The Gorges du Verdon or the Grand Canyon du Verdon is one of the biggest canyons in Europe and for sure one of the most beautiful places in France. It is located in south-eastern France on the border between the departments Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (in the north) and Var (in the south).
We chose Gorges du Verdon as a setting for our summer holidays – 2 weeks of exploring this region of Provence with mesmerizing views and picturesque villages. I wish we had more time as this place has so much to offer: from sunbathing at the shores of the Lake of Sainte Croix to rafting in the wild waters of the river Verdon, or hiking, bird-watching, paragliding, quirky villages and a lot more…
If you want to detox from the city life and find some peace, and recover from your stressful corporate 9 to 5 job, the Gorges du Verdon is what you need.
- 1 Information about the region
- 2 What to do?
- 2.1 Road trip
- 2.2 Day trips
- 2.3 Hiking
- 2.4 Water sports
- 3 Where to stay?
- 4 Where to eat?
Information about the region
Gorges du Verdon
The Gorges du Verdons were formed during the Quaternary period through erosion and fracturing of the limestone deposits in an area which some 200 M years ago was covered by a sea.
Fast facts about the canyon:
- 25 km long
- 700 m deep
- from 6 to 100 m wide at the bottom and from 200 to 1500 m at the rim
The river starts its journey in the south-western Alps and flows for 166 km before it joins the Durance near Vinon-sur-Verdon. You will be hypnotized by the emerald green waters of Verdon! This unique colour is not due to any magic or to your imagination, the waters are emerald green because of the fluoride and a certain type of micro algae present in the river.
Not all beauty in the region of Verdon is natural, the man has also contributed to enhancing the landscape. There are five artificial lakes built on the river, the most famous of which is the Lake of Sainte-Croix.
The Lake of Sainte-Croix
The lake has appeared after the valley was flooded as a result of building the Dam of Sainte-Croix. The construction started in 1971 and finished in 1975. Together with being one of the biggest man-made lakes in France (about 10 km long and 3 km wide), it’s also one of the newest. It’s been standing there for a little bit more than 40 years now. Besides, serving pure economic purposes – being a fresh water reservoir for the whole Provence and securing electricity for the region, the lake has become also a popular touristic attraction. There are numerous sand beaches on the turquoise waters of the lake and the lake is also quite popular among the water-sport fans. The beautiful turquoise colour of the lake is due to the clay deposits.
What to do?
The canyon is easily accessible by car. You can make a complete loop around it, which will take a whole day, as you will need to cover some 100 km. There are two options: you can either take first the south rim (rive gauche – Route de Corniche Sublime) travelling anticlockwise, or clockwise starting with the north rim (rive droite ). You can start this trip wherever it suites you depending on your accommodation. However, there’s a section of the north rim at Palud-sur-Verdon, which can be taken only clockwise.
South rim – rive gauche – Route de Corniche Sublime
We started our trip at Aiguines as we were staying there for the holidays. If you start somewhere else, you should stop at this small village to enjoy a breathtaking 360° almost bird-view panorama of the Lake of Sainte-Croix. Don’t miss it! Head from Aiguines anticlockwise following road D71 to Pont de l’Artuby. Along the way stop at Col d’Illoire for a beautiful view down on the river Verdon from some 967 m altitude, then continue via the Fayet tunnel (this is the highest point of the south rim) to the bridge on the Artuby River. The bridge is 182 m high and is the highest place in Europe from where you can jump with a bungee. You will have some stunning views from the bridge. (How many times did I say “stunning”? Well, you will hear it a few more times together with “breathtaking”, but the Gorge du Verdon is the very embodiment of these adjectives.) Follow the road for some even more great views at Balcons de la Mescla – the place where the river Artuby flows into the Verdon.
After Balcons de la Mescla you can either continue on D71 to Comps-sur-Artuby, then take D21 and D102 to Castellane, or turn right on D71 to D90 towards Trigance, then on D955 and D952 to Castellane. If you choose the second option you will travel twice a part of the D952 on your way back to Moustiers.
At the time of writing this post there are road works on Corniche Sublime and different sections of D71 will be closed in 2017. Check before you leave.
North rim – rive droite
From the beautiful village of Castellane continue on D952 all the way to Point Sublime. From here you can opt to the village of Rougon or continue to La Palud-sur-Verdon. The section to Point Sublime follows the rim of the canyon with some amazing views. At Point Sublime you can drive further to Couloir Samson and Chalet de la Maline, where the hiking route Martel (Sentier Martel) begins. Before Palud-sur-Verdon you can opt for the loop road, or otherwise continue all the way along this scenic route on the north rim to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.
After a stop at Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, take D957 all the way to the lake. Pont du Galetas offers one of the most beautiful views towards the lake and the entrance of the Gorges du Verdon. Continue further on D957 and at Chabassole turn left on D19 which will bring you all the way up to Aiguines, where we started our journey.
Loop road – D23 – Route de Crêtes
Before you arrive in La Palud-sur-Verdon you can take D23 – one of the most famous balcony roads in the world. It is as narrow as beautiful, offering some epic views on the Gorges du Verdon. It is not for the beginning driver, as it meanders and twists and hides surprises after each hairpin turn. Just drive carefully and you will witness one of the most beautiful sceneries with vertiginous drops, gaping crevices and mesmerizing views. There are 14 belvederes on this 23 km long road. In the summer it can be quite busy with long queues of cars and caravans.
You can take the loop road also as a day trip. Then, I will advise you to do this early in the morning. Thus, you can avoid the queues and it won’t be that hot, if you are there in the summer. Just keep in mind to travel in a clockwise direction.
My favourite part about staying at one place during the summer holidays is that you can enjoy day trips and get to know the area. That’s why it is better if you choose a place that is central to a region and that offers a variety of activities. If you are staying in Aiguines, the way we did, you can take day trips to a bunch of places:
If you choose for the more scenic road – follow D19 and then D71 all the way down to Les Salles-sur-Verdon, and then take D957, continue on D49 to Bauduen. This route takes about 30 min and is 26 km. If you choose for the faster route, take D71 at Aiguines, then merge on D19 and continue on D619. At the intersection with D957 turn right onto D957. At the intersection with D49, turn right and continue to Bauduen. This route is about 5 minutes faster and is 22 km. I know it looks a bit complicated to go to Bauduen but we were travelling this distance almost each day for a lunch at this particular café with a lovely view on the lake and the second best guallette with ham and eggs that I have ever eaten (first best, of course, are home made by a lovely French family I stayed with many years ago).
Take D19 to Chabassole and then turn right to D957. D957 will continue to Moustiers as D952. The journey takes less than 25 min without traffic and you will cover some 16 km
It takes a bit longer to go to Castellane, about 1 hr 15 min. From Aiguines take D71, then turn left onto D90 and after Trigance turn left onto D955, then merge onto D952 and continue all the way to Castellane. This route is about 55 km long.
You can read more about those places in my other post on the most beautiful places in Provence.
If you are prepared to travel a bit more, like hour and a half – two hours, you can consider some of the most popular places on the French Riviera like Saint Tropez (92 km / 1 hr 50 min), Cassis (135 km / 2 hrs), Marseille (140 km / 2 hrs), Nice (135 km / 2 hrs), Cannes (110 km / 1 hr 45 min), Antibes (120 km / 1 hr 50 min).
The rest of Provence
Aiguines can be considered also as a base to travel around in the whole Provence. Any place is to be reached in less than 3 hours: Camargue (200 km / 2 hrs 30 min), Aix-en-Provence (110 km / 1 hr 40 min), Avignon (175 km / 2 hrs 30 min), Arles (185 km / 2 hrs 15 min), Orange (185 km / 2 hrs 30 min), Grasse (100 km / 2 hrs).
Have you ever dreamed of the lavender fields of Provence? You can drive to Valensole (45 km / 1 hr), where you can find those purple waves of purplish-blue lavender following each curve of the plateau. And if you are in search of those little charming villages, consider visiting the places included in the official list of the Most Beautiful Villages of France.
With the 2 weeks that we had in the Gorges du Verdon region and all the places we wanted to visit and the things we wanted to do we made it only to Saint Tropez.
If you are a nature lover or you enjoy dramatic views, the Gorges du Verdon are the perfect place for your holidays. The region is very popular for its hiking trails, the two most famous ones being the Sentier Martel and the Sentier Imbut.
During our holidays we did the Martel trail. It’s a part of the bigger GR4 route (Grande Randonnée 4) and is one of the most famous hiking trails in Europe. It is named after Édouard-Alfred Martel, the father of the French speleology.
Do not venture on this trail if you don’t have good hiking shoes! You don’t need to be a very experienced mountaineer to do it, at least I wasn’t when I hiked the trail, however I must admit there were a few sections that pushed me to the limit. You have to be in a good condition and if you have difficulties climbing or descending stairs or if you are afraid of heights, it’s better if you skip it. All in all, it was a great experience and I was rewarded with some literally breathtaking views. Bring with you enough water and food and do not forget a flashlight as you will be walking through two tunnels which are not illuminated.
The best way to walk the route is to start at Chalet Maline and to finish at Point Sublime. However, you can walk it the other way round, as well. If you chose Chalet Maline as a starting point, it will be easier to walk and the sun will be in a favourable position to take pictures. The trail takes about 7-8 hours, depending on whether you will include 1 hour detour to the Mescla, and of course on how many times you are going to stop for taking pictures, picnicking, or simply enjoying the scenery. You can choose to leave your car either at the parking at Auberge Point Sublime or at the Chalet Maline and then take the bus either at the beginning or at the end of the adventure. My advice is to leave early in the morning and drive to Point Sublime. Leave your car there and take the bus to Chalet Malin. Thus, at the end of the day, when you are tired, you just need to hop on the car and drive back to your accommodation. No need to wait for the bus. Or you can fancy a dinner at the Auberge.
White-water sports on the Verdon River
The Gorges du Verdon are the perfect place for those who love water sports. The choice is great: you can do kayaking, canoeing, rafting, hydrospeed or take an air boat. If you love water adventure you can go for water rambling – super fun as you will float down the river.
Lake of Sainte-Croix
Water sports on the lake are less dynamic. You can hire a canoe, kayak or a pedal boat. You can also wind-surf in the lake or sail. Motor boats are not allowed on the lake.
We hired a canoe near Pont du Galetas and went all the way from the lake into the Gorges du Verdon. We enjoyed immensely the ride, but it can be overwhelming if there are too many people and you have to watch out for the “traffic”.
Where to stay?
Being quite touristy and popular there are numerous accommodation opportunities in the Gorges du Verdon region: campings, gîtes, hotels and auberges.
You can check for the best deals here:
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and I have paid myself for the whole trip and all activities we did. However this post contains affiliate links. If you click on the link below and book afterwards an accommodation I may earn a small amount at no extra costs for you. This helps me run the blog.
We stayed in a camping above the small village of Aiguines, from where we had those amazing views on the Lake of Saint-Croix.
Where to eat?
Well, I’m not going to give you any recommendations. Try to discover your version of Provence. Eat each time at a different place, try different things! Be bold! Experiment!
Two weeks of summer holidays are over before you know. They will be never enough to immerse in this beautiful region, but you can explore quite a lot of it. We couldn’t do everything we wanted, but now when I close my eyes I still can hear the crickets and can scent the anise aroma coming from my glass with pastis and I know that down there are the turquoise waters of the lake, I just need to open my eyes. But I don’t do it. I keep enjoying the song of the crickets.
By now you should have already noticed that France is one of my favourite destinations. Have you already been to Provence and do you want to discover another region of France, you might like visiting some of the most charming places along the Dordogne River. If you are looking for a short trip destination, you might try my suggestion on Fougéres and Giverny, featuring a stop at Le Mont Saint-Michel.
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