Europe

Grand Canyon of Europe: Gorges du Verdon

The Grand Canyon of Europe. The only tagline I needed to convince me that visiting the Gorges du Verdon should be on my list of must-see places.

Last September I traveled to the Provence with my work colleagues, for a challenge of climbing the Mont Ventoux. But since that trip only lasted a couple of days, I wanted to take some extra time in the area to explore more of the South of France. When I read about the Gorges du Verdon, the decision was easily made.

The Gorges du Verdon is a canyon with a length of 25 kilometers, going from Castellane to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. It’s situated about 100 kilometers from the Cote d’Azur, so often tourists from over there add this place to their trip as well for a change of scenery from the sea.

Driving the route through the Gorges , the D23, definitely takes up a whole day, if you want to stop at the many gorgeous viewpoints along the way. We even made it a two-day visit. We had booked a stay on a camping in Castellane, so coming from the west we’d have to drive the gorges one way to make it from our previous stay to the city of Castellane.

We chose the rive gauche (left bank) in the Var department to go to Castellane. Along this route, we found fewer viewpoints, but already gorgeous sights over the canyon. We enjoyed a refreshing drink in the Auberge des Cavalliers. From their terrace you have an exceptional view.

In Castellane, we stayed in a caravan on the Camping Notre Dame. A small, but clean place to stay, within walking distance of the center of town The owners were very friendly and eager to help us on places to see and things to do in the area. As for Castellane itself, a charming, little town with a curious chapel on top of a rock. You can hike all the way up there, but unfortunately we didn’t have time left to do so.

The next morning, we hit the road again. We traced back out steps along the rive gauche. This way we wouldn’t have to drive the same way twice. In the morning, the views are entirely different then in the afternoon, so it didn’t feel like doing the same drive at all.

When we arrived back at the Lake of Sainte-Croix, we drove a bit more north, to the town of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. A definite must on your itinerary. It’s for a reason it’s called one of the most beautiful villages of France. The center is very charming and when we were visiting there was a market which added a lot to the atmosphere.

From the village, you can also climb up to the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Beauvoir. The chapel itself wasn’t all that noteworthy, but the view from there over the village and the nearby lake is absolutely gorgeous!

And then it was time to drive back to Castellane, via the rive droite. Be careful, this route has a loop which is one-way. We didn’t take this into account and had to drive to the start of the loop first and then return. It’s not a very big detour, but you do lose a little time. So it’s better to drive the rive droite from Castellane to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. But either way, it’s a stunning drive. There are many viewpoints, too many to count and every single one of them offers gorgeous nature views.

On the first few viewpoints within the loop, we could spot a lot of vultures circling around. An amazing sight! We also encountered a bunch of people high roping over the cliffs. Apparently this was one of the most beautiful and thrilling destinations for this sports. With these high cliffs and big drips, I can surely imagine.

We decided to remain with our both feet on firm ground – even though the hammock they were resting in seemed to offer a breathtaking view – and continued our road along the viewpoints. Even though each viewpoint was unique, it’s not entirely renewing anymore and we spent less and less time the further we got. But add a couple of goats coming from the cliffs and suddenly onto the road, and the entertainment factor goes up again.

One of our last stops on out route was Point Sublime. A viewpoint we almost drove past first, but then noticed the paying car park below and returned. It’s a short walk to the viewpoint but it offers you a view in the canyon, with the cliffs left and right. Magnificent! On the maps.me app, I then noticed there was a little road leading down into the canyon. Curious we took that exit off the main road and managed to find a parking spot close to the end of the road. From there a walking path led deeper down and into the canyon. Interesting…

A sign told us it led to “Couloir Samson” (Samson’s corridor), but it also warned us that there was a high danger of flooding when the water rises. With it being the end of summer, we decided to take the risk and carefully descended down the stairs. The view down below was absolutely stunning. The river and then the cliffs towering over you; amazing!

From there we went a little further and ended up in front of a tunnel of which we couldn’t see the end; Tunnel du Baou. Armed with the flashlight on our phones, we were curious about what could be on the other side. But the tunnel seemed to last forever. My dad already started to worry about the battery on his phone dying, but I was sort of determined to make it to the other side. There were a few peep holes along the way, which beautiful sights, but still the mystery remained. But then we noticed daylight! Hallellujah!

Once we were out of the tunnel, we really were into the gorges. High cliffs towering above us and the path leading deeper down into it. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore further, as it was already close to getting dark outside. Bummed we turned around and headed back into the 670 meters (yes, I looked it up) tunnel.

And those were our last views of the Gorges du Verdon. Back to our camping and then the next day back home it was. But what an amazing place this is! While it can’t quite tip to the Grand Canyon, in my opinion, it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area. But do take into account that the South of France is a very hot destination for travelers in summer. So if you want to avoid queuing over these roads, it’s better to avoid the summer months of go very early in the morning.

♡ Ellen

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