Southern France is a wonderful destination except for winter (November through January), when the weather is freezing. When summer is at hand and jetting off somewhere really nice and beautiful is in your plan, southern France shouldn’t be far from your mind. There are several great destinations here – Nice, Arles, St Tropez, Avignon, etc. – there is a special reason to put it at the top of your bucket list: Gorges du Verdon. No trip in this region of France is complete without a visit to the spectacular canyon.
Fondly called Grand Canyon du Verdon (being the smaller version of Arizona’s Grand Canyon) it dates back to the Triassic Period, a major glacial period around 200 to 250 million years ago. The receding of the waters resulted to deep fractures and deep gorges. The river Verdon’s (meaning verdant or bright blue-green, its most striking feature) courses between Alpes de Haute Provence and Var. Its most stunning section is where it plummets at 700 meters (2,300 feet).
Things to Do (Aside from Hiking and Sightseeing)
- Rafting: For the adventurers, conquering the Gorges du Verdon on the river is done through traversing it, which takes between 6 and 8 hours. Navigating the stretch of several hundred meters can’t be stopped once started having no exit until you get to the end. There are always risks along the way such as sudden increase in the water level triggered by upstream dams located at Chaudanne and Castillo. Beginners must never attempt to go adventuring on their own.
- River Fishing: This river and gorges are perfect setting for trout fly-fishing with so much diversity in ecosystems and fish variety. Even experienced fly-fishers, however, need guide due to the challenging, even risky access. Aside from sightseeing, fishing (fly fishing downstream, family fishing in lakes or fishing in the canyons) is the most fun thing you want to do while here, contact a local guide or fishing specialist.
- Camping: Nothing can take the place f communing with nature when you are out to enjoy the great outdoors. Instead of staying in a hotel, it is more fun to camp along the banks of the river. Most are fully supported with every amenity campers would need and meeting different preferences – shaded and semi-shaded pitches, canvas and wood tents; there are even mobile homes, bungalows and chalets for a more comfortable stay, especially for multigenerational travelers/families.
- Castellane: This place is bustling during tourist season offering amenities and services to better enjoy Verdon River and Gorge, and the other attractions in the area such as Chapelle Notre Dame du Roc precipitously perched towering above on a rocky crag, projecting from gaping canyons. Two extra attractions here are Musée Sirènes et Fossiles and Musée de la Résistance.
- Moustiers Ste-Marie: The “Star of Provence” or “Étoile de Provence,” it is the jewel in the crown of lofty limestone bluffs. It is symbolized by a 227m-long chain with a sparkling gold star stretched above the village. Two attractions to include in your bucket list are Musée de la Faïence and Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir.
- Lacs de Ste Croix and De Quinzon: The large Parc National Régional du Verdon is the location for water sports and scads of water crafts. There are lots of water craft to rent here. The other lake, Lac de Quinson, is located at the southern foot of Gorges du Verdon. Another attraction in the Quinson village is Musée de la Préhistoire des Gorges du Verdon.
- Riez: You can get here when you approach Gorges du Verdon from the west. This village is remembered for its red-tile roofs and for its baguettes and coffee, a great reason to take a break especially on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which the market days here.
Accessing the Beautiful Gorge
The stretch of usual itineraries is about 40km starting from Castellane to Moustiers Sainte Marie. The actual span of the gorge is around 20km from Pont de Soleils to Aiguines. Getting there is not for the fainthearted.
- Driving: A car (or campervan) is the most practical way to explore Gorges du Verdon. If flying to Nice, you can rent a car hire there. For travelers with a ride, there are two roads that run along the river forming a circuit. The one from the south is called by locals as “rive gauche” the route de la Corniche Sublime. The rugged route from the north (Alpes de Haute Provence) is called “rive droite” or the route des Gorges. Take a detour from the north side, the “route des Crêtes.” Be careful, the loop is dizzying and there are no barriers.
- Hiking: There are ten local hiking trails that can take you to various points to explore the Gorges du Verdon varying from 2 to 8 hours in length. You can take the bus coming here and find out about hiking from local travel and tour operators. There are certain places to get information such as The Office de Tourisme or Mairie. The trails can be risky; for inexperienced tourists, it is best to go on a guided tour. Two trails you can consider are from La Foux d’Allos and the other one is the GR4.
The Verdon is appropriately labeled as the most stunning canyon of Europe. It is also a place of many unforgettable landscapes and experiences. It is an exquisite location that evolved for generations. Jetting off to Europe real soon? Are you ready to tick off Gorges du Verdon in your bucket list real soon? Rest be assured, it is something you will be glad you have taken the time to visit.