How do you get started kayaking down the Rhône to the Mediterranean?
Lionel and Yves, both keen kayakers, first got in touch via a discussion forum, before gliding from the Alps to the Mediterranean in a kayak.

Here’s a look at the map, photos and excerpts from the story of our adventure together on the river.

Kayaking from the Rhône to the Mediterranean

After a first raid on the Rhône River in 2015 between Seyssel and Lyon, this trip gave rise to the desire to go down from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean in a kayak.

Over the next two years, Lionel and Yves built up their route, spotting tricky crossing points, making contacts and training to perfect their expedition.

Yves, Lionel, the Mediterranean

Kayaking from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean

And it was on Saturday 9 September 2017 that they set off on a 14-day adventure from the Rhône to the Mediterranean by kayak. In the rain, from the pontoon of the Vernier rowing club south of Geneva they set off until 22 September, with a finish on a calm Mediterranean sea like a lake, at Les Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer.

14 Days sailing on the Rhône, 560 kilometres on the 2nd largest river in the Mediterranean, after the Nile in Egypt, in terms of flow.

From Geneva to the Mediterranean by kayak: here we go!

Travel map

Take a step-by-step look at the map of Lionel and Yves’s kayak trip down the Rhône:

The Upper Rhône

Although dotted with a few dams, the Rhône River remains wild between Geneva and Lyon.

The atmosphere is calm, the scenery magnificent, with lônes [red: isolated river arm] and numerous side arms to explore.

The Haut-Rhône nature reserve, particularly near Brégnier-Cordon in the Ain department, has left a memorable mark on our kayakers.

  • Geneva to Lyon, 5 days (French):
    Day 1, Geneva to Surjoux-l’Hôpital
    Day 2, from Surjoux-l’Hôpital to Massignieu-de-Rives
    Day 3, Massignieu-de-Rives to Groslée
    Day 4, Groslée to Loyettes
    Day 5 Loyettes to Lyon Confluence
Somewhere in a kayak, French Upper Rhône

This stretch of the Rhône is dotted with imposing hydroelectric schemes such as the Génissiat dam and the Bugey power station. These structures are on a par with the power of the river and the energy challenges of the post-war period in the last century.

These are also complicated obstacles for our adventurers:

A monster of concrete and steel, the portage (of the kayaks) over it will be the most complicated part of the route. Embarking downstream in the incredible currents generated by the water releases will be a good dose of adrenalin.

The Rhône changes in Lyon, the Saône joins it

The regional capital is literally changing the face of the Rhône, which is becoming more urban and more industrial.

Lyon is also the place where the river’s largest tributary, the Saône, makes its largest flow south of the Confluence district, with the first impressive-sized bar(French)ges alongside a kayak!

Lyon, the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers

South of Lyon and the Rhône valley

From the village of Saint-Pierre-de-Boeuf onward, the river is divided intermittently between the old river bed, the lônes, the Rhône canal used for navigation and the reservoirs used to generate electricity.

Lionel and Yves continue their journey along these wilder stretches, once again offering a more bucolic view of the river and a succession of towns and villages along its banks:

Condrieu, Sablons, Tournon-sur-Rhône, Tain-l’Hermitage

But the Rhône is first and foremost a canal for river transport, irrigation and hydroelectric production, with straight stretches as far as the eye can see that can sometimes put a strain on the morale of kayakers with all the monotony of a developed river.

The Rhône valley is also home to the Mistral, a northerly wind with gusts that can force you to take a break from the river to avoid capsizing.

  • From Lyon to Beaucaire, 7 days (French):
    Day 6, Lyon to Sérézin-du-Rhône
    Day 7, Sérézin-du-Rhône to Saint-Vallier
    Day 8, Saint-Vallier to Saint-Georges-les-Bains
    Day 9: Saint-Georges-les-Bains to Châteauneuf-du-Rhône
    Day 10, Châteauneuf-du-Rhône to Caderousse
    Day 11, Caderousse to Avignon
    Day 12, Avignon to Beaucaire
Nuclear, solar and wind power along the Rhône river

The Little Rhône

The last stage of the journey is the crossing of Arles and the Petit-Rhône, which winds its way through the wild Camargue, far from the noise of the industrial part of the river.

Leaving the main river bed (Grand-Rhône) to the north of Arles, the Petit-Rhône symbolically separates the Petite Camargue from the Camargue and flows into the Mediterranean Sea at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Wikipedia (French)
The Rhône in the Camargue

The Rhone delta and the sea

And now Lionel and Yves are finally heading for the Mediterranean

The sea will be revealed in the distance, on the final stretch of the river, where we’ll be able to see a perfect line with a clear horizon, which, once crossed, will signal the end of our journey.

  • From Beaucaire to the Mediterranean, 2 days (French):
    Day 13, Beaucaire to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer via Arles
    Day 14, from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to the Mediterranean
There’s the Mediterranean to cross?

To follow the story of the adventure day by day, see more photos and find out more about the kayak trip down the Rhône, visit Lionel and Yves’ website (French):

Web link

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