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Wonderful Waterways: The Rivers of Western France

There's no better way to explore France than its beautiful waterways. With some of the most picturesque rivers and lakes in Europe, it's a fantastic way to experience the "real" France.

Whether you love hiking, biking and getting out in nature, or simply relaxing with a spot of fishing – France's rivers also offer plenty of activities for the whole family. So, where's best to start?

In this series, we've explored the main rivers of Northern, Eastern and Southern France. Today, we round off with the principal rivers of Western France.

Let's dive in. The water's lovely.

1. Adour

A river in southwestern France, the Adour stretches just over 300 kilometres. It rises in the Pyrenees before travelling through some beautiful southern countryside and flowing into the Atlantic Ocean in the Bay of Biscay. It empties near the coastal city of Bayonne.

For a brief stretch, the river forms the border between the French Landes region and the Northern Basque country.

Adour River at Aire-sur-l'Adour
Adour River at Aire-sur-l'Adour

Great for: biking and hiking

If you fancy getting out and exploring some of the French countryside, Camping Etche Zahar is a great place to start. It's a quiet rural spot, offering stunning views of the Adour river below. There's also bicycle hire on site and plenty of opportunities for rural strolls.

Although this attractive site is small, the hardcore roads give access to remarkably large grass pitches separated by small hedges. The larger pitches have little...

2. Dordogne

The Dordogne river flows through stunning forested valleys and unique natural landscapes. Indeed, UNESCO labelled the Dordogne and its watershed areas as a "Biosphere Reserve" in July 2012. It's also one of the few rivers with a "tidal bore" – a strong tide pushing against the river's natural current.

Flowing for 483 kilometres, the river (in southwest and south-central France) rises in the mountains of Auvergne. It heads westwards before meeting the Gironde, north of Bordeaux.

Rocamadour, overlooking the River Dordogne
Rocamadour, overlooking the River Dordogne

Great for: fishing

For anyone after some angling, try Camping les Chalets sur la Dordogne. It's a small, family-friendly campsite on the banks of the Dordogne river. Some pitches are right on the river, making it ideal for avid anglers.

The Dordogne is especially known for trout fishing. Making the most of this, the campsite invites an instructor onsite during summer months to teach fishing techniques.

Camping Les Chalets sur la Dordogne is a small-scale campsite located on the banks of the river Dordogne. You have a choice of 60 spacious...

3. Charente

The Charente is a 381-kilometre-long river flowing through southwestern France. It rises in the Haute-Vienne department and flows through several regions named after the river.

After passing through Charente and Charente-Maritime – the river empties into the Atlantic near the historic town of Rochefort.

Described by Francois I (King of France from 1515-1547) as the "most beautiful river in the kingdom", what are you waiting for?

Charente River at Cognac
Charente River at Cognac

Great for: history and culture

Camping le Rejallant is a beautiful campsite in a rural setting next to the River Charente. As well as facilities like a bar, outdoor eating area and recently installed pool, it's also an excellent location for exploring nearby Ruffec.

Ruffec's Old Town offers narrow streets and charming Romanesque architecture. Nearby La Rochefoucauld (with its imposing château), the wine cellars of Cognac, and historic Poitiers all provide further opportunities for fascinating day trips.

In the heart of Poitou-Charentes, Le Réjallant is a family-friendly campsite in a rural setting beside the River Charente. Of its 84 grassy pitches, some...

4. Loire

The Loire is officially the longest river in France. At 1006 kilometres, it's also the eighteenth longest river in Europe. It rises in the French Massif Central, flowing north and west before reaching the Bay of Biscay. The river empties at the harbour town of Saint-Nazaire on France's west coast.

The river gives its name to six departments (including Loire, Loire-Atlantique and Maine-et-Loire). UNESCO also added the lower-central section of the river valley (with its many vineyards and châteaux) to its list of World Heritage Sites in December 2000.

Loire running beneath Château de Chenonceau
Loire running beneath Château de Chenonceau

Great for: family fun

If you're planning a camping holiday with the whole family, try Camping de l'île. Found on the left bank of the Loire River, it offers 180 spacious pitches set amongst well-shaded forest scenery. There's so much for children (and adults!) to do, from canoeing and kayaking on the river to playing boules, volleyball and table tennis.

Two hours from Paris, on the left bank of the Loire river, between Burgundy and Berry, Camping de l'île borders the flowery town of Cosne-Sur-Loire...

5. Vilaine

Last but not least in our guide to France's western rivers is the Vilaine. A river in Brittany, it reaches the Atlantic Ocean at the popular seaside resort of Pénestin.

The Vilaine flows for just over 200 kilometres. It's also part of Brittany's impressive canal system, constructed for small barges. Today, it's a hotspot for holidaymakers and leisure boaters.

River Vilaine, Rennes
River Vilaine, Rennes

Great for: boat launches and sailing

Camping Municipal le Pâtis is an excellent choice if you fancy trying some boating. It's right next to the River Vilaine, just five minutes from the Old Town of La Roche-Bernard. Here, you'll find a busy port and marina. There's also a sailing school next door offering a variety of boats for hire for novice and experienced sailors alike.

This is another of those excellent municipal sites one comes across in France. Situated beside the River Vilaine, five minutes’ walk from the centre of...