I have to admit that France had never been high on my list of places to visit. Not because I didn’t think it would be a nice place, but because more exotic places in Latin America and Africa captured my imagination more than Europe. Also, being of French Canadian descent, I’ve had a few French people scoff at my accent and I didn’t want to spend two weeks dealing with snobby attitudes. Luckily I recently went anyway and discovered that France is exceptionally beautiful, the people are very friendly and the paddling is awesome!
The purpose of my visit was two-fold — a friend from college was getting married in the south of France the first weekend of June and the Lyon River Festival was the following weekend. Andrew and I flew over to Lyon at the end of May and headed to Cannes by train – which is very comfortable and easy. The wedding was in Provence, a region in France known for its Rose Wine, seasoning herbs, lavender fields, and the Cannes Film Festival. On the Cote d’Azur, also known as the French Riviera, the water shimmers in astounding hues of azure and the rich and famous hang out on their luxurious yachts. The wedding was in four different languages and took place at a small historical church that had a view from the mountains to the sea. The reception was hosted in a Chateau right on the Riviera with a desert table that had nine types of tasty treats in addition to a traditional French wedding cake!
Andrew and I had a great time exploring the hillsides along the sea where there is fun hiking and swimming. The town of Grasse where we stayed has really cool shops and vendors of artisan wine, olive oil, soaps and herbs grown and made locally. I love the history of Europe, and simply walking around the small town was fun.
After five days on the coast we headed to Lyon where we met up with Paul ‘Cheesy’ Robertson of Palm Equipment and Dagger Europe. Before heading out to the Alps we surfed the Hawaii Sur Rhone wave which was at a good level that day. The first few surfs that I took were intimidating because the wave was so fast! After our surf session, we traveled three hours to a town called l’Argentiere in the French Alps where we met up with Deb Pinniger and some Irish paddlers. The French Alps are absolutely amazing! The mountains are majestic and the rivers are a beautiful crystal blue. The first day Andrew, Cheesy and Dave Carroll paddled the Upper Onde while Deb took photos and I helped film. It’s a very steep section of river choked with wood in some places. It was exciting to watch!
After the Onde we went to the Guisane, a fast, continuous class three river that is non-stop action. Scenic and quick, it was the perfect late afternoon run. It actually reminded me a lot of a river in Mexico that we run called the Barranca Grande.
One of the best things about France is the food and drink. Each morning started with a delicious cup of espresso with cream and a chocolate croissant or quiche. In the evenings the good wine flowed and the meals were scrumptious.
Our second day in the Alps we paddled a river called the Fournel which is more like a natural play park full of waterfalls. We wave wheeled over one waterfall to our hearts’ content and then set up a rail on another falls. The rail was a little scary, but it was fun once you started sliding down. Cheesy wanted to dub the rail slide the ‘Girls at Play poll dance’. Not sure how I feel about that one!
We spent our last day near l’Argentiere paddling the Chateau Queyras section of the Gil River. It starts in a very impressive, narrow and tall canyon, about 10 ft wide and 100 ft tall. It’s fast and continuous and you just try to keep your boat straight and in the center of the current. It’s exciting! After the canyon the river widens and turns into a classic class 4 run with a few class 5 drops. A great way to finish up our short paddling trip to the Alps! On our way out of the river we drove up and over the Col d’Izouard which is a long, steep climb in the Tour de France. There was still writing on the road from fans of the tour. The pass is also called the route of Napoleon and you can stay in a small Inn called the ‘Refuge de Napoleon.’ The view of the Alps from the top of the pass was unbelievable!