Canovélo: A Canoe & Bike Trip Through France

canoevelo bike and canoe trip through france

Paul Villecourt and Christian Barbier took a month for their le voyage en canoë + vélo—their canoe and bike trip—in May, 2021 in their native France. They dubbed their trip their Canovélo Tour.

Canoe + Bike = Canovélo

Of course Paul and Christian arrived at their Canovélo name by combining their two main forms of transportation for the trip: canoë + vélo (bike) = canovélo.

They would eventually travel 900 kilometers (559 miles) in a grand loop through eastern France. When it was easier to travel by bike, they rode. When it was easier to travel by canoe, they paddled.

When biking, each man towed 70 kilograms (154 pounds), including a canoe and gear on a two-wheeled trailer. When they were ready to get on the river, they disassembled their bikes and trailers and put them in their canoes with the rest of their gear.

canovelo: bikers towing canoes and gear

Here are a few excerpts from Paul’s journal along the way:

DAY 1: “Superb first day Canovélo between Aouste sur Sye and Les Ollières in the Eyrieux valley. 58 km of happiness by bike. And yes, the Drôme in flood did not want us. We will return later, it's home. We are towing more than 70 kg of gear and this first day has rather reassured us. We can do it ! Good. Tomorrow it will start to rise more seriously. But today was happiness!”

DAY 3: “This is the one we dreaded the most since it is certainly the biggest climb to swallow of the whole adventure…It was a rather symbolic step since it is the answer to a question I had for two years: is it really possible to tow a canoe with 70 to 80 kg of load on a pass of 1000 m of elevation? So we have the answer today: it works!”

canovelo: canoeing past a stork

DAY 10: “After the portage of the Roanne dam, the pressure relaxes, even if the power of the current and the width of the river push us to the greatest caution. No difficulty during the day and the current allows us to travel 60 km! Personal best in canoe! And without forcing! The landscape is not exceptional because very flat, but the bird show is fantastic! Hundreds of storks all over the trees and a multitude of other waders. Around 17h, we start looking for a bivouac, but we only have the choice between drowned fields and cow fields. Finally we find a spot but it is not necessary that the water continues to rise otherwise the tent will end up in the water!”

DAY 17: “The road between Vouglans and the Coiselet dam is sublime. The road is hilly with small climbs / descents without much difficulty. Very nice landscape but we took the option of doing the lake of Coiselet by bike to avoid a double embarkation/disembarkation.”

canovelo: drying out under a bridge

DAY 19: “Very special day today. As much as yesterday's had been difficult, today's offered many small pleasures. First, a morning sleep in a beautiful large camping tent equipped with real beds and electricity. Last night, we even offered ourselves a restaurant, the first post-war! Upon awakening, we discover a large blue sky above our heads. This is the third beautiful day in three weeks.”

DAY 23: “Today 50 km traveled between Saint-Pierre de Boeuf and La Roche de Glun. It was perhaps the perfect day: sun, wind in the back and 10 km/h of current on the Rhône.”

Canoeing a French River vs. American River

In viewing their photos it’s obvious that a big different between canoeing a French River and one in America or Canada is the centuries of history you paddle by. Bridges, homes, castles (like the magnificent Château de la Roche, pictured below) that have stood for generations.

canovelo: canoeing by a castle

The rivers themselves are much like rivers everywhere—flow and depth dependent on the rains, some rapids, some calm stretches. They faced plenty of dams that required portaging as well.

The two men found places to camp each night along the way, with a solid roof over their heads every so often. Since they encountered a lot of rain on their tour, it was a special treat to leave their tents in the packs when they could.

In fact they had so much rain, they’ve thought of christening the video: “la tournée des grandes crues” or “the great flood tour”!

canovelo campsite

With just a week left of the tour, Paul journals: “If the sun is in the game, this last week should be pleasant. But if the rain continues, we may be eager for it to end. Everything will depend on the sun. I hope he comes back!”

Interactive Map of Canovélo

You can see the route of Canovélo plus photos taken at various locations on this interactive map. Simply click on one of the pins and a box will pop up with a photo and description.

(If you don’t speak French, you’ll want to have a French-to-English translator alongside so you can read the narratives that accompany each pin! They’re easy to find via online search.)

canovelo: canoeing rapids

Paul and Christian had support from several family members and friends before and during their tour. A few even paddled along with them for a few miles or days.

We look forward to seeing the upcoming video of Canovélo! Here’s the trailer:

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(All photos courtesy of Paul Villecourt)

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