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Domaine de Valx, 04360 Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, France

GPS: 43.826265461974, 6.2257264742934

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The Verdon Gorge is situated in the Natural Regional Park of the same name established in 1997. The latter extends over 1,780 km² and includes 43 French towns. This grandiose natural site is nestled in the south-east of France, straddling the departments of Var and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, of which it forms the natural border. The Verdon Gorge is labelled “Grand Site de France” for the richness of its natural environments and the grandeur of its landscapes.

Also nicknamed “Grand Canyon of Europe” in reference to the Grand Canyon of Arizona (United States), the Verdon Gorge forms the largest canyon on the European continent. It was formed during the Tertiary period by the phenomenon of erosion of the Verdon River, a tributary of the Durance, over thousands of years. With a length of 33 kilometres between the small town of Castellane and the Lake of Sainte-Croix, the Verdon Gorge has deep and narrow cliffs of limestone rocks that can reach 700 metres deep in places. Due to its extraordinary dimensions, this wild area can be divided into three distinct zones: the pre-gorge, the gorge and the canyon itself. The latter shelters the Styx du Verdon, a geological curiosity resembling a natural mini-canyon dug inside the main canyon.

Characterized by its steep slopes and hairpin bends, the Verdon Gorge was only really explored at the beginning of the 20th century because it had the reputation of being impenetrable. It was the French speleologist Édouard-Alfred Martel who first explored and mapped the area in 1905. He was accompanied in his task by Isidore Blanc, a local schoolteacher who served as his guide. The Verdon Gorge quickly became world famous thanks to the beauty of its panoramas and the brilliance of the surrounding lakes. Hiking trails and long-distance GR footpaths criss-cross the steep crests of majestic cliffs as much as they run along the Verdon River in the shallows of the canyon. More recently, this site is attracting more and more climbers who have come to confront the 2,500 or so climbing routes set out in the limestone mass of the Verdon Natural Regional Park. Two panoramic roads linking the villages of Castellane to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (the “Route des Crêtes”) or the villages of Aiguines to Castellane (the “Corniche Sublime”) have numerous belvederes and remarkable viewpoints over the Verdon Gorge.

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  • The spectacular scenery and the many magnificent viewpoints over the gorge and the Verdon River: the belvederes of Mayreste, Trescaire, the Point Sublime, Rancoumas, Le Galetas and the Balcon de la Mescla (place of confluence between the Verdon River and its tributary the Artuby)
  • The alternation of Mediterranean and Alpine ecosystems makes this site unique in the world; the mineral environment of the gorge; the geological reserve of Haute Provence dominated by limestone; the high rocky walls and steep relief; the karstic landscapes carved out by the infiltration of rainwater
  • Outdoor activities such as hiking (Blanc-Martel, Vidal, Bastidon, Imbut trails or the GR4, GR49 and GR99 long-distance hiking trails), cycle tourism, horse riding, climbing, bungee jumping, paragliding, extreme jumping (base-jumping) and speleology; the panoramic routes of the Route des Crêtes (23 kilometres) and the Corniche Sublime (54 kilometres)
  • Nautical activities: swimming, fishing, kayaking, rafting, canyoning, sailing, water skiing, pedal boats and electric boat excursions
  • The emerald green colour of the lakes of Sainte-Croix, Castillon, Esparron, Chaudanne and Quinson; the Styx du Verdon; the Trevans Gorge (classified site and biological reserve); the Montdenier massif (1,936 metres high) and the Mourre de Chanier mountain (1,930 metres high), part of the Préalpes de Digne which dominate the gorge; the astronomical observatory and the Chiran mountain refuge (1,905 metres); the springs and tuffs of the upper Var (watercourses and karstic systems)
  • Visiting the small towns or villages of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Aiguines, Castellane, Entrevaux, La Palud-sur-Verdon, Trigance, Valensole, Riez, Bauduen, Baudinard-sur-Verdon (Baudinard canyon and its caves), La Garde, Puimoisson, Germany-en-Provence, Saint-Martin-de-Brômes, Esparron-de-Verdon (cruise possible on the eponymous lake), Rougon, Aups, Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon (nautical base) and the spa resort of Gréoux-les-Bains (presence of troglodytic baths) ; the Tusset Bridge (magnificent vaulted bridge spanning the Verdon river) and the Galetas Bridge (marking the final arrival of the river in the Lake of Sainte-Croix); the Estellier footbridge (arch of metallic structure); the stairs of the Imbert gap (very steep ascent); the Samson corridor (series of narrow tunnels where the Verdon River flows in)
  • The lavender fields, vineyards and olive groves on the Valensole plateau; the wooded hills of the Artuby; the large clearings of the Haut Var hills; the local produce (saffron, honey, aromatic plants); the combination of dry and irrigated crops; the view of the mountains of the Southern Alps
  • The local fauna: eagles, falcons, vultures, owls, chamois, foxes, marmots, lynx, wolves, bats, common genets (small carnivorous mammals)… ; the flora of the park: garrigues, moors, wetlands, riverside forests (adjacent to watercourses), more than 2,000 species of plants including several endemic varieties (Doradille du Verdon, Phoenicean juniper…)
  • The ski resort of Soleilhas-Vauplane; the nautical base of the Lake of Montpezat; the prehistory museum of the Verdon Gorge (located in Quinson); the chapel Notre-Dame de Beauvoir and the earthenware museum of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie; the flour mill museum (La Mure-Argens); the various castles (including those located in La Palud-sur-Verdon, Allemagne-en-Provence, Esparron-de-Verdon and Gréoux-les-Bains); the spa resort of Digne-les-Bains; the Bès valley and the Haute-Provence geological nature reserve (rich in fossils and rocky outcrops)
  • It is the presence of algae containing fluorine that gives this particular colour to the waters of the Verdon River. This colour can change according to the seasons with shades of blue, green and grey.
  • The natural site of the Gorges du Verdon is on the Route de Napoleon, a major walking or driving route starting from Golfe-Juan, a seaside resort on the French Riviera. This historic route was taken by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (or Napoleon I) in 1815 as he sought to bypass royalist troops in the hope of regaining power after a year’s exile on Elba.
  • The Lake of Sainte-Croix is a huge artificial lake fed by a dam. Its construction in the early 1970s caused the total flooding of the village of Les Salles-sur-Verdon, which was forcibly evacuated and rebuilt at a higher altitude in 1973 (the village church had to be dynamited). This “new” French village has been twinned since 2005 with the Portuguese village of Aldeia da Luz, which was also flooded in 2002 following the construction of the Alqueva dam.
  • In Greek mythology, the Styx corresponds to a river that separates the world of the living from that of the dead.
  • The Verdon Gorge is located 2 hours drive north of Marseille and Nice and 3 hours south of Grenoble.
  • To take advantage of the setting and the tranquillity of the place, if possible avoid the months of July and August, which are very busy for holidaymakers.
  • On site, wild camping and campfires are forbidden but bivouacs are still tolerated (the Verdon is one of the French regions with the highest concentration of campsites).
  • The best way to explore this natural site is by car and then on foot or by canoe or kayak.
  • Before venturing on foot into the gorge, take the time to choose your route, make sure you have enough water and check the weather (thunderstorms are frequent and can be severe). The guides and reception staff at the Maison des gorges du Verdon, located in La Palud, will be able to advise you.
  • Be vigilant with regard to the Verdon River. Its flow can vary very quickly and become dangerous.
  • The belvedere of Rancoumas and the Balcon de la Mescla, accessible on foot, are among the most beautiful panoramas of the Verdon Gorge and the least frequented by visitors.
  • The Blanc-Martel trail is undoubtedly the most popular trip in the Verdon Gorge (16 kilometres long, about 6 hours walk). It links the Chalet de la Maline to the Point Sublime and a shuttle service is available to reach both ends of the circuit in high season.
  • The Imbus Trail (6 to 8 kilometres long from the Auberge des Cavaliers in Aiguines) is certainly the most technical walking route but it is also the one that offers the most spectacular views of the depths of the canyon. In particular, it allows you to reach the narrowest parts of the gorge overhanging the Verdon, leads to the Styx and ends its course at the level of the chaos of stone blocks of the Imbut (where the river disappears underground before reappearing further on). To set off again, you can retrace your way or catch up on the Vidal Trail through a long series of dizzying steps.
  • The Verdon Gorge abounds with climbing for sportsmen of all levels in a breathtaking natural setting (sites of l’Escalès, Hulk, Pantin du néant, Courchon, Paroi du Duc, Eycharme, Malines, L’Imbut, L’Estellié, Mayreste, Galetas…).

Where to eat

  • Le Bellevue
    (very good country bar)
  • L'Actuel Côté Lac
    (overlooks Lake of Sainte-Croix)
  • Ferme Sainte Cécile
    (refined and succulent)

Where to go out

  • Bureau des Guides de Canyon
    (adventure activities)
  • Ferme de La Celestine
    (workshops and regional products)
  • Citadelle d'Entrevaux
    (major historical site)

Where to sleep

  • Camping la Ferme de Castellane
    (in the middle of nature)
  • Chateau de Trigance
    (medieval atmosphere)
  • La Ferme du Petit Ségriès
    (old renovated farmhouse)

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