CANOEING ON THE LOIRE
The Loire is an amazing river that is well set up for canoe tourism. UNESCO describe it as "France's last wild river" and it is simply stunning to paddle on. There are numerous canoe rental companies along the river that provide anything, from a single afternoon's paddling, all the way up to multi-day journeys. These companies are set up so that you can rent your canoe or kayak in one place and leave it downstream miles later, getting a lift back in their car. It is not a particularly fast moving river in most places and there are no real dangers. It is a river for paddlers of any level.
What maps did you use?
Since the Loire is not navigable by anything much bigger than a canoe there are not any good river maps for boats. You can buy maps for the Loire cycleway (though not in English) but the cycle route dips away from the riverside quite frequently and the accuracy of the map is not great for the river (it leaves off islands e.t.c.). We just used AA road maps with a map for each region we passed through. The scale isn't great and they obviously focus on the roads more than the river but it worked fine for us and there are plenty of bridges on the river which act as landmarks on the map so you always know where you are.
Do you need a river permit?
No. For canoeing on the river you do not need a permit. It is only motor boats that have to pay a toll or if you are in a boat longer than 5 meters. Our canoe was actually something like 5.2m but nobodies checking... the point is, if your not a motor boat or a big sailing boat you are permit free.
Where are there dams on the river?
Since it is not set up for commercial navigation there are no locks or dams on the Loire. With a few exceptions. Along the river there are three or four power stations that use water for their cooling systems. Here there a weirs in the water that you cannot canoe over. They are all very clearly signposted so you will not accidentally go over them. When you see the signs, stop. Move in to the shore and carry the canoe or kayak around the weir via the marked footpath. There are not trolleys provided for these portages.
Are there other obstacles on the river?
If you are renting a canoe or kayak the group you are renting from will be sure to tell you of any dangers in the water. There are no real obstacles of note, but the bridges are worth a mention. There are lots of historic bridges along the Loire where the river is forced to squeeze through the small arches. Here the water can be extremely powerful and for us, going upstream, we often had to pull the canoe through using ropes or carry it around altogether. Going downstream there is not quite the same danger but you want to make sure you are well lined up in the middle of the arch before you get to it and the water will shoot you through... very quickly!
If your close to the edges keep an eye out for fishing lines, there are fishermen everywhere! And shallows can also be an obstacle but for that you simply get out and wade along for a bit.
Canoe storage when stopping in villages?
Take a long bike lock. When leaving the canoe we would always lock it to something using a long bike lock and took our paddles with us. As for leaving bags in the canoe, we learnt this lesson the hard way. Admittedly the city of Tour is no village, but we had loads of our gear stolen from our dry bags, including tent and sleeping bags, when we visited the city for an afternoon. From then on whenever we stopped anywhere we locked the canoe and took both of our large dry bags with us. That meant the canoe was left alone with only food in it, easily replaced. Other than Tour we never encountered any problems.
Canoe storage at night?
At night you have a lot of options. There are countless campsites on the Loire, countless towns with hotels or inns, and countless spots you can quietly camp without anyone noticing. We never did anything other than camping and here we simply slept with the canoe rolled over next to our tent. We could also store a few things under it at night time to keep them dry, sometimes using a bike lock to hold everything together. Both in campsites and wild-camping this was a simple and effective thing to do.
Canoe storage in cities?
Again, use a trusty bike lock and lock the canoe to something. Even cities on the Loire have campsites and when camping we generally left most things in the campsite, relying on trust. If you are not staying in the campsite our advice is NOT to lock the canoe and leave it by the river while you stay in a hotel. Talk to the hotel and ask them about storage, ask in the tourist info, but for safety in the city be sure to find somewhere. We often used the friendly people on couchsurfing.org or warmshowers.org - online communities set up by travellers to help travellers. If your in need of a friend to help you out abroad, these are the websites to use.
Do I need a water purifier?
No. On the Loire there are plenty of places to stop and all of them you will want to stop at. Its an amazing river and there are tourist information buildings everywhere who will happily fill up your water bottles. With a good amount of water storage (we had about 10ltrs) you'll be fine. We would not advice drinking the river water and if you plan to then take some chlorine tablets like we did, but if you don't want to drink the river water you don't need to... theres plenty of places to fill up.
Have more questions?
Simply get in touch through my contact page.
Following this advice?
These FAQ pages are intended to answer your common questions but reflect out-dated knowledge from our experiences in 2013. Things on the Loire may be different today. James Warner Smith and Nathan Wilkins do not take responsibility for anybody that follows our advice without seeking further, professional guidance and cannot be held responsible for any loss, damage, injury or death that occurs as a result of following this information. Please be cautious, act responsibly and canoe safely.