A raft trip in France takes us past Chateau de Monfort.
The Chateau de Monfort overlooking the valley as seen from the river. Photo by Lesley Williamson

The Vezère and the Dordogne rivers are particularly known to wind gracefully through some of France’s most picturesque landscapes, embellished with fine medieval castles built during the early Middle Ages by barons seeking to consolidate their power or protect their wealth. This is a land which has invited exploration and settlement for centuries on the traditional mode of river transport, the gabarre – a wide, flat-bottomed barge known for its stability.

At the confluence of the Dordogne, the southern part of the Vezère drifts down a steady, lazy current cupped in a tree-lined valley, providing an ideal waterway for novice and experienced “floaters” alike. The joys of relaxing on this gently winding river from Montignac to St Léon-sur-Vezère lasted about six hours for a 10 km long journey. Architectural highlights included the fairytale 15th-century Château de Belcayre hanging over the river and the medieval fortress of Chateau de Losse.

Still on time for aperitif, we deflated in the meander of the river in St Léon-sur-Vezère. Ranked among France’s most beautiful villages, St Léon is awarded with the tourism label of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” which gathers 155 referenced authentically preserved villages throughout France.

Fairy tales castles and “foie gras”

Tackling the Dordogne River the next day was approached with a certain upgrade of facilities –  a cooling section for drinks and a provision of culinary delights on board. Dordogne is fiercely proud of its food heritage and exciting your taste buds is simply a way of life here. We picked up a fresh baguette from the local boulangerie and in a tenacious respect for local gastronomic traditions grabbed a small pot of foie gras du Périgord, figs, walnut jam, knobbly yellow quinces and Cabécou goat cheese from a town market. We were spoiled in our choices for a good bottle of wine to wash down all these delicacies with the local vineyards of Bergerac, Duras, Marmande or close by Monbazillac or Saussignac. Alternatively, the sweet dark walnut wine is a local aperitif of excellence here.

Passing by one inspiring chateau after the other leads to the exquisite riverside village of la Roque-Gageac.  Wedged between towering cliffs and the Dordogne river, it is actually known for its subtropical microclimate due to its unique setting. The view from the river is breath-taking, with troglodytic cave dwellings nestled in the rising cliffs.

The undulating river banks are lively, filled with kayakers on a well-deserved picnic break.  The crystal clear waters flowing have created riffles, pools, idyllic white sand beaches and lagoons. Downstream, we passed under a couple of old stone bridges waving to enthusiastic kids, enjoying picturesque scenes of fly-fishing, family barbecues and a festive riverside atmosphere of quintessential France.

The day was drawing to its end after an ambitious 17 km journey down the Dordogne, and as we approached the shores to disembark in silence and serenity, the splendid shadow of the medieval fortified chateau of Castelnaud rose from the mist of the river in a surreal sunset at the meeting points of the Dordogne and Ceou Rivers.

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