Road Trip around the fabulous Gorges du Verdon in Provence

Gorges du Verdon
••• Gorges du Verdon, Provence. Getty Images/Rainer & Simone Hoffmann

A Spectacular Road Trip

The drive around the fabulous Gorges du Verdon in the Regional Natural Park of the Verdon is not for the faint hearted. It’s a journey with wonderful viewpoints and gaping crevices that plunge 700 meters deep down towards the slowly moving river below. It’s a drive of hairpin bends with the odd stopping place. Quite frankly, it's worth every nail-biting moment.

Quick tip: If you can, avoid the summer months of late June, July and August when the caravans move like snails in a long queue of vehicles.

If you are there at that time, try to do the drive very early in the morning. If you’re early enough, you’ll be rewarded with a sunrise that will make you feel you’re at the birth of the world.

Morning

This drive starts at Trigance, a little hilltop village dominated by a great castle hotel, the Château de Trigance. Book here for the ambience, the rooms, and a great meal. From the village, take the D90 south, signposted rive gauche Gorges du Verdon and Aigunes. When you get to the D71, turn right towards the Balcons de la Mescla where there’s a stopping place. The road was built specifically to give the best views, both of the canyon and the blue river way down in the gorge. The rough hillsides change shape and color as you drive; sometimes bare, at other times covered in pine trees. The Gorge is 15 miles long with drops straight down.

At Pont de l’Artuby the brave, or perhaps the completely bonkers, try their hand at bungee jumping; at Falaise des Cavaliers you can walk out to a viewpoint for another precipitous view, while rock climbers disappear over the edge with alarming speed at Cirque de Vaumale.

Lunch Break

After that the road continues to twist and turn but the countryside becomes friendlier. Then you start descending and come across a delightful château, its round towers topped with brightly colored tiles. You’re at Aiguines, a good stop overlooking the Gorges and the Lac de Ste Croix. It’s a pretty village with a long main street with cafes and restaurants for lunch, a few hotels and a good picnic spot in a small park near the castle (easy parking).

For another lunch option take the winding country road to les Salles-sur-Verdon, an artificial village created when the dam for Lac de Ste Croix was built in the early 1970s. Many of the inhabitants came from the former village which had been destroyed to make way for the damn and the new lake, after violent opposition.

Today it’s a peaceful place, full of holiday homes and with hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation and a very helpful (and English-speaking) Tourist Office in the center of the village. People come here for the water sports on the Lac, so it’s pretty relaxed.

Have lunch on the little terrace of La Plancha, 8 pl Garuby, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 94 84 78 85. Local produce like organic pork and lamb and locally caught fresh fish are grilled over a wood fire and arrive at the table with home-made gratin dauphinois or fries. There are also tempting daily dishes like stuffed Provencal tomatoes.

Afternoon

If you lunch at Les Salles, head back up north on the D957 that runs beside the lake and follow the signs to Moustiers-Sainte Marie, turning left onto the D952 at St Pierre. Park at the outskirts of the village; in summer it is overrun with visitors. It’s a beautiful hilltop village with a stream that runs down between two cliffs.

Above it hangs a huge star, originally put there by a returning knight from the Crusades.

The village has two claims to fame: its pottery and its chapel of Notre-Dame de Beauvoir, which sits above the village and has a great view. I love the pottery made here, but it’s very expensive (from 40 euros for a single plate). All hand-made and hand-painted (and signed by the manufacturer for authenticity), the different potteries have their own shops in the village. Try Lallier in the main street for an authentic selection. The company has existed since 1946 and is still family owned and run. You can also see the pottery being made at the studio at the bottom of the village, Tuesday to Friday at 3pm.

The Northern Rim

From here the drive takes you back down the D952 to the northern edge of the Canyon and another great drive.

The road is slightly bigger than the southern rim road, but no less torturous for that.

For the most nail-biting part, drive the Route des Cretes. Stop first at La Paulud-sur-Verdon, then continue down the small road. This is for hardy drivers only; at times you could drive straight off into the abyss down an 800-meter drop to the river below. (The road is closed between November 1 and April 15 each year.) But the views are extraordinary and you can stop at different places (if there aren’t too many cars) such as the Chalet de la Maline and the Belvedere du Tilleul. You emerge, triumphant if a little shaken, according to your driving skills, back on the road at La-Palud. Go on eastwards and stop at the Auberge du Point Sublime (open April to October) right on the edge of the gorge. In the same family since 1946, it’s a wonderful spot and you’ll get good local cooking here.

Now you can either continue on to Castellane, Digne-les-Bains and Sisteron, or at Point du Soleils turn south on the D955 to Comps-sur–Artuby and the Var villages around Draguignan.

Practical Information

Maison du Parc naturel regional du Verdon
Domaine de Valx
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 93 74 68 00
Website (in French)

Car Hire

Where to Stay

Read guest reviews, compare prices and book the Chateau de Trigance on TripAdvisor.

A Day Trip

The Gorges du Verdon make a very good day trip if you're staying in Nice, Cannes or Antibes. But it's a long day (2 hours 30 mins from Nice; 2 hours 15 mins from Antibes) and 2 hours 20 mins from Cannes.)