Trip to Gorges du Verdon: Part I

Provence is not all olive groves, vineyards, swimming pools, Mediterranean pine forests and lavender fields, it’s so much more……….With the mercury rising, as part of our staycation, we headed to the nearby Gorges du Verdon. We’ve driven and cycled through here a number of times but we’ve not really had a good look around. Now was our opportunity to explore in the height of summer!

Our intention was to drive there cross-country via Fayence and Bargemon, lunch in Moustiers Sainte-Marie and then drive back home along the Gorges via Castellane, marvelling at the spectacular scenery. Sadly, parking proved to be at a premium, rather limiting our photo opportunities.

The Gorges du Verdon is Europe and France’s deepest canyon – our own mini Grand Canyon. Straddling the departments of the Var and the Alpes-de-Hauts-Provence, it’s a must-see natural wonder. While there is no road up the gorge, there is a breathtaking circular corniche route around the rim of the gorge, and plenty of opportunities for water sports – we’re talking boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, wildwater rafting, canyoning and so on – on the lower end of the Gorges.

As we drove around we saw plenty of holidaymakers enjoying the cool waters and sunbathing, all suitably distanced, on its rocky shores. I felt somewhat envious as we saw people wildwater rafting or just bobbing downstream on one of those big donut-shaped floats. I felt much less envious of the cyclists slogging along the Gorges’ undulating roads in the heat.

These are the imposing limestone massifs of the Alpine foothills with a richly biodiverse and protected landscape, within the Parc Natural RĂ©gional du Verdon (est. 1997) which extends over 178,000 ha and includes over 40 towns. Much of the land is arid, and in places barren and fairly inhospitable. Though the climate here is generally dry, this is an area crossed by rivers flowing down from the snowy 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.

The source of the Verdon is found at an altitude of 2819 metres (9,200 feet) in the Col d’Allos, near the Italian border. It then joins the River Durance in Vinon-sur-Verdon. Its total length is 175 km (110 miles). But what is truly amazing is the height of the cliffs, from 250 to 700 metres (820 – 2,300 feet), with their width ranging from 6 to 100 metres (20 – 330 feet), and from 200 to 1,500 metres (650 – 4,500 feet) at the Gorges’ summit. The 50 km (30 miles) long canyon stretches from Castellane to the lake of Sainte-Croix.

In case you were wondering, the green colour of the Verdon is due to the fluoride and micro-algae it contains and it’s probably the origin of its name, from Latin viridum, “green place”. Meanwhile, the turquoise colour of the Lake of Ste Croix is due to its clay deposits.

Now for lunch……………………..