So you’re an old pro at the sport. You can make your canoe skim through the rocks, safely run a waterfall, shoot the roughest rapids. But here’s one trick you’ve probably never tried. On a trip to southwest France, we morphed our canoes into time machines, and spanned 370 centuries in just 12 days, paddling inn-to-inn on four rivers.
We were in the Prigord, a region best known to Americans as the Dordogne, where the riverbanks have witnessed 37,000 years of human advancement. Because waterways have been key to life in this region since prehistoric times, there is no better way to tour the Dordogne. Each river has a very different story to tell, beginning with the Vzre, where Cro-Magnon man and his predecessors chose the towering limestone cliffs for their cave homes, bequeathing artifacts, sculptures, and amazingly well preserved cave art to modern-day archaeologists and tourists. Two-thirds of the 120 or so art-decorated prehistoric caves in the world are found right here.
The banks of the Lot and Dordogne Rivers provide a panoramic history of life and culture dating back to the Middle Ages. Imposing forts and chateaux, high atop the cliffs, protect beautifully preserved medieval villages that seem to climb, one house on top of another, up the sheer limestone walls that girdle the rivers. The sprightly Cl, winding through farmland and forest, reveals contemporary Prigord, the pastoral bread and wine basket, source of fine vintages and veggies, the world’s primary supplier of foie gras.
On our very first afternoon, we fell inevitably in love with this land of geese, ducks, cheese, truffles, walnuts, and superb wine. Our group of 12 gathered on the grassy riverbank at St. Leon sur Vzre with our leaders, Jim Walker and Carolyn Parker, from BattenKill Canoe in Arlington, Vermont. We were mesmerized by the rippling reflections of the ninth century church in the gentle waters of the Vzre and the shimmering of filmy willows that characterize this sleepy hamlet.