If you are planning a trip to Provence, you may have stumbled upon a stunning photo of the Gorges du Verdun. Deep in the heart of the south of France, this gorgeous natural river canyon about 15 miles (25km) long, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.
If you are a nature-lover who enjoys hiking, kayaking, and swimming, you will not want to miss this beautiful protected natural park.
1. Getting to the Gorges
i) Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
The only way to get to the Verdon Gorges is by car. The nearest large TGV high-speed train stations from Paris are in Nice, Marseille, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence. There are also international airports around those cities, with flights from all over year Europe and abroad.
ii) Routes Départmentales
The entire area around the Gorges du Verdon is protected by the Regional Natural Park of Verdun. In practical terms, this means that there are no large highways nearby, but instead smaller one-lane roads without road dividers, called Routes Départmentales.
The speed limit on these roads is 90km/hr (56 miles/hr). Effectively, however, you may not be able to drive that speed because the roads are quite winding up and down mountains, with blind corners so give yourself plenty of time to get there. I don’t particularly recommend driving on routes départmentales at night, especially if you are unfamiliar with the road. You can read more tips about driving in France here.
Easier route: The main route départementale along the Gorges are the D952 and D23 highways which connects the nearby towns of Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Along the way, stop at the bridge “Pont du Galetas” for beautiful views of the gorge.
Scenic Route: A rather more exciting (i.e. scenic) route is the D71 highway, nicknamed the Corniche Sublime, and which connects the towns of Comps-sur-Artuby and Aiguines.
It has a number of small tunnels going through the mountainside that are only narrow enough to let one car through, meaning that oncoming traffic has to stop.
This route goes high into the cliffs and has excellent views of the Gorges (if you are not scared of heights!)
2. Surrounding Towns
The two main towns around Gorges du Verdon that attract visitors are Moustiers-Sainte-Mairie and Castellane.
The village was founded by a group of monks in the 5th century, who built a church there, Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, high on the cliffside. The provençale hilltop town slowly grew in size, becoming a popular tourist attraction today.
Castellane, its slightly larger neighbor, has also been classed as a “village et cité de caractère” (city of character). Like Moustiers, it is also at around 700m altitude above sea level.
While Moustier was founded in the Middle Ages, Castellane dates back even earlier, to pre-historic times. If you have time, both villages are well worth the visit.
3. Lac de Sainte-Croix
The Verdon Gorges may be a natural wonder, but the Lac de Sainte-Croix is an an artifical lake. Located a few miles away from the Moustiers-Saint-Marie side of the gorges, the lake was formed when a dam was built in 1973 to supply electricity to the area.
The town of Les Salles which was in the valley and flooded, was rebuilt nearby. Today, it is the 3rd largest lake in France, and going around it takes around 60km. The lake is quite tranquil and calm, and is a wonderful place for swimming and sunbathing along the coastline.
3. Nearby places to stay
I would recommend staying in Moustiers or Castellane if you want to combine historical sightseeing with sporting activities.
In Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (calm waters):
In Castellane (rapids):
The spa town of Gréoux-les-Bains is also only a few miles away, as are the famous lavender fields of Valensole. Alternatively, you can also stay right around Lake Sainte Croix, if you want to be close to the water.
5. Hiking & Walking trails
Hiking is a popular sport in France, and the Gorges du Verdon is one of the top places to hike in the country.
i) Blanc – Martel Trail
The most popular hiking route is the Sentier Blanc-Martel, which is 16km (10miles) long. The trail starts at the Chalet de la Maline (a hostel) in the town of Palud-sur-Verdon, and goes to the Point Sublime in Rougon.
Navette busses are in place in Rougon to bring you back to the Chalet. The hike takes around 6 hours and has narrow paths and steps along the way. (It is not suitable for strollers.)
ii) L’Imbut – Baou Beni – Vidal trails
If you would like a bit more of a challenge, you can try the Sentier L’Imbut which is around 10-12km (6-7miles). The starting point is the same as the Blanc-Martel Trail, at the Chalet de la Maline Hostel.
It takes approximately 6-8 hours depending on if you continue onto the Baou Beni (“bout du monde” – end of the world) or not. As you can imagine from the name, the Baou Beni is very tricky, and is definitely not recommended for children.
You return back the way you came on the Baou Beni, and then decide if you want to head back via the Sentier Vidal trail to Les Cavaliers Hotel parking lot in Aiguines (see hotels), or return the way you came along l’Imbut to the Chalet de la Maline.
This trail is quite difficult and should not be attempted when it is raining and slippery.
iii) Route des Crêtes
The other alternative is to follow the circular Route des Crêtes, which is around 24km (15miles). This path can be followed on foot, on bike or by car.
The route starts around the Palud-sur-Verdon (see hotels) , towards the village of Rougon (see hotels) and all the way around the cliffs of the Verdon Gorges. A portion of the route is one-way, so this route cannot be done in the opposite direction.
Since there are many spots along the way to admire the scenery, and depending on your mode of transportation, you should plan at least 3hours by bike, and more if on foot.
Note: there is a similarly named “Route des Crêtes” between nearby Cassis and La Ciotat in Provence, but this is not the one you are looking for.
6. Water activities
i) Calm waters
For calmer watersports such as swimming, kayaking, and pedal boating, stay near Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and Lake Sainte-Croix. Just a few 100 meters away from Pont du Galetas where the lake and the gorges meet, you will find boat rentals and plenty of tranquil waters for swimming and kayaking.
For a bit more excitement, head to the villages of Rougon and Palud-sur-Verdon, where the waters are bit choppier. From here, there are several rafting packages with tour guides to lead you through white-water rafting, hydrospeeding, canyoning, and more.
If you intend on bungee-jumping, make your way to the Pont de l’Artuby near Trigance (see hotels) on the D71, which is more or less the 1/2 way point between Moustiers and Castellane.
Reputed to be the highest bridge in Europe, this is your chance to tick that item off of your bucket list. The jump is called the Latitude Challenge and is just over 180m high.
8. Bird watching
There are several species of birds around the Verdon Gorges, notably vultures who were released into the area. You can spot several species such as the Griffon vultures, black vultures (Aegypius monachus), and sometimes even Egyptian vultures (Neophon percnopterus) in the area.
There are also owls and eagles in the area, along with other wildlife such as wolves in this protected habitat.
So have you planned your activity of choice for the Gorges du Verdon? Personally, I’m not one to bungee jump, so I shall stick to the hiking! If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about traveling around Provence. Bon voyage and à bientôt!