For centuries, barges were the easiest way to transport heavy wine casks around Europe. It’s no coincidence, then, that France’s network of ancient trade routes is accessible today by sea, canal or river. In an attempt to combine “slow” travel to connect with the gentle flow of nature and explore a land fashioned by the history of its waterways, I traveled by inflatable raft to sip, sample and float my way through France’s epicurean rivers.
My summer love-affair with rafting actually began in Canada. It’s a Vancouver Island traditional leisure indulgence, a week-end hobby or aquatic social gathering commonly known as “river tubing” on inflatable rafts. So I joined in, with my natural obsession for everything nautical and my newly purchased Canadian inflatable SeaHawk, to cruise down Stamp River Falls in Port Alberni and Cowishan River. The Cowichan Valley, or “land warmed by the sun” in Coast Salish, enjoys some of the warmest temperatures in Canada along with mind-blowing views of majestic mountain peaks.
My rafting trip in Canada began in the morning when the river was stirring into life, when frogs were croaking and songbirds trilling along the banks. Distinctive bald eagles, the world’s largest birds of prey were looping high in the sky. Floating down the gentle current, admiring the surrounding drooping oaks and weeping willows, marveling at the scenery, I embraced the perspective of a new way of life.
Fast-forward to Europe, where I began my river adventure in Belgium with summertime in full swing. I conducted a successful test out of Seahawk on an “urban river safari” through Gent for the best up-close views of the city’s stunning architecture. The friends that embarked with me were suspicious, yet genuinely intrigued by the concept, later surprisingly enchanted by their experience, perhaps seduced by onboard hospitality facilities. I was itching to expand my horizons and somehow convinced my best friend to volunteer as a crew member to explore France’s rivers. Research began, and so did my belief and confidence in self-taught navigation skills on an inflatable boat.
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