The new Audi A5 equipped with a roof-mounted kayak rack, driving over a bridge in the Dordogne valley

Gently down the stream


Destination: Audi heads for the Dordogne valley in a new A5 equipped with a roof-mounted kayak rack, and we learn more about the region’s rich history as we paddle along its beautiful waterways

Destination Audi's writer John Silcox sits in a kayak, floating down the river in the Dordogne valley, France

The Dordogne valley is best explored by river, which is why I’m gently floating down it, sat in a kayak. Dappled sunshine is warming my skin and I relax, taking the time to admire the spectacle unfolding around me. Over to the right, a heron is quietly hunting in the shallows, his silhouette casting an attractive shadow on the grass bank behind. To the left, a soft breeze is rustling the green leaves of a large walnut grove, planted in neat rows. And high up above, the formidable shape of a medieval chateau looms large, perched as it is on top of a honey-coloured rocky outcrop, dominating the skyline.

Time here seems to move to a different rhythm – one that’s set by the flow of the river as it ribbons on a 300-mile journey from its source in the Auvergne mountains in central France to the Gironde estuary near Bordeaux. But simply travelling by waterway would make it impossible to see more than a fraction of the region in the few days of my trip. This is why I have driven down from England in the new Audi A5, equipped with a tiltable kayak rack, which enables me to combine the fun of watersports with the mobility of a car.

A close up of the Audi kayak rack and kayak on the roof of the Audi A5

‘The river is the heart of the region,’ says Yoann Heurtevent, the owner of canoe rental and adventure company Safaraid Dordogne, who is guiding me down the river. ‘Over thousands of years its movement has forged the landscape, creating the stunning geography of gorges, valleys and planes we now see. Its presence has also heavily impacted human life and activity, and it continues to do so today.’

Yoann was brought up with his feet in the water and knows the river better than anyone. His parents ran a campsite on the edge of the river, and he decided to start his canoe company because he couldn’t imagine life away from the Dordogne. He’s not the only one affected by the river’s mystical lure: he points out that the English have been attracted to the region for centuries.

Yoann Heurtevent, the owner of canoe rental and adventure company Safaraid Dordogne, kayaking

At the water's edge: the new Audi A5 equipped with the tiltable Audi kayak rack

‘Back during the Hundred Years War the land around was heavily disputed by the English and the French,’ says Yoann. ‘They built many castles and fortified villages dotted about to protect the agricultural land. Later on, this focus on farming meant that industrialisation all but bypassed the area, preserving the countryside.’ Today, this rural charm captures the imagination of holidaymakers who come over to discover the area and enjoy the good weather, fantastic food and even better wine.

Indeed, the Dordogne is one of France’s gastronomic centres. Head to any market in the region and you will find trestle tables groaning under the weight of seasonal produce and local specialities such as walnuts, truffles, duck, foie gras and Cabécou goat cheese. Luckily, the Audi A5 boasts more than 480 litres of boot space in which to fit all my luggage and kayaking equipment, while leaving room for a few souvenirs of the edible kind as well.

Written by John Silcox. Photographs by Alexander Rhind.

 

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