The Gorges du Verdon are a breathtaking combination of the Alps and Provence at their spectacular best. The gorges and lakes, surrounded by mountains and rocky escarpments, are guaranteed to make you gasp at every twist and turn of the road, whilst the rock clinging villages are some of the most picturesque in Europe.
The Gorges du Verdon is all about light, space and fresh air – pure clarity. Everywhere you go it is important to look, smell and listen; the Alpes de Haute Provence play with all the natural elements, and with your senses. The landscape of the Gorges du Verdon is larger than life, and torturous – an ever-changing terrain, and if you don’t have a head for heights, then this is definitely not the place to go: vertigo and the Gorges du Verdon do not go together, in any language!
The Gorges du Verdon is, however, a paradise for walkers and “high fliers” – Saint André les Alpes is one of the region’s take-off points for fearless hang-gliding fanatics. It is also a haven for water sports enthusiast who enjoy kayaking, rafting; canoeing and canyoning and windsurfing in the emerald green waters, and for lovers of truly fresh, unpolluted air. Far enough away from the bustle of La Croisette! The freshwater fishing in the Gorges du Verdon is superb, the scenery is unforgettable, and you are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to places to visit.
Although Digne-les-Bains is often regarded as the ‘capital’ of the Gorges du Verdon (especially by ‘those in power’,i.e. the Mairie), in most peoples’ opinions it is the highly charismatic, almost Spanish-style town of Riez, just 6 kilometres north west of Lac de Sainte Croix. Dating back to the 1st Century, it is the most ancient town within the Alpes de Haute Provence, and its narrow streets are steeped in Medieval history. It also produces the best brouillade au truffe (truffled scrambled egg) to be had anywhere in France.
The gateway to the Gorges du Verdon is Moustiers-Sainte-Marie – one of the most exquisite locations within the vallée d’Emeraude. The small lake at Moustiers has its own port and club nautique, nestling beneath the ancient amphitheatre, at an altitude of 630 metres. Then there is the chapelle du Notre Dame du Roc, in the 14th century village of Castellane, and its Pont Napoléon; the spa at Gréoux-les-Bains; the fascinating olive town of Les Mées, closely guarded by its 100 metre high penitents rock columns (legend has it that they resemble petrified monks!), and the picturesque Train des Pignes, running between Nice and Digne ….. and so on!
The Gorges du Verdon have so much to offer. The very best place to commence your degustation of the Gorges du Verdon is to start off at Castellane, located at the crossroads of the renowned route Napoléon and the Upper Verdon road; this is the gateway to the Gorges du Verdon and it is really your very first opportunity to see the winding, limpid green waters of the River Verdon, which snake and wind their way through the Grand Canyon. The town has a highly privileged location, nestling at the foot of the majestic 184 metre high falaise calcaire spéctaculaire, known as Notre Dame du Roc, with its ancient chapel just clinging on to the very summit. In earlier centuries, this precarious setting was the centre of Castellane life, and it wasn’t until the 14th century, that inhabitants moved down off the rock and into the centre of town. There is much evidence of the town’s original Roman beginnings wherever you turn, including the old ramparts, the Tour Pentagonale and the ruins of Petra Castellana. The central square, place Marcel Sauvaire, is full of delightful cafés/bars, and some excellent chocolate shops.
The Gorges du Verdon hide some truly edible gems, offering the region’s own highly individual and aromatic style of Provençal cuisine, based on an abundance of wonderful locally grown produce, flavoured and perfumed with the herbs and edible wild flowers that grow on the garrigues (the arid scrubland which adorns the landscape). The fish in the Gorges du Verdon are invariably from the fast flowing rivers ( trout, perch, etc), unless they are ‘borrowed’ from the Mediterranean (such as rosy pink mullet and monkfish). If you are a lamb lover, think Sisteron – this is the very best to be had in France, or in the rest of Europe for that matter.
The best way to get your first taste of the Gorges du Verdon is to head for one of the regular street markets, such as Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Riez or Montagnac, where you will find fresh produce at its mouthwatering best. The Wednesday morning market at Riez is a “must” for all true foodies – stalls brimming with truly fat white asparagus (and some green varieties as well), shiny green petits pois almost bursting from their pods, dusky purple artichokes, the characteristically ‘pointed’ local gariguettes strawberries, the mobile cheese van of Lionel Martin overflowing with superb tangy chèvres, and the prolific bunches of lavender which are to be found everywhere. And it is not unusual to find the incredibly succulent agneau de Sisteron studded with lavender prior to roasting. This is lamb and lavender at their very best!
Once you have gorged yourself on the best that the Gorges du Verdon has to offer, you could do no better than head for Alain Ducasse’s haven of exquisite hospitality at Bastide de Moustiers, in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. The menu is sensational, and you can stay overnight in sublime comfort, without having to negotiate any treacherous twists and turns on the return journey that same day!
The Gorges du Verdon is approximately 1h30 from the Cote d’Azur ports of Antibes and Cannes and a visit makes a great day out for those staying on the coast. To plan a luxury yacht charter in France, please contact: