Many people see photo of the turquoise waters of the Gorges du Verdon in France and know, without a doubt, that it needs to be added to their bucket list when they visit Provence Region. That is also how I ended up there.
Provence Region is not all about olive groves, vineyards, and lavender fields. The region, whose name is often shortened to Provence, is actually known as Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, or in English “Provence Alps and the Riviera”. Moving east from Avignon, or north from Nice, one soon gets into hill country and very soon after that into the limestone massifs of the Alpine foothills. The land is arid and in places barren and fairly inhospitable; but though the climate here is generally dry, this is an area crossed by rivers flowing down from the snowy peaks of the Alps. Over millions of years, they have carved deep valleys in the limestone, none of them longer and deeper than that of the Verdon.
Gorge du Verdon is located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of Southeastern France. It is about 25 km long and up to 700 meters deep. It was formed by the Verdon River, which is named for its turquoise-green color, one of the location’s distinguishing characteristics. From its source near the Italian Border, the Verdon river runs south as far as Castellane, then west to join the Durance near Manosque. While much of the valley is spectacular, it is in the section between Castellane and Manosque that the river has carved its impressive canyon.
The Gorges du Verdon attract visitors for five main reasons. There are those who come for the spectacular road trip round the edge of the gorge, by car or by bike; there are those who come to enjoy some of the exhilarating hiking trails in and around the gorge. Then there are some who come to admire the bird life – vultures, eagles and other birds of prey. Finally, there are those who come to enjoy the experience of paddling up the bottom end of the gorge in a canoe or a kayak or a paddle boat and that is us!
How to get here
- You need a car because Gorge du Verdon is remote and it is the best way to come here because the view along the road trip is beautiful. Many people come to the Gorge as a day trip from Aix-en-Provence and the trip can be combined with a visit to Lavender field in Valensole.
- If you are not renting a car you can always take a day tour from Aix-en-Provence like the one here. Or if you are based in Cote d’Azur, there is one from Nice here. Be aware that a lot of these tours don’t include Boat pedalling or kayaking as a part of the itinerary as they normally include other locations, such as Valensole lavender fields, or Moustiers Sainte Marie.
Trip from Aix-en-Provence or Nice to Gorge du Verdon takes about the same time at around 2 hours without stopping. So count for more as you will be taking stops here and there. The recommended drive starts from Moustiers Sainte Marie, a very pretty little town which tends to get overcrowded at peak tourist periods. The best views of the gorge are to be had from the D71 and the D23. Note that both of these are narrow roads with lots of hairpin bends.
View from Pont du Galetas (The Bridge)
Pont du Galetas is a massive bridge that crosses the River Verdon as it opens out into Lac Sainte Croix. The views from this bridge are spectacular! There is a Parking Place next to the bridge. Park your car and walk onto the center of the bridge. From one side, you can see a view up the Gorge, and on the other, you can see out to the lake. This is a great place to grab some pictures of the beautiful Gorge du Verdon from above.
What to do in the River Verdon
We passed thru Pont du Galetas and arrive at the lake Sainte Croix. There is a spacious parking space. We are already in our bathing suits, so we only had to slap more sunscreen, grab our water bottle and walk to the lake.
Paddle boating or Pedalo as the French called it and Kayaking is one of the top things to do at Gorges du Verdon. On both sides of the bridge Pont du Galetas, you’ll find plenty of Rental companies where you can get your paddleboat or kayak. There is also electric boat for rent. We rented paddle boating at 40 eur for 2 hours. There is no guided tour so ask the rental guy which route to take and how far can you go approximately.
With your preferred vehicle, Paddle boating for us, off we go gliding on the turquoise water and seeing the cliffs from below. Around every twist and turn, there’s a beautiful view and plenty of small beaches for you to relax on. Stop for a swim wherever you like so it is a good idea to take a waterproof bag for your belongings. Cliff jumping is a popular sport. We saw many people doing it as we glide thru. Fabio tried it twice, encouraged by Tonto Pierre while Alyssa and I swam in the chilled water. The water felt refreshing as the sun was scorching hot. We pedalled until we reached the waterfall, swim some more and pedalled back to the shore.
Some Logistics on the lake (Lac Sainte Croix)
There is no cafe serving food or drink in the area. They only have a vending machine for drink. But there is a toilet, a paid shower and place to change your clothes.
Things to bring with you on the water
Hat against the sun
Best Time to Visit Gorges du Verdon
Gorges du Verdon is perfect to visit during spring and summer. Summer is the best time as you can really enjoy jumping in the water, swimming, and cooling off from the summer heat. However, it does get very busy in the weekend so try to arrive early to hire your boat or kayak and get a head start on the crowds. You can take the picture from the bridge after you have finished boating/Kayaking.
From Gorge du Verdon, you can visit Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. You would have passed thru the village if you come from Aix-en-Provence direction. It is one of France’s most beautiful villages and is only 40-minutes away from the Gorges du Verdon. It is located high up above the river. Wander the charming cobbled streets with stone houses and colourful shutters, visiting cute cafes and boutique shops. Here you can discover an ancient romanesque-gothic church with beautiful views. Other alternative is to drive to Valensole and see the lavender field if you are lucky to come in June or July. It is also only 50 minutes away. This is what we ended up doing because we came in mid Jun when lavender is blooming. We passed thru Moustier-Sainte-Marie and drive straight to Valensole from Gorge du Verdon.