On-line Guide: Cote d’Azur daytrips: Gorges du Verdon
Posted May 2018 in Go & Do
The Deal: Europe’s Grand Canyon is just that: a seismic chasm 20km-long set in primeval countryside. The gorge ribbons to depths of 700m so a hire car is the only option to explore. The conveniently located Sixt office in Hotel Le Meridien hosts online deals from €27 per day – a bargain at less than €10 each for a family of four.
The Trip: The drive to the Gorges du Verdon is spectacular in itself. A 8am start is a must as the circular gorge route can get very busy in July and August. The main two-hour route weaves north from Nice through ever greener, cooler forest. Marginally longer but far more exciting is the Route Napoléon through Mougins and Grasse. It follows the petit dictator’s march on Paris in 1815, passing many a perched village en-route.
Why Go: Let’s put this into perspective. The world’s second largest canyon contains two once-in-a-lifetime sights in one.
First is the gorge that lay undiscovered until a survey by French electric company EDF in 1905. Engineers found not only a hidden valley of orchids, wildflowers and rare birds, but the remains of an intact Stone Age culture that had no contact with modern man. Sections of the Gorges du Verdon remain a verdant time capsule that date from prehistoric times.
The second sight is Lac de Ste Croix. This emerald-green lake is postcard perfect. Especially in high summer when kayakers, sunbathers and swimmers populate the shore. Bonelli’s eagles soar overhead as daredevil rock climbers scale the cliff walls. Imagine a Norwegian fjord – but with 25c sunshine and pedalos for hire.
The key activity is the round-the-Gorges drive. Most visitors enter the mostly one-way route from the dizzying hill village of Castellane. The Corniche Sublime (D71) is the principal artery. It links the Balcons de la Mescla (a vertigo-inducing viewpoint) to Pont d’Artuby (a bungee-jumping hub where the spectator sport is as good as the real thing). The Route des Crêtes clifftop road completes the tour.
What’s New: Paddleboarding has become an overnight sensation on Lac de Ste Croix. France’s largest reservoir of water is rarely choppy or windy, but it’s still nippy if you fall in. In Castellane the Adventure Forest is a great place to stretch car-bound legs before the journey home.
The Souvenir: The heavenly town of Moustiers Sainte-Marie is known worldwide for its deftly etched Faïence ceramics. Workshops with one hour pottery classes dot the streets.