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A trip to the Gorges du Verdon was high on our list of priorities on our recent (and first) trip to Provence, having seen some stunning photographs of the area in guide books. The Gorges stretch for over 20km in length in the eastern region of Provence, a couple of hours drive from either Nice or Marseille.
The northern gateway to the Gorges is just outside a little village/town called Castellane. This is a pretty little town and a good place to stop off for loos (although a bit primitive) and to pick up provisions as well as a map from the helpful tourist information centre before you start. Leaving the town, the route to and through the Gorges is clearly signposted, although having said that, we did take an unintended shortcut later in the day by missing a signpost, so you need to be alert.
Along the route there are regular "pull-ins" on the side of the road, which usually indicated a spectacular viewpoint, and there are also more established veiwpoints where you'll find cafes/snack bars and some toilets.
The road weaves its way to the most southerly point where it turns to return along the northern edge of the gorges, passing through and by some lovely villages - Moustiers-Sainte-Marie being the one village which seems to get the most plaudits, although we didn't stop there. Overall, the road route is approximately 100km, we chose to start from Castellane and take the southern route and return by the northern rim.
The first point we stopped at was an un-named viewpoint, but was the first established point we came across, with a large café on the left hand side of the road and a larger car parking area. We stopped, crossed the road and peered over the wall and into the Gorges. *WOW!* I don't suffer with vertigo, but over the wall there was a drop into the gorges which I was just not prepared for. I don't think "breathtaking" has never been more literally applied in all the sightseeing I've ever done! There were stone steps down to viewing platforms from where you just couldn't fail to be awe-struck by the array and height/depth and colours of the mountains, gorges and rivers before you. This was the first of a feeling that would be repeated numerous times throughout the day.
The next main stop for us was at the Lac Sainte Croix which is a major area for relaxing and well suited to taking an hour or so for a breather. The shore of the artificial lake is suited to picnicing, sitting relaxing or playing games, the lake is safe for swimming (and quite warm on the day we went) and there are boats to hire as well as a couple of cafes and all facilities to enable a full recharge before going on. There are some fantastic photo opportunities here, particularly on the bridge as you look up the gorges with people boating and jumping into the incredibly coloured turquiose-blue waters. There is a village just before you get to the lake called Aiguines which is a great place to stop for amazing photos of the colours of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
Our final major stop was at "Point Sublime". Again, as it's name suggests, this is one of the more commercialised stops with a full sized car park and cafes and facilities. The view here made for some fantastic photos, but to be honest I didn't find it the most spectacular point on the route, each to their own I guess! There is a walk of about 10 minutes to the actual viewpoint which isn't signed and is a bit rugged, you just follow the trail of others and are naturally led to the viewpoint.
Our day in the Gorges was in excess of 7 hours start to finish, and there must have been around 5 hours driving in there. This is no drive for the faint-hearted - the roads are constantly bending, twisting, climbing, and are invariably challenging. I didn't spend a lot of time in 3rd gear, never mind anything higher! The roads themselves, however, are in good condition and are protected with walls and barriers along the way. I've read other reviews from a few years ago and this appears to be an improvement - Certainly on the route we took I never saw any unprotected edges or felt in danger of going over the edge when driving the roads.
The key is definitely to take lots of stops and breathers - I don't think I took enough - the days are long at this time of year (June) and there should be no rush to getting round. If you are staying nearby it may even be better to spread over a couple of days, as I definitely feel like I was getting weary by the end and maybe it became a bit rushed. If you can share the driving, even better.
As with any drive, there's always the odd maniac... Who is going to appear round that bend? Why are they overtaking when you can't see ahead?? etc etc. also, people stopping on the road to take photos when pull-ins are full, and reversing out of pull-ins... it requires constant concentration and is very tiring ... plan a nice easy evening and a relaxed following day if you can.
Choose your day!
We took the trip on a Sunday - at first we thought that it might be best to avoid weekend but thinking about it, we decided that being a major tourist attraction, being the weekend would make no difference. I think that we were wrong - we completely overlooked the attraction of the winding roads to motorcyclists! There were hundreds of motorcyclists on the route that day, often in groups of 5, 6 or more, and as the day wore on they did become a real problem, some of them overtaking on bends etc. I would recommend avoiding weekends for this reason, as it's undoubtedly a great drive for motorcyclists, which would include locals as well as tourists.
Despite being the sole driver, this was my favourite day of the holiday. The only problem - not that it's a problem - is that we came back with literally hundreds of photos, many very similar - everything about the route is so photogenic, you just can't help yourself!
Whatever photographs you see of the area before you go, nothing can prepare you for seeing the gorges "in the flesh", the colours which appear to be surgically enhanced in guide books are amazingly even more vivid in reality.
If you are anywhere near the Gorges du Verdon they are worth a visit without a shadow of a doubt. Just bear in mind what a long day it is, though, facilities are along the route but they aren't by any means plentiful - go when you can!! Be prepared for a long day and take lots of time (I wish I'd taken more), plenty of water and a well charged up camera - I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
The Verdon Gorge is an amazing place with some stunning scenery. It is definately a must for anyone touring around Europe. The Verdon Gorge is the worlds second largest gorge, measuring a wopping 25km long and in some places 700 metres deep! The Gorge is very popular with tourists and can be crowded at some times of the year.
For the walking type, the most famous walk around the Gorge is the Le sentier (pathway) de Martel, which was laid out by the Touring Clud de France in 1928.
At the sumit of the Gorge the length from one side to the other can be up to 200-1500 Meters, whereas nearer the bottom end of the Gorge the length is from just 6 Meters to 100 Meters.
Along the river Verdon there are 5 different Dams, Lac de Castillon, Lac de Sainte-Croix, Lac d'Esparron Greoux, Reservoir of Chaudanne and the Reservoir of Quinson.
The Gorge also attracts many rock climbers to the area, there are around 1,500 different routes to climb in the Gorge and they range from 20M to 40M.
Overall I think that the Verdon Gorge is a very attractive place and it has some of the worlds most amazing scenery. Well worth a visit if your passing through, enough to do for a week stop!
~~~~~~~~~ VERY IMPORTANT EDIT ~~~~~~~~~~~~
-After the questioning of the claim that the Verdon Gorge was the second largest in the world, I researched into it a bit more and found these websites that back up the claim.
-All of these websites back up the claim that the Gorge is the second largest in the world, but I researched on Wikipedia on other Gorges and discovered plenty of them which showed, in figures that they were larger than the Verdon Gorge. I cannot confirm for a fact that this information is correct. Thanks to "Duncantorr" for pointing this out.
So far in this intoxicating and almost enthralling series of French, travel-related ramblings, we've Roamed Round Arles, had Agay Experience, stood On the Edge of the Grand Canyon and sampled a Rear Entry. In the following instalment we shall experience the nerve-tingling excitement of the rim; witness the sheer, pant-wetting terror of a drive around the gorge; groan at the feeble attempts at humour while sharing the highs, and hopefully not the lows, of the death-defying, stunningly stupefying, automobile excursion from hell.
The River Verdon begins its journey at 2500m above sea level before winding its way for 172 kilometres until it reaches its confluence with the River Durance. The river has been tamed by the building of a succession of dams, each one forming a lake.
The GORGES DU VERDON make up the largest canyon in Europe and only the Grand Canyon in the USA is larger. From Castellane to Moustiers-ste-Marie the canyon cuts its way for 21 km through some stupendous scenery.
At water-level, in certain places, the width of the gorge is only six metres, with vertical cliffs of up to 700m.
There are also pre-gorges which have a more gentle landscape to them with more gradual slopes.
At the beginning of the 20th century at a time when almost every corner of the world had felt the effect of man's booted foot, the gorges had still not been fully explored. But in 1905, with the need to increase water supplies, the gorges were surveyed and explored for the purpose of utilizing the water resources. The plan was to completely flood the gorges but thankfully, there were enough people, with enough foresight, to prevent this happening.
It's possible to drive right around the gorge by travelling along the CORNICHE SUBLIME road, which was built in 1947 by cutting into the rock on the left bank. This road is extremely winding in parts - most parts - but there are parking places at all the be
st viewpoints. Following this road takes you over the Pont de l'Artuby, a favourite spot for bungee jumping.
The road on the right bank allows you to travel between Castellane and Moustier-ste-Marie, a circuit of around 23km which has some of the most impressive viewpoints, too many to mention but one, POINT SUBLIME, is breathtakingly magnificent.
This is probably the best known and most photographed view of the gorge.
I hate those narrow, twisting, winding, hairpin roads. I'm not too happy when, with 700m drops, the engineer's idea of a safety barrier is a 12in high wall, or perhaps a miniscule wooden fence, or as it most cases here, nothing at all. I like a road that is divided by white lines - one side for me, one side for anyone travelling in the opposite direction. As if anyone keeps to their own side of the road in France anyway.
But most of all, my concept of holiday excursions is to avoid plunging headlong, screaming and shrieking, to a horrible, grisly thud while my shattered bones are strapped into a metal box which is going to be engulfed in flames on impact far, far below.
So why do it? - Och, why no?
Besides Mrs P wanted to and believe me, it's far safer to face almost certain gravitational, bone-crushing destruction than to risk the wrath of my woman scorned.
I'd love to tell you about the views as we drove along but I'm afraid I didn't really see much. I was too busy watching my life pass before me. Mrs P said she didn't see much either as she was too busy having a good laugh at the sheer terror etched on my poor, pathetic little face. She's all heart.
As I sit here writing this now, some months later, I feel a cold sweat coming on. Is it any wonder I partake of a small libation from time to time? I'm a nervous wreck.
Would I do this again? - I'd sooner pluck out my eyes, roast them on a spit, gobble them up a
nd wash them down with a bottle of Bud Lite.*
* Obviously, that's a wild exaggeration. There's no way I'd drink Bud Lite.
Thanks for reading
The deep cliff of the Gorges du Verdon is unique in Europe and is one of the greatest tourist attractions in Provence.