10 places to learn canoeing in France

With its lakes, rivers and coastline, Provence is an ideal destination for an introduction to canoeing in France. From Marseille, there are several options to choose from, leaving you free to try out the ones that suit you best.

Canoeing and sea kayaking around Marseille

1. The Calanques National Park

Between land and sea, the Calanques National Park – stretching from Marseille to Cassis – proves to be an ideal place to canoe in its crystal-clear waters while enjoying absolutely marvellous scenery.

Sail from the Calanque de Port-Pin to the Calanque de Port-Miou and then from the latter to the Calanque d’En-Vau is probably one of the best ways to explore the treasures of this biodiversity-rich park. Sail at your own pace on the relatively calm waters of the Mediterranean. Occasionally, you can take a break to swim, sunbathe or picnic. Departing from the main beach at Cassis, it will take you around 4 hours to get to the Calanque d’En-Vau, take a break and retrace your steps by canoe-kayak.

Most travelers prefer to land at the Calanque d’En-Vau, as it is considered the most beautiful of the Calanques. However, the more adventurous and sporty can venture beyond by paddling an extra half-hour towards the Grotte de l’Oule. Set in a deep, winding rocky cavity, this cave is a Mediterranean jewel that can be discovered between two waves as you enter the gully. Change of scenery and solitude guaranteed!

2. The Frioul Islands

Accessible by shuttle from Marseille in just a few minutes, the Frioul Islands offer a remarkable mineral landscape in the heart of Marseille’s harbor. They also offer sea canoe enthusiasts a formidable playground. From Pomègues and Ratonneau, you can explore the other islands and islets of the archipelago. The island of Château d’If, the Caroline Hospital and Ile Degaby plunge you into the history of France’s oldest city, inviting you to experience a change of scenery in sumptuous surroundings.


3. Cassis and Cap Canaille

Cap Canaille offers a Mediterranean landscape different from the region’s geological habits. Aboard a canoe-kayak, you set off to discover a part of the cape inaccessible on foot. You’ll cross the entire cap Canaille site and the Soubeyrannes cliffs, one foot of which is among the highest in Europe. Thanks to the sandstone blocks that have washed up, you can follow a playful slalom course. For a picnic, you can stop off on l’île Verte or in the Calanque de Figuerolles before ending your journey by crossing the beautiful bay of La Ciotat.

4. La Ciotat and the Bec de l’Aigle

With its pudding rock of sandstone pebbles, the Bec de l’Aigle is recognizable by its size and shape. From La Ciotat, it looks like a round mass, while from Cap Canaille, it takes on the appearance of a peak. Departing from Plage Saint-Jean, to the east of La Ciotat, you can explore this atypical archipelago by canoe or sea kayak. You’ll have the opportunity to cross a magnificent bay with turquoise bottoms before passing the old port and the shipyard rich in historical anecdotes. Confronted by an original geology, you sail at the foot of this Provençal Scandola to reach the green island made up of shaded areas on which you enjoy a siesta lulled by the song of the cicadas.

5. From La Madrague to Bandol via Port d’Alon

From La Madrague de Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, at the eastern end of the bay of La Ciotat, you embark on a canoe or kayak journey that takes you to the west of Bandol. Your first stop is the seawall, offering a sumptuous panorama of the coastline. You continue your adventure along the coast towards the Pointe du Défens, where the atmosphere is wild and marine. After rounding this point, you arrive at la Calanque du Port d’Alon, offering two pebble beaches. Then, following a well-deserved break, you resume your canoeing towards Baie de la Moutte, where towering cliffs overlook you. You finish by retracing your steps to reach the port of La Madrague.

On the rivers and lakes of Provence

6. Les Gorges du Verdon

Linking the Southern Alps to the valley of the middle Durance, in Provence, the Verdon is a great place to discover grandiose landscapes and its crystal-clear river. Accessible by day from Marseille, where you’ll need to allow around 3 hours’ drive to get there, les Gorges du Verdon are home to numerous water activities including canoeing or kayaking.

For the adventurous, discover the thrills of river canoeing as you play with the Verdon rapids. On your own, relive the expedition of Edouard Alfred Martel, the first explorer of the Grand Canyon. Throughout your descent, you’ll be accompanied by a state-certified guide. Navigation is mainly concentrated between Castellane and Point Sublime, representing a course of over 20 km. As this activity is only available on days when water is released, you are strongly advised to book your descent with the service providers.

7. Sainte-Croix Lake

Spreading over an area of 2200 hectares, Sainte-Croix Lake – France’s third largest man-made lake – offers an exceptional setting for canoeing or kayaking. Located in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Var departments, as it forms the natural border between the two, Lac de Sainte-Croix is easily accessible from Marseille. The Verdon’s largest lake, with its seaside-like beaches, offers the Verdon’s most sought-after view: the spectacular end of the Grand Canyon. With its calmer waters, it’s the ideal place for beginners or children. You can discover the banks of the birth of Sainte-Croix lake and enter the Gorges du Verdon corridor from the Pont de Galetas, where the crystal-clear turquoise waters are ringed by high cliffs. And if you want to add tranquillity to this magical setting, go off-season.

8. Esparron-de-Verdon lake and the Basses Gorges du Verdon

Esparron-de-Verdon lake, the last lake formed by the Verdon river, is part of what’s known as the Basses Gorges du Verdon. Here you can discover natural wonders, far from the hustle and bustle of the busy Grand Canyon (Hautes Gorges). The wilder Esparron-de-Verdon lake is best explored by kayak or canoe, at a rather slow pace. Once you’ve got used to the rhythm of the oars, you can stop off in the Verdon’s wild creeks to discover the mysteries of these gorges. You’ll have the opportunity to dock easily to explore the Provençal landscapes, provided you hang your canoe properly from small trees or risk it leaving without you.

For an easy itinerary, we recommend canoeing in les Gorges de Baudinard, also part of the Basses Gorges du Verdon and located downstream from Lake Sainte-Croix. During your exploration, you’ll have the opportunity to enter a few caves where moss walls and small waterfalls provide a very pleasant sensation of coolness in the summer months.

9. Provence Verte

With a trip on the Argens river, you’ll discover Provence Verte and Dracénie in an idyllic setting combining nature and thrills. Aboard a canoe or kayak, you’ll paddle as much through peaceful passages as through faster zones that will provide you with a variety of emotions.

For beginners, you can opt for an easy 4-kilometer course – starting from Pardigon (Entrecasteaux) – during which you’ll paddle at your own pace on the river, as you please, until you arrive in the Miquelets valley (Saint-Antonin-du-Var).

Starting from the same point, the 9-kilometer canoe trip along the Argens towards Les Fadons (Le Thoronet) is suitable for anyone aged 5 and over, provided they are accompanied by an adult. Although it offers a change of scenery and a friendly atmosphere, it is a little more complex due to its class 2 and class 3 sections.

For the more athletic, there are also 14, 21, 25 and 30 kilometer routes, departing from Carcès, Montfort-sur-Argens and Correns respectively.

10. The Ardèche gorges

As one of France’s most remarkable natural sites, the Ardèche gorges and the Pont d’Arc mineral arch represent a canyon 22 kilometers long where limestone cliffs over 250 meters high shape the landscape. The best way to discover the Nature Reserve is by canoe or kayak. Depending on your level of experience and time spent in the area, you can choose from routes ranging from 6 kilometers to 56 kilometers, the latter over several days. During your canoe or kayak trip, you’ll discover the Ardèche, from the Pont de Salavas to Châmes, passing under the Pont d’Arc. Sensations guaranteed!

Marseille Experience

Water sports in Marseille