This was such a fun day! It was a highlight of the trip so far for all of us. Not only was the canoeing great fun and the river absolutely beautiful, but the river is definitely THE best place from which to see the Pont du Gard!
There are several different companies doing similar trips down the river to the Pont du Gard: Canoë Collias, Kayak Vert and Canoe Le Tourbillon. We chose Canoë Collias because they had some excellent reviews on Trip Advisor and they also said they had free private parking for your car whilst you were on the river. But I believe that all of the companies operate in a similar way, with similar prices.
This is not an accompanied trip – you are basically given a canoe and told to paddle downstream until you reach the pick-up point, about 20 minutes after the Pont du Gard. The pick ups are every hour throughout the day and so you agree a time with the Canoë Collias staff before you set off and they show you photographs and a map showing the location of the pick-up point so that you know what you are looking for when you get there. The trip takes a minimum of two hours, but it is best to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the river, stop for lunch and maybe even have a swim or a paddle.
We were greeted warmly and given a large watertight barrel in which to keep our picnic, spare clothes, cameras, money etc. We were then shown down to the river, where our canoes were waiting for us. There is very little instruction on how to handle your canoe – you are simply given some paddles and off you go. To be honest though, the canoes were pretty easy to manoeuvre and the river was calm – I reckon they could more or less make it down the river by themselves!
So, a few minutes after we arrived, we were out on the water and were struck at once by how peaceful it was. Coming in the low season meant that it was very quiet; a couple of large groups passed us whilst we were having lunch, but mostly we had the river to ourselves. In places there are steep cliffs bordering the river and the reflections of these, and of our boats in the water were beautiful.
We saw lots of birds too, particularly herons, standing like sentries in the shallows, waiting patiently for an unsuspecting fish. They took flight eventually, but as we glided silently down the river we managed to get really close to a few of them before they did so. The water in the river was crystal clear and we could see fish and plants beneath our boats as we floated along.
There were a few faster flowing sections that were fun to paddle through, but nothing you could really call white water. In fact the water was so low in places that we felt the bottom of the boat scraping along stones on the riverbed.
We had a lot laughs along the way… at several points Andy and M were travelling sideways down the river, Andy having perfected the ‘lying back and letting M do all the work’ sort of canoeing! At another point, Andy and M decided to stop for lunch but forgot to tell E and I, who canoed straight past them. We tried to turn around and promptly got stuck between some rocks!!! There was a good deal of splashing going on too and a fair bit of competitive canoeing! Then poor M nearly lost her hat coming through one of the faster flowing sections – E and I watched as she and Andy got pushed right over towards the bank and under some low trees by the force of the current. We steered a different course and thankfully managed to avoid the same fate.
Pont du Gard
Towards the end of the journey, we came round a bend in the river and suddenly saw the majestic Pont du Gard towering over the river. What a sight! It is immensely high (about 50 metres) and quite striking, with its three rows of arches on top of each other. I will write more about the viaduct itself in another post, but for now I will simply say that it is a marvel of Roman ingenuity and engineering!
There were quite a few people who had stopped on the riverbank just before the bridge, where it is possible to swim or paddle or just take in the views. Some were also jumping off the rocks into the river, which looked like great fun.
Going under the bridge was spectacular and this was definitely the best place from which to get photographs of it, but the true highlight of the day for me was having the river to ourselves. As we paddled along quietly enjoying the views, it really was so beautiful and so peaceful! It felt as though time was suspended (or at least slowed down) for a while to allow us to breathe deeply and let our senses take it all in – the breeze on our faces, the gentle sound of the water dripping off the paddles, the birdsong, the stunning views and the perfect reflections. Part of me wanted it to just keep paddling, and I was glad that we had given ourselves plenty of time. By the end though, my arms were telling me that I had paddled a long way and I was quite relieved to see the sign for the pick-up point.
After the viaduct itself, you have about another 20 minute paddle downstream to the pick up point. This is very well signposted and the Canoë Collias staff meet you here to return you and your canoe to the start point and your car. Back at the car park, we used the small toilet/changing room to get out of our wet clothes before the journey home. We were all exhausted, but exhilarated, after our adventure and all agreed that if we got the chance we would do something like it again.
Advice and practical information:
- Wear a swimming costume/swimming shorts on their own or with a t-shirt over them – you WILL get wet. Just lifting the paddle out of the water splashes you and you will get wet climbing in and out of the boat if you stop for lunch or for a swim.
- Bring spare clothes to change into when you get back to your car because you will be soaked. Don’t worry about getting into the minibus wet on the short journey back – they didn’t seem to be at all bothered.
- Bring a picnic lunch and give yourself plenty of time – we set off about 12:30pm and arranged to be picked up at 4pm and we only just made it in time. They say that the minimum time you need for the journey is 2 hours, but you want to have time to stop, relax and take in the scenery.
- The 8km route from Collias to the Pont du Gard, which is the one we did, is available all year round. There are also longer trips from further up the river if you want a more challenging day, although these are only available during certain months and depend on the height of the river. From Pont St Nicholas it is 12km back to Collias or 20km all the way to the Pont du Gard (available March to June). From Russan it is 22km to Collias and 30km to the Pont du Gard (available March to May).
- The 8km trip from Collias to the Pont du Gard is plenty long enough for children (or adults for that matter!)
- Canoe Collias have a lower age limit of 6 years old and you also need to be able to swim. Other than that, I think that pretty much anyone could manage this trip, regardless of age or experience.
- They have 2 and 4 person canoes as well as closed or open one-person kayaks, so you can choose the most appropriate one for the number in your party and your level of experience. We chose two 2-person canoes, which worked really well as we had one adult with each child.
- As well as the base on the right bank of the river from where you set off, Canoës Collias also have a ticket and information office on the left bank of the river, on the main road towards Collias. We stopped here first and they gave us detailed directions to find the car park and the start point. The parking area seemed quite small, but I think that was because it was the low season and most of the parking area was being used to store canoes.
- They have a small wooden hut with a toilet and space to change, which was most welcome when we returned and wanted to get into some dry clothes.
- Just a note about seasons – we were fortunate to do this trip in early October and I believe it would be a very different trip in the summer months, with literally hundreds of canoes from each company all on the river at once. The trip would still be a lot of fun, but you almost certainly wouldn’t find the same peace and tranquility that we found and you may find that the space to pull up along the river for a picnic or to swim was limited.
- I would definitely recommend Canoe Collias to anyone wanting to take a similar trip down the River Gardon – the staff were very friendly, they spoke English and the canoes and life jackets all seemed in good condition. They had free, secure parking for our car whilst we were out on the river and a toilet/changing room, which was very handy. They sold canned drinks and ice creams from the ‘office’ at the start point.
- Canoe Collias website: www.canoe-collias.com
You can also read my post on visiting the Pont du Gard itself.