kayak where you sit on top versus sit inside. Upon seeing the kayaks, I wish I had opted for the other version, but was afraid it’d be too intense!
Five hours kayaking wasn’t too fatiguing but gripping the paddle for five hours did a number on my hands! I even woke up in the middle of the night with crazy pain in my arm from the clutching motion. The next day I was totally fine, but I’d recommend taking breaks from gripping as you go.
Canoes Loisirs provides waterproof bags if you need one. We packed light and I had my trusty waterproof phone case, so we weren’t in dire need, but it was great to have. I highly recommend taking one along if it’s offered.
Les Jardins de Marqueyssac
After getting back to our car and switching into dryer clothes, we figured there was still a bit of time left to explore. On our list of places to check out in the area was Les Jardins de Marqueyssac. We decided it would be the perfect spot to savor the last few hours of daylight, close to both where we were and Sarlat.
Tired from a day in the sun and sore from gripping my paddle, I wasn’t really in the mood to do some more sightseeing. Luckily, Andrew pressed me on and got us two tickets to tour the gardens.
They were gorgeous. Set behind a beautiful Chateau, the gardens are huge, varied and beautiful. We skipped touring the Chateau and instead explored the gardens, which was the right choice given how much time we had.
The views are stunning from its location on top of the cliffs, like many of the villages we had passed that day. The cliff faces provide a beautiful contrast to the lovely plants, and even my grumpy self couldn’t help but admire this gorgeous place.
Admittedly, we toured them quickly (grumpy Jenn wanted rest and food), but as we returned to the exit and Chateau, we were greeted by the sight of hot air balloons taking off for sunset. It was such a treat to watch as they climbed higher and higher against the beautiful backdrop of the Dordogne and Beynac-et-Cazenac.
It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.