Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A Trip to the Ardeche in August 2014 (Part 2)


On our fourth day we drove into the Cevenne Mountains north of Les Vans and found ourselves at the foot of the Signal de Ventalon. A stiff hike brought us to the summit where a gale was blowing. We could hardly hear ourselves think. After a stumbling off-piste descent through the heather we finally regained the trail and continued our hike along the long-distance trail called the GR7. It was hard going and I thought the young boys might falter. They didn't. At the half-way point we bumped into Steve who, as if by magic, conjured up a picnic lunch. Superb. The GR7 then merged into the GR70 trail, more famously known as the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail. We came across some ancient Sepulchres.


At the end of the days hike we came to the monument erected to the protestant Commusards. They were heavily persecuted during the religious wars. A short drive took us to the lovely farmhouse chateau of Le Cauvel where we would be staying for a couple of days with the charming Amboise, his brother and their wives.


On the following day we again did some hiking in the mountains on the GR70 and GR7. After a short drive to St. Germain-de-Calberte we soon found ourselves on a beautiful circular trail with fantastic views over the Cevennes. We turned around at a Menhir where we were also surprised to find some hikers were actually using donkeys as RL Stevenson did all those years ago.


Later in the afternoon we tried to do another hike, this time on the Corniche de Cevennes, but the weather came in and we got briefly soaked in the rain that lashed down in the swirling wind. We rushed back to Le Cauvel instead to curl up with books.

After this we left the mountains to return to the river - a long drive taking us to Balazuc where we prepared to paddle the Ardeche Defiles (Narrows). We had lunch by the river before setting off and paddled down to Pradons. It was a lovely stretch of river but the little rapids were tricky in places. Luckily we had no accidents.


Later we travelled to the small town of Vallon Pont D'Arc where we treated ourselves to ice-creams and visited an exhibition about the Chauvet Caves. The replica site will open next year in 2015. Looking forward to it.

We stayed the night in the Le Belved hotel very close to the Pont D'Arc itself and had time in the evening to make use of the swimming-pool.

Our next day was our last day on the river. It was the big one. A 32k run down the full length of the Ardeche Gorge going through the famous natural arch at the Pont D'Arc and riding a series of rapids along the way. We made an early start and got in some practise on the minor rapids as we approached the arch.


After that it was a matter of sticking together and watching out for each other through the rapids. Inevitably we had a couple of mishaps, but it was a hot day and after the initial shock it didn't take long to empty the boats and continue on our way. When we pulled up on a beach for lunch we set up our picnic in a little shade and then were surprised to see our canoes going downstream by themselves. The wind had flipped them over and rolled them down the beach to the river. Oops.


At the Black Tooth rapid we decided to portage. It was narrow and a bit too technical for the young boys. They moaned but we were soon on our way and soon had other rapids to worry about. In fact we had a major spill at the Templars Rapid where it took us some time to get ourselves together. We were on our way soon enough though to tackle the last stretch around Windy Point and the final run down to Sauze.


All in all it was a very successful paddle and we rewarded ourselves with beers and ice-creams at the pretty village of Aigueze. From here it was just a short drive back to La Bastide for our last night. We wrapped the trip off with a lovely dinner outside where we were splendidly entertained by the boys giving us a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody.

The next morning we ran our guests back to the airport at Nimes - with a little scare as the motorway was closed. Fortunately we made it and we waved them off. Happy days. We then faced the long drive north ourselves ...

Monday, 22 December 2014

A Trip to the Ardeche in August 2014 (Part 1)


In late July we set off for the south of France to rendezvous with the Bertamini family at Nimes airport for an 8 Day trip to the rivers of the Gard and Ardeche with a couple of days hiking in the Cevennes thrown in for good measure. This lovely family had canoed with us last year in the Perigord and we were happy to be taking them again on another trip.

First of all though we had to get down there. It's a long drive from Calais so we decided to take a break half-way. We headed for the Haute-Saône area so that we could have a look at the Ognon river. This has potential as a future trip. Apparently you can wander down this river over 8 or 9 days to its confluence with the Saône. With that in mind we set off for Villersexel.

After an early start and an early ferry from Dover we drove across northern France in a large arc before arriving in Villersexel in the late afternoon. We quickly found a charming place to stay in the Auberge de la Terrasse which is close to the river and just opposite the canoe outfitters. The place does indeed have potential though it is hard to know really without getting in a boat! Must definitely get this organised.

The next day we continued the long drive to the south. After following the Ognon river for some miles through pretty countryside we joined the motorway south. Apart from a bottle-neck at Lyon the drive was smooth. As the afternoon got late we pulled up to the small town of Collias, where we will canoe tomorrow, in order to find somewhere for the night and somewhere not too far from the airport for our pick-up tomorrow.

After some difficulty down some narrow lanes we eventually found the Hotel le Gardon out on a lonely hill. After relaxing for a while and taking a dip in the pool we moseyed into town, a drive unfortunately and had a wander around to get our bearings for tomorrow. Along the way we discovered a rather nice cafe where we tasted some local wines and where we were charmed by the lovely host. In the evening we had dinner at the smart Le Castellas restaurant which we ducked into as a storm arrived. HIghly recommended.

So finally we get started on the trip. After eventually finding the correct airport in Nimes (information which would be handy later) we picked up our guests as they flew in from England. In no time at all we were at the famous Pont du Gard and we spent some time wandering about. It's hard to believe that the aqueduct is almost 2000 years old.


Of course the real reason we were here was to go canoeing so we drove upstream to Collias and got ourselves organised and after a picnic lunch by the river set off on our first paddle of the trip to canoe back down, and under, the Pont du Gard. It was of course a hot day and so we took out time for some splashing around on the way down.


Our first paddle over we jumped in our minibus and drove the short distance to La Bastide, a small hamlet just outside Goudargues where we will stay a couple of nights. Grace & Olivier were there to greet us and imagine our surprise when our guests were informed that they would be lodging in the castle next door. None of us could believe it. Here we are staying in a castle.


The next day we toddled into Gourdagues and got ourselves organised for a paddle on the Ceze river. A short drive took us up to Montclus, a tiny walled village, which we had time for a wander around before starting our paddle.


After some difficulty getting past the first little rapid: it was rocky & twisty, we enjoyed the meander downstream and once again found time for a swim.


In the afternoon we had a stroll around the village Roque-sur-Ceze and the waterfall called the Cascade Sautadet, a popular spot.


On our third day we drove the short distance to Les Vans and found our second hotel which apparently used to be a Nunnery. In the afternoon we paddled through the gorge of the Chassezac river which was spectacular. The river was a little bit more technical and we had some fun getting through the smallish rapids. Of course we also found time to monkey about as usual.


The end of the days paddling almost got a bit dangerous as we paddled slightly too far and ended up trying to paddle through a rock garden! Not wise. Luckily we were able to haul the boats back upstream to the beach where we were supposed to be. A beer and ice-cream settled us down.


In the evening we still had time for a dip in the pool before a lovely dinner on the terrace of the hotel. Tomorrow we are heading up into the Cevennes for a couple of days hiking. More of this to follow.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

A Trip to the Perigord in June 2014

We kicked off our summer of canoeing by doing a short week-ender trip down in the Perigord region of France with some guests from Hong-Kong. We squeezed the usual 7 day trip into a 4 day format to give our guests a taste of the area.

We took 2 days to drive down to Bordeaux, where we were to pick up our guests, and visited the Poitou-Charentes area on the way down to scope out the area and the river of the same name. We came off the motorway just after Poitiers and headed for Vivonne to pick up some lunch. It's a pleasant little town with a massive Super-U supermarket. I can't think now why I want to remember this, but I did.

Anyway we then pootled down to the town of Ruffec and got some information from the very friendly tourist office. We tried to find some canoe outfitters without much luck but we did eventually end up at a pretty spot for a picnic lunch before finding a swimming hole at Condac.


I thought the river Charente here looked very pretty and certainly has potential for a future trip. We then jumped back on the main road and headed south, avoiding Angouleme, before following the river again to the town of Jarnac. The river here is larger now and perhaps not what we're looking for, but the town was nice and I think the whole Cognac region has potential.

It was late in the day now so we headed south again so we could be close to Bordeaux in the morning for a pick-up. We eventually found a camp-site somewhere near St. Andre-de-Cubac. Once again the tourist office was very helpful - we only just made it before closing time - and we were directed to a campsite run by a charming guy from Germany. We set up camp next to a pond. Only later did we realise that this was not a good idea. We were kept awake all night by croaking frogs!

We drove back into town to find a restaurant and were lucky enough to discover a little place overlooking the river Dordogne. It had been a long day so we were pleased to crash out in the tents. I don't think Steve was too happy though as his inflatable mattress thing malfunctioned and he ended up in the van. On top of that and the loudest frogs in the universe the night was interrupted by a massive thunderstorm.

So the next morning we were up early to pick up our guests from the Grand Hotel in Bordeaux (oooeee) and start our trip. Here's a few photographs:





You can see more photographs here.

On the final day we returned our guests to Bordeaux and began our long drive back to Calais. We had decided to do this in two days and so made our way to Les Sables-d'Olonne which we were too tired to really appreciate. We did find a hotel finally and then had a surprisingly good dinner at a sea-food place on the sea-front.

I can't remember much about the long drive on the last day except that we stopped off in a very pretty village in Brittany which may ave been Blain. A place worth returning too, not least because the bakery and cafe were lovely but also because a canal goes through here and it might be worth exploring a barge holiday in this area.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

New web site for Green River Canoes

Green River Canoes 

Our travel company which provides Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips to the south of France, the Belgium Ardennes and the Garden of England has had a web-site makeover,

Although I was happy with the original site and the way it looked I had the feeling over the past year that some people were finding the site difficult to navigate. To find out everything for a trip you had to visit several pages. On the new site you can find out everything you need to know from one page: that is the Trip description, its scheduled dates & prices, the day-to-day itinerary and the details of the hotels we use as well as photographs and maps.

Design-wise I've gone for a simple bi-colour scheme based on the Pullman colours of Umber (Dark Brown) & Cream with a 3rd highlight colour a shade of Green. It terms of graphics I've opted for a simple silhouette style which echoes something of the Penguin paperback design ethos of the 1950s.

I was aiming for something that looked reassuring & comfortable and without the common 'in your face' promotional feel of many similar sites. I took some inspiration from the Rapha Travel site as well.

Although the site makes use of photographs from the trips - slide-shows are available for each trip - I've made extensive use of the 'posters' I made earlier in the year and these are used as menus to the trip pages from the front page.

Here is a screen shot of the opening page:

Green River Canoes - new web site