the Gorges du Verdon
Gorges du Verdon are most easily accessed from the Manosque exit (exit
18) of the A51 motorway (Aix en Provence to Gap) , and thence
Valensole and Riez, to Moustiers Sainte Marie.
Pink markers indicate
places with hotels
Verdon Gorge - one of
France's finest natural sites
is not all olive groves, vineyards, Mediterranean pine forests and
lavender fields. The region, whose name is often shortened to Provence,
is actually known as Provence - Alpes - Côte d'Azur, or in
English Provence Alps and the Riviera. Moving east from Avignon, or
north from Nice, one soon gets into hill country and very soon after
that into the limestone massifs of the Alpine foothills. The
is arid and in places barren; but though the climate here is generally
dry, this is an area crossed by rivers flowing down from the
peaks of the Alps,. Over millions of
years, they have carved deep valleys in the limestone, none of them
longer and deeper than that of the Verdon.
source near the Italian Border, the Verdon runs south as far as
Castellane, then west to join the Durance near Manosque. While much of
the valley is spectacular, it in is the section between Castellane and
Manosque that the river has carved its impressive canyon
The Gorges du Verdon attract
visitors for five main reasons.
There are those who come for the spectacular road trip round the edge
of the gorge, by car or by bike; there are those who come to enjoy some
of the exhilarating hiking trails in and around the gorge. Then there
are some who come to admire the bird life - vultures, eagles and other
birds of prey. Finally, there are those who come to enjoy the
experience of paddling up the bottom end of the gorge in a canoe or a
kayak or a pedal boat . And of course there are those who come
more than one of these reasons. And very good reasons they are too.
Gorges du Verdon road
The recommended Gorges du Verdon circuit starts from Moustiers Sainte Marie, a
very pretty little town which tends to get overcrowded at peak tourist
periods. The circuit as far as Trigance and back is about 90 km in all,
and takes a little under two hours – not allowing
stops. And since you are most likely to make frequent stops, count
quite a bit longer.
The best views of the gorge are to be had
from the D71 and the D23. Note that both of these are narrow roads with
lots of hairpin bends.
Taking the circuit in an anti-clockwise direction,
you will cross the pont
de Sainte Croix
at the point where the Verdon flows into the Lac de Sainte Croix. Boat
and kayak hire is from near the bridge. Shortly after that, turn left
onto the D 19 which will take you to the pretty hillside village of Aiguines, with its
restaurants and shops selling local produce.
Aiguines is the start of the journey round the gorge. The road winds
quickly up to the Col d'Illoires, from where there wre views back to
the sapphire blue waters of the Lac de Sainte Croix, and forwards into
the Gorge du Verdon. As you continue along the D71, you may well want
to stop for photos; you may well be disappointed, as there are not many
stopping spots in the most dramatic parts of the route, and
many of the stopping places that there are are very small - just room
for two or three cars.
The Château d'Aiguines and the azure waters of Lac
However you will have
opportunites to stop later on. There is room to pull off the road
beside the Hotel Restaurant du Grand Canyon
(the pink marker half way
between Aiguines and Trigance), where the views are spectacular. A
couple of kilometres further on, there is a pull-off spot just before
the Tunnels du Fayet. The views here are amazing... but not for those
without a head for heights. The tunnels are carved into the wall of the
The D71 road clings to the southern rim of the gorge.
Six kilometres further on, there are more
spectacular views (and a bar/restaurant) at the Balcons de la Mescla.
From this point on, the road leaves the gorge. After 7 km,
left onto the D90 towards the small village of Trigance,
a typical High-Provence village, with narrow streets, a bakery and a
couple of hotels. Unless you plan to stop at the hotel in the
château, leave your car at the car-park beside the D90, and
the village on foot. Below the village, at the point where the D90
joins the D955, there is a bar and restaurant, also selling local
The village of Trigance
From now on, on the D955 then the D952 you
will be driving on two-lane roads again, all the way back to Moustiers
– unless you take in the extra loop of the D23 circuit, to
the gorge from the north side.
Six km after Trigance
the D955 joins the D952 . From this point on, the road follows the
river Verdon at the foot of the gorge for four impressive kilometres
before climbing up to a point called "Le point sublime"
(bar, café, restaurant, small hotel).Here there is another
spectacular viewpoint, looking down the "canyon" part of the Verdon
The village of Rougon,
a small cluster of houses on a high ridge, with the ruins of an ancient
castle, is three kilometres off the D952.
Eight kilometres after the Point Sublime, you reach La Palud sur Vernon,
a large village surrouned by fields. La Palud has campsites, hotels and
a youth hostel. From here , you can take the D23 loop to
to the gorge. For part of the way, this road hangs precariously to the
north side of the gorge, more or less opposite the Hotel du Grand
Canyon. The D23 must be taken in a clockwise direction, as a section in
the middle is one-way only. There are a number of dramatic viewing
spots along the D23, and with less traffic on this loop, stopping can
be easier than on other parts of the circuit.
From La Palud, it is then an easy drive back to Moustiers. The D952
offers more spectacular views of the gorge and down to the azure waters
of the Lac de Sainte Croix.
kayaking, rafting, bird-watching
are plenty of opportunities for hiking in and around the gorges du
Verdon, varying from the gentle and easy to the technical and
difficult. At many of the parking spots there are footpaths marked.
One of the most popular with hardened hikers is the Sentier de l'Imbut,
which starts near the Hotel
du Grand Canyon,
on the D71. The basic hike here follows the GR99 hiking trail from the
lip of the gorge, down to the bottom, and back up again, and takes
2½ hours. It's quite a hike, but accessible to most fit
Proper shoes or boots are essential. There is a footbridge
the river, and it is possible to continue on up the north side of the
Down at river level, experienced hikers only may like to
continue along the sentier
Vidal which includes sections cut into the rock, and a
hard 45 minute climb back up to the D71.
For longer but less energetic hikes, there is a
choice between two GR hiking trails, the GR99 which can be
followed from Aiguines to the Sentier de l'Imbut (where it ends), or
which can be followed from Trigance to Rougon. Alternatively, from the
car park at Trigance take the GR49 for five km, then branch
for the Balcon de Rancoumas, a spot that provides perhaps the most
breathtaking views down into the canyon. This is a 12 km round trip.
Kayaking and rafting
or boating into the lower part of the gorge is a popular activity, and
kayaks and other types of craft can be hired at the top end of the Lac
de Sainte Croix, at boat-hire outlets near the bridge on the D957.
Rafting is not practised in the Gorges part of the Verdon valley. For
rafting on the Verdon, it is best to go further up the valley, to the
small town of Castellane,
where there a couple of companies providing rafting trips on
the river in July and August.
Bird watching in the Verdon.
were reintroduced into the Verdon gorge in 1999. Today Griffon vultures
and black vultures are among the largest birds that can be seen in the
gorges du Verdon; but there are also eagles and lther large birds of
prey. The vertiginous crags of the gorge provide perfect nesting areas
for these large raptors.
more of France off the beaten track .....