Also: | Aix Verdon Itinerary |
(on the map, click on a village or site to go to that page)
The Gorges du Verdon, also called the Grand Canyon du Verdon, is a spectacular canyon that forms a border between the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and the Var. Up to 700 m deep, the 21-km-long canyon varies in width between 6 and 100 m at the bottom and 200 to 1500 m at its rim.
Although it's much smaller than Arizona's Grand Canyon, the Gorges du Verdon is deep, compact, wild and beautiful. From Castellane to the village of Rougons, the Verdon river flows clear and swift, and the road follows along the banks. At Rougons, by the Point Sublime, the river plunges into the narrow rock walls, and there's no escape until it comes out the western end before flowing into Lac de Ste Croix.
Accessing the canyon from the west, Moustiers-Ste-Marie or Lac de Ste Croix, gives you the option of driving along the North Rim (D952) or the South Rim (D71, via Aiguines). From the east, the D952 goes from Castellane all the way along the North Rim of the canyon, or you can turn left across the Pont de Soleils and follow the roads past Trigance to get to the South Rim.
North Rim. From a junction 2 km south of Moustiers-Ste-Marie, the D952 goes for 31 km across the northern side of the canyon to Pont de Soleils. The western part of this road has some good views down into the canyon. About the half-way point, at the Col d'Aven, the road crosses the plateau, through lavender fields, passing La Palud-sur-Verdon and on to Rougon, where it returns to the edge of the canyon at Point Sublime, one of the most popular spots on the north rim.
Route des Crêtes. This is a loop road, starting 1 km north of La Palud-sur-Verdon and returning to the village. The full loop of 23 km follows the very edge of the northern rim, with some of the most spectacular views of the canyon. The road is narrow, but much less frequented than the main roads. NOTE: The northern part of the loop-road is one-way, in a clockwise direction; you cannot make the full loop if start directly east from the village of La Palud.
South Rim. From the junction 2 km south of Moustiers-Ste-Marie, the route is the D19 to Aiguines, D71 for 29 km, then left onto the D90, past Trigance, and left on the D955 to the Pont de Soleils where it joins the D952, for a total of 48 km. After Anguines, there's about 25 km along the southern rim of the canyon, with lookout platforms and great views.
Full Loop. A full loop around the canyon is just over 100 km, including the Route des Crêtes, and takes a very full day.
Museum of Prehistory
The Verdon canyon was a real "natural" for primitive man, proven partially by the hundreds of 400,000-year-old artifacts unearthed in the Grotte de la Baume Bonne at the village of Quinson (in the Gorges du Verdon, a few km west of Lac de Ste Croix).
A modern Museum of Prehistory, the largest in Europe opened on 28 April 2001. The almond-shaped main building was designed by the English architect Norman Foster, and expects to have around 150,000 visitors a year. We visited the museum (and again the village) in early May 2001. Have a look at our Musée de Prehistorire page.
The source of the Verdon river is at about 2500 m altitude, between the Col de la Sestrière and the Pas du Mélèze, 3 km northwest of La Foux d'Allos and 11 km northwest of Allos [map p14]. Details of the source are on Didier Richard map #1 (Alpes de Provence) and IGN 3539 O (which we don't have).
The nearest road access is at La Foux d'Allos. From La Foux, a hiking trail goes directly up past the source to the Col de la Sestrière, where it joins the GR56. Down past La Foux d'Allos, the Verdon (followed by the road) goes by Allos and then south to Colmars. Here, joined by Le Lance, the Verdon takes the form of a real river, going south-southeast past Beauvezer and Thorame-Haute, and then on south to St Andé-les-Alpes.
At St-André, the river flows into the Lac de Castillon [map p14], the lake created by damming the Verdon river with the Barrage de Castillon. Just south of the lake, the river flows past Castellane and into the approaches to the canyon. Along this part of the river, the valley is still wide enough for the road to follow along at about the level of the river, past the Pont-de-Soleils (photo, left), through the Clue de Carejuan and into the gorge.
At the western end of the canyon, the river flows into the Lac de Ste-Croix. The lake flows out through the earthen dam Barrage de Ste Croix on west through the Basse Gorges du Verdon, past Quinson, Lac d'Esparron and Gréoux-les-Bains [map q14]. Southwest of Gréoux-les-Bains, the Verdon joins the Durance river.
The canyon was formed in the Quaternary Era, as a result of earth movements while the Alpes were "growing" upwards and from erosion of the Jurassic limestone by the Verdon river.
Through the 19th century, the deepest gorges were thought to be impenetrable. Only a few local woodcutters went down into the gorges on ropes, looking for box wood (buis) stumps that they used for making boules.
The canyon remained unexplored until the 20th century. Armand Janet attempted a canoe exploration in 1896, but gave up because of the violent currents. In August of 1905, the speleologist Edouard Alfred Martel did the first complete exploration of the gorges on a 3-day expedition. Part of the Martel trail is still used, between Point Sublime to La Maline.
Office de Tourisme
- Here are the principal places for information about the Verdon Canyon. The Office de Tourisme or Mairie in other villages of the region also have information on the Gorges de Verdon.
- Aiguines (83630)
- Tel: 0494 70 21 64; Fax: 0494 70 20 41
- Email: email@example.com
- Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon
- Tel: 0492 74 63 95; Fax: 0492 74 63 94
- Tel: 0492 83 61 14; Fax: 0492 83 76 89
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Web: http://www.castellane.org
- Email: email@example.com
Transportation Verdon Gorges
- Marseille - Gréoux - Riez - Castellane Bus FH-27
- LER line 27 (part A): 3 buses/day, between Marseille and Riez, trip time 2 hrs. Stops: Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Venelles, Meyrargues, Peyrolles, Pont Mirabeau, St Paul-lez-Durance, Vinon, Gréoux-les-Bains, St Martin-de-Bromes, Allemagne-en-Provence, Riez.
LER line 27 (part B): 1 bus a day between Riez and Castellane (via the Gorges-de-Verdon), trip time 1h30. Stops: Riez, Roumoules, Moustiers-Ste-Marie, Lapalud, Rougon, Pont de Soleil, Castellane.
On the LER website (http://www.info-ler.fr/fr/lignes-horaires/carte-et-fiches-horaires-n287. , select Ligne 27: Marseille / Greoux / Castellane to display the bus schedule PDF.
- Traversing the Gorges du Verdon on the river takes 6 to 8 hours. The trip is several hundred meters down between rock walls, with no exit until you get to the bottom end. An added danger is sudden changes in the water level, caused by the upstream dams at Castillon and Chaudanne. It's for experienced people only, or with a guided group.
- River Fishing
- The Gorges du Verdon is ideal for trout fly-fishing in a magnificent setting. Access is difficult and a guide is recommended.
The GR4 hiking trail crosses the northern rim, from just south of Moustiers-Ste-Marie to La Palud-sur-Verdon. From the village, the GR4 follows the Route des Crêtes 8 km out along the edge of the canyon, and then drops zigzagging down to the bottom. The trail goes north along the canyon to Point Sublime, where it climbs back to the rim, and then goes up past Rougon and over the mountains to the north.