The Magnificence of the Gorges du Verdon
Sometimes referred to as the "Grand Canyon of France," the Gorges du Verdon is indeed a magnificent sight to behold. Marked by striking cliffs, water sports, and incredible vista valley views, my trip to the gorge was easily one of the most unique, memorable parts of my trip to France last year.
We can thank history for the cliffs' unique appearance - the limestone deposits were created millions of years ago when this region of France was underwater. Today, the river has cut a ravine of nearly 2300 feet through these beautiful, towering masses of rock - making for vivid panoramas and raw expanses of natural beauty. At the end of the canyon, the river flows into man-made Lac de Ste Croix - which in summer months is filled with paddleboats, canoes, and swimmers basking in the lake's brilliant turquoise-green waters.
My husband and I fumbled our first day attempting to explore the gorge and lake area, so read below for some of my travel tips to make the most of your time there !
Driving the Gorge
The most beautiful and notable part of the drive lies between the two villages of Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie - usually beginning in Castellane and heading towards the Lac de Ste Croix (the lake.) Below is a map snapshot taken from the website Marvellous Provence with the three main driving routes. My husband and I drove the Route des Gorges (in yellow ochre) and took the detour through the Route des Crêtes (in red), a one-way road that winds you through some of the most breathtaking vista views - with marked lookout points and parking to stop and take photos. This is absolutely worth the extra hour or so ! You'll know you're near the end of your drive when you stumble upon the wildly vibrant lake, punctuated by tiny boats in the distance.
Exploring the Lake
After a leisurely day driving through the gorge from beyond Castellane, my husband and I arrived mid-afternoon to find a lake that was hot and overcrowded, with paddleboat wait times between 1.5-3 hours. On a warm summer's day, the boat and canoe rentals open at 9 am and can be completely booked by 10-1030am (roughly 30€ for a few hours.) That's fine if you just want to relax on the beach or go for a swim while waiting for them to free up, though there's limited shade if you're sensitive to high temperatures.
Fortunately, we were staying nearby in the charming historic village of Moustiers Ste Marie (blog post coming soon,) so after our drive through the gorge, we returned to town and did the lake first thing the following morning. If you have the time, I recommend enjoying this area at a more relaxed pace, as the first few hours of the morning really are the most magical. Boating through the gorge without another person in sight was incredibly special - the sole sounds of birds chirping and waves lapping, echoing between the towering masses of rock around you - made one feel beautifully insignificant.
The lake is a destination for international and French tourists alike, a playground for families to swim, boat, and wade on the beach. Castellane is your starting point, but you should also stop in town if you want any information on tours - in addition to swimming in the area, you can enjoy hiking trails, bike rentals, rock climbing, paragliding, and horseback riding.
I recommend staying in adorably rustic Moustiers Ste Marie (which is another sight to behold), but you could also stay in the lakeside town of Les Salles Sur Verdon, or further away in Castellane. Relax, stay hydrated, and soak in the incredible beauty the Gorges du Verdon has to offer.