Canoeing (and kayaking) on the Sauer

Canoeing and / or kayaking on the River Sauer in Luxembourg gets the whole family active and close to nature.

A silvery-green ribbon meandering softly through a heavily wooded valley, the Sauer (Sûre in French) is Luxembourg’s longest river. Long used as a handy dividing line, it geographically splits Luxembourg between its hilly north and fertile south, and politically demarcates the Grand-Duchy from Belgium (for 13km) and Germany (for 50km).

Then, having slowly savoured the verdant countryside of central Europe for 173km, the Sauer gently merges with the Mosel (Moselle) in its inevitable, timeless flow towards the mighty Rhine and the sea.


Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

So says the Water Rat to Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s classic 1913 novel “The Wind in the Willows”. But he’s not talking about a luxury yacht, nor an oversized cruise ship, nor a speedboat: Rat and Mole are in a small, simple rowing boat, languidly going nowhere in particular on a quiet river. Mole – who has never been on a boat before – is immediately smitten:

Absorbed in the new life he {Mole} was entering upon, intoxicated with the sparkle, the ripple, the scents and the sounds and the sunlight, he trailed a paw in the water and dreamed long waking dreams.

If you wish to feel the kind of contented bliss experienced by Mole but don’t have a Water Rat to guide you, then the Sauer is a great place to start. Canoeing is possible on many stretches of the river, but the 16km stretch between Wallendorf and Echternach – along Luxembourg’s border with Germany – is perhaps the most popular. On a sunny morning in late May, we put all four kids into lifejackets, stuffed a generous picnic into watertight containers and set off in two Canadian canoes to conquer the section between Dillingen and Echternach (12km).

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Preparation for our canoe trip from Dillingen to Echternach, Luxembourg

If it’s proximity to nature that you are looking for, there are few – if any – better ways of experiencing natural flora and fauna than in a canoe. Adrenaline junkies should look elsewhere – there are no white-water rapids to raise the pulse on this stretch of the Sauer, just the occasional faster-flowing section to excite the kids and break up the journey. This means plenty of opportunity to simply sit back in your front-row seat and appreciate the wondrous work of Mother Nature. Time comes to a standstill as you languidly float downstream, and the inhabitants of this watery world don’t seem to mind you being there whatsoever.

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Every member of the family can help row the canoe

Slow your mind and body to the pace of the river and watch the wagtails expertly pick off insects; watch the strangely prehistoric herons stand motionless with one eye on their next meal and the other on the canoes; watch also for kingfishers and water voles (although we didn’t see any during our trip). In fact, if you watch closely there is always something happening on the river in early summer: swallows dive-bombing for flies, a pair of cormorants flying overhead, a soaring red kite venturing too close to a crows’ nest (and being immediately harassed by the proud young parents). There are even some crayfish lurking in the shallows if you’re observant enough to spot them.

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European crayfish (astacus astacus), as discovered by Ash

But Mother Nature has not acted alone; the human hand has also enhanced the beauty of this particular river trip. A castle towers elegantly over the Sauer at Bollendorf and a harmonious covered wooden bridge gracefully spans the river at Weilerbach (not to mention the wealth of sights awaiting the visitor at Echternach, something that will undoubtedly be the subject of a future blog post).

Canoes – open boats for 2-3 with benches, often with single paddles – are great for experiencing the river with younger children, but kayaks – lower, often closed, double paddles – are better fun for the older ones. Kayaks are faster, more manoeuvrable and steadier than canoes whilst being only marginally more difficult to control. So when – just a couple of weeks after our canoe trip – the outdoors activity bloggers Bianca from Lebedraussen and Cora from Green Shaped Heart asked us to accompany them on their “packrafting” adventure from Wallendorf to Bollendorf (11km), Ash and I had no hesitation saying “Ja! Das ware toll!!“, jumping into a kayak and setting off down the Sauer once again.

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Spring had blossomed into summer on the Sauer. All around us, brilliant blue damselflies now danced in the shimmering sunlight, ducklings were paraded by proud parents in the shade of the trees lining the riverbanks, and the air was thick with heat and humidity.

As the first booms of thunder rumbled in from over the distant Ardennes, we pulled our kayak onto the shore at Bollendorf and I was greeted by the inevitable question from my son:

“When can we go kayaking again?”


Practical information for kayaking / canoeing on the Sauer

  • From Dillingen to Echternach (12km), we hired a Canadian canoe from Outdoor Freizeit. These easily accommodate two adults / one child or one adult / two children, and cost us €40 per canoe.
  • From Wallendorf to Bollendorf, (11km) we hired a double kayak from Camping du Rivage (link in Dutch). This was cheaper (€28) and on a quieter stretch of river, but is for two people maximum.
  • Note that – unless you have two cars – you will need to return to your starting point by public transport. Bus 500 runs approximately once per hour along the Sauer on the Luxembourgish side from Echternach,  stopping in all villages along the way; single tickets cost €2 (kids go free).
  • Children under the age of 12 must wear a life jacket (provided free-of-charge by the canoe hire companies).

Daisy the bus waited patiently for us in Dillingen / Wallendorf in May and June 2017

(c) 2017 Jonathan Orr

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Author: daisythebus

Father-of-four based in Luxembourg. I write about "off the beaten track" travel adventures with my family. Expect to read about nature, outdoor activities, the arts, authenticity, and alternative ways of discovering the world around us.

19 thoughts on “Canoeing (and kayaking) on the Sauer”

  1. My dad gave me a love of boating – we spent many family afternoons floating the McKenzie River in a drift boat while he deftly maneuvered between eddies and then cast in his dry fly arcing gracefully off his fishing pole. We looked for eagles and ospreys also out hunting in the cold clear water. It was magical. What memories you are making with your littles. Loved this post. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

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  2. Lovely post and awesome scenery again. great video too. Rat and Mole definitely had it right – there are very few pleasures better than playing around in boats. Thanks for joining us on #adventurecalling I hope you can again tomorrow.

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  3. That looks great fun. I have been canoeing a couple of times in France when I was younger and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. Love your video, you get such a good sense of how relaxing it was. The scenery looks beautiful, such a lovely way to explore. I really must give it another go one day, I’m inspired! #AdventureCalling

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  4. This sounds magical. My hubby is not a strong swimmer so I love the idea of no white-water rapids. Just gliding along communing with nature would be perfect.

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  5. Wind in the Willows is one of my favourite books! This post reminds me of my childhood so much. We used to go camping in our Kombi van with some other families who, like us, had canoes. There was a lot of messing around with boats! Lovely post. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

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  6. Oh this looks blissful. We do the same thing each year in France, though the south of France in August looks much less lush than Luxembourg in May. I love the nature you encounter and the wonderful scenery you pass. It is such a great family adventure and it sounds like your kids are just like mine wanting to go again and again. We must have been 4 times and it is still a family favourite.

    Thank you for sharing with me on #CountryKids

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  7. I remember canoeing (or possibly kayaking) along the Dordogne on a family holiday years ago – a very similar chilled-out experience. So far my daughter and I have just done a quick paddle in the New Forest when she was 2 (an interesting experience) but it’s good inspiration. #countrykids

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    1. I think that river kayaking is the easiest: depending on the current, there is little effort involved, and the chance of being caught out by a large wave is practically nil. In addition, you are never too far from the shore, which adds an extra reassurance when kayaking with kids. Thanks for reading! Hope you find that quiet river near London!

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    1. Yes, I think I may accidentally have created a cure for insomnia there! 😀 I would say that canoeing is suitable for kids of any age, as long as they can sit still for an hour or two. We took our four-year old, and he loved it!

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    1. Oh no! 😀 You should have tried a canoe – it’s probably a little easier. In any case, I’m sure you were fine and Wandermust Daddy was just being mean 😉 In general, I think that canoeing / kayaking is easier than most people think it is. Try it again sometime soon – you’ll probably love it! 😉

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