Gorges du Verdon, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence: visitors guide
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The Gorges of the Verdon river is Europe's 'Grand Canyon' (it is sometimes referred to as the 'Grand Canyon du Verdon') and is very beautiful. The canyon has been carved by the Verdon River, leaving the turquoise river now flowing at the base of high limestone cliffs, and because of its exceptional beauty is now officially listed as one of the 'Grand Sites of France'.
The Gorges du Verdon are found in central Provence, with the Var department to the south of the gorges and the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department to the north.
Exploring the Gorges du Verdon
The most impressive part of the gorges for visitors lies between the towns of Castellane to the east and the Lac de Sainte-Croix south of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie to the west. The canyon is extremely popular, both with those who choose to drive around the top and those who explore by kayak, raft or walking along the river at the bottom of the cliffs. Rock climbing and fishing are also major activities in the gorges.
The canyon of the Gorges du Verdon is up to 700 metres deep and between 100 and 1500 metres across and it has taken approximately two million years for the river Verdon to carve the gorges. The Natural Regional Park of the Verdon was created in 1997 to protect the unique environment
Driving the Gorges du Verdon
The drive around the top of the Gorges is about 130 kilometres long, along routes that can sometimes be slow but have spectacular views. The main circuit is between Aiguines and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie to the west and Trigance and Castellane to the east.
Many places along the gorges have stopping places where you can enjoy the views: sometimes these involve a short walk from the parking to reach the edge of the canyon and you will often want to linger so allow plenty of time to complete the circuit. One of the most popular viewpoints is at Point Sublime near Rougon, and the view from the bridge at the west of the gorges (Pont de Galetas) is also very lovely.
You can add an additional loop along the edges of the Gorges du Verdon called the Route des Crêtes, which also has stunning views but the roads are less protected and more winding than the main road around the gorges. The route is mostly one way (clockwise) and starts just east of La Palud-sur-Verdon, on the northern edge of the gorges.
Hiking the Gorges du Verdon
The path called the Sentier Martel passes 15 kilometres through the canyon, between the Point Sublime and the Chalet de la Maline, and for those who are not scared of heights, makes a fantastic walk. Common sense, walking boots, food and water are essential. Taxis and minibuses will escort you back to your car when you emerge.
If you are in the canyon rather than at the top, the Styx du Verdon is a particularly attractive section.
Canoeing and rafting
There are various places where rafting, kayaking and other options are available. These depend on your experience and also on the time of year.
- The section of the upper gorges between Allos and Saint André is popular with experienced canoeists in the late spring and early summer
- The 'pre-gorges' below Castellane are popular with all levels of canoeist and open all year except winter
- The 'Canyon du Verdon' further downstream contains some challenging rapids for more experienced canoeists
- Pedalos and canoes can be rented next to the Pont de Galetas for more casual exploring (this is what most visitors will do!) There were quite a lot of boats on the water when we did it but it makes for a relaxing end to a tour of the gorges and after spending the day in the car
Various other activities are available, limited only by your enthusiasm, your courage and your time available. Most of these have versions of the activities for all levels of abaility, but do typically require a certain level of general fitness!
Examples include 'rafting' and floating' down the river (see www.secret-river.com), canyoning and climbing along the Verdon (see www.lesguides.net) and groups that combine swimming, jumping and trekking along the gorges (see www.ridetheverdon.com).
Around the Gorges du Verdon
You will find several small villages near the gorges, typically without many facilities but still pleasant to stroll around. To the north, the most popular of these are Rougon and La Palud-sur-Verdon, especially because they are close to one of the best views of the gorges.
The village of Aiguines to the west and Trigance to the south-east are both interesting to explore: the first has more facilities and the second is a charming historic village. A little further, you can visit the lively tourist town at Castellane to the north-east of the Gorges du Verdon, the lovely village at Bargeme to the south-west, and the very pretty village at Moustiers-Sainte-Marie to the north-west (this is one of our favourite villages in France).
There are several lakes along the Verdon river just outside the gorges du Verdon, the most important being the Lac de Castillon to the north of Castellane and the Lac de Sainte-Croix at the western end of the gorges. The Lac de Sainte-Croix in particular is very well organised for tourists, and has several lake beaches, although it does become rather busy during the summer.
Each of these lakes offer the possibilities for various leisure activities and many visits here are based near one of the lakes because of the beaches and other facilities. We suggest you try and visit each of these main lakes because they are all quite different in character and the surrounding scenery.
Map of Gorges du Verdon and places nearby
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Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby
- Barrage de Chaudanne: site of natural beauty (10 km)
- Barrage de Castillon: site of natural beauty (10 km)
- Lac de Castillon: site of natural beauty (10 km)
- Moustiers: most beautiful village (17 km)
- Verdon: regional natural parc (18 km)
- Lac de Sainte-Croix: site of natural beauty (21 km)
- Seillans: most beautiful village (28 km)
- Tourtour: most beautiful village (28 km)
The French version of this page is at Gorges du Verdon (Francais)