Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04800) Population: 1,945 Altitude: 400 m
Gréoux-les-Bains is an ancient Roman town with thermal baths, still popular for its hot springs. Located beside the Verdon river, west of the Lac de Sainte-Croix.
This ancient little town is a popular tourist destination because of its mineral hot springs (the "bains" in the town name). The lodgings available here could make Gréoux-les-Bains a good base while visiting the area, with only a short drive to Lac de Sainte Croix, Manosque, the Valensole plateau and, of course, the Lower Gorges de Verdon.
The Gréoux (you pronounce the "x") town center is grouped around the side of the hill, with some narrow streets between the tightly packed houses, but we didn't find the narrow streets that interesting for wandering.
The old center has pedestrian streets lined with small shops, outdoor stalls, restaurants, and such, running down to the main road where there are more terrace cafés, restaurants and shops. But there isn't really a town square that serves as a focal point.
Yvon Durandeau is the baker at the Boulangerie Durandeau. He's passionate, and skilled, about pâtisserie (pastry), and his bakery is very popular. He also makes his own Callisons [d'Aix].
The ancient "Templier" chateau overlooking the town adds a lot of character, especially when viewed from a certain distance. It dates from the 12th century, with building or restoration in the 13th, 14th and 17th centuries. An up-close visit isn't very interesting, being mainly a walk around high stone walls. The inner courtyard is packed with bleacher seats for a summertime outdoor cinema.
The Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Ormeaux (or Saint-Pierre -des-Ormeaux?) is Provençal Romanesque, an ancient priory of Montmajour.
The Parc Morelon, a short walk from the center, has tall trees to shade the walkways, park benches and modern-art statuary.
Down by the riverside are more paths and shady areas, and a nice cool river.
Stopping at a local café for an an after-dinner drink, we asked if we could get a glass of of Cote du Rhone.
cafe: Of course, sir. Would you like red or white?
beyond: Red, please.
cafe: Ok, but it's not Cote du Rhone, it's Cote de Provence.
beyond: That will be fine.
cafe: And you Madame?
beyond2: White wine, please. What kinds do you have?
cafe: We have Cote de Provence, red and white.
The old Roman baths are now controlled by a modern thermal establishment, probably no different in idea than when the Romans ran the place. Water from the thermal springs are at 42°C, containing sulphur, calcium, magnesium and trace elements. Like the original troglodyte baths, the current establishment is underground (topped, of course, by large buildings and spacious grounds).
The lake, only 4 km from town, is formed by a dam, the Barrage de Gréoux, on the Verdon river. Take the main D952 road east out of town and turn right in 2 km. The road passes by the dam and the edge of the lake, then loops inland and returns to the east side of the lake at Esparron-de-Verdon.
For a more isolated area on the west shore of the lake, take the D8 south out of town, cross the bridge and immediately turn left; this little road is a beautiful drive through the wooded hills to the lake.
History of Gréoux-les-Bains
First record, Roman Nymphhis Griselius; 1084 Grésols; 13th century Greols.
Although known as a Roman site, the area had neolithic habitation and celtic habitation.
More "recently", the town was destroyed by the barbarian invasions. In the 12th century it was recovered by the Templiers who resored the baths. In the 16th century the town was ravaged by the Huguenots.
Gréoux became popular in the 19th century, visited by many famous people, inclulding Pauline Bonaparte.
Gallo-Roman: The Roman hot spring healing baths were dedicated to the nymphs of 'Griseliae'. Fine remains of a swimming pool and other buildings were discovered here ine recent excavations. The second-century baths were visited by Anna Faustina, a relative of Marcus Aurelius, later murdered by Commodus. The site of the old Roman baths, with Roman inscriptions, are now a modern thermal establishment east of the center.
7 Place de l'Hotel de Ville
Tel : 04 92 78 01 08; Fax: 04 92 78 13 00
We had a very poor opinion of the Office de Tourisme, but based on our experience in 2004 (more recent short visits haven't coincided with their opening hours). Beyond reader Mike (Sept 2009) said: I thought they were very helpful and it appeared to contain a lot of information.
Market day: Thur, Tue. Tue Place de la Mairie; Thur Place Brossolette
May (2nd half) - Festival d'orgues de barbarie
July (3rd week) - Fête provençale
• GPS: 43.758644, 5.885271
IGN (1/25,000) #3343 OT "Greoux-les-Bains, Rians"
IGN (1/25,000) #3342 ET "Plateau de Valensole"
There is excellent hiking in the wooded hills surrounding Gréoux-les-Bains, including trails that start at the town.
The GR4 hiking trail passes directly through the town. Eastward it goes along the bank of the Verdon, then northeast through the hills to St Martin-de-Brômes, along the ridge north of Allemagne-en-Provence and to Riez. Northwestward the GR4 crosses the low wooded hills to the Durance, to Manosque, and on into the Luberon.
South of town, across the bridge, there are several loop hikes of varying lengths.
North and east of town there are many more hiking trails, including one out to the Lac d'Esperron (going along the road for part of the way).
A hot-baths town used to visitors, Gréoux-les-Bains doesn't lack for dining possibilities. The preponderance seems to be towards the high end, but there's still a fair selection of reasonably priced places.
Our dinner in the restaurant La Caverne on the Grand-Rue was a good experience. Run by Gabrielle and Fréderique, the welcome and service were good, and Fréderique is an imaginative and excellent chef. It's popular, so get there early. Menus from 18.50 euros.
Gréoux-les-Bains has a cinema, tennis, swimming pool (piscine). Equitation is popular in the surrounding countryside, and a centre equestre is located northeast of the center at Laval.
Fishing. We saw a few early-morning fishermen along the Verdon by the bridge at the edge of town, including fly fishermen.
Cycling. There are kilometers of clearly marked mountain-bike (VTT) paths in the surrounding hills. VTT rentals are available (we did not identify the location).
La Crèche de Haute Provence [was] a marvelous santon museum and workshop. Martine and Gérard Moine are a master santonniers. Their shop-museum moved to the village of Valensole. We were really impressed with it, though, and have presented it on it's own Beyond page.
Department 04, Alpes-de-Haute Provence Buses
- See Beyond's Alpes-de-Haute Provence (04) Bus Schedules for downloading Alpes-de-Haute Provence bus-lines map and bus-line schedules [pdf for each line] (link for PDF files).
Manosque - Riez Bus
- The Riez - Manosque bus line has several buses a day; 50 minutes trip. Schedule available via the Riez town website (see Beyond's Riez page). Stops: Riez, Allemagne-en-Provence, St Martin-de-Brômes, Esparron-de-Verdon (intersection), Gréoux-les-Bains, Manosque (Gare SNCF, Gare routière).
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.
There are a fair number of hotels, and very many weekly/monthly vacation rentals (studios; chambres mublés; résidences hôtelières; chambres d'hôtes).
We stayed the night (end Aug 2004) in the Hotel Logis de la Rose. It's in the center of the old town, very satisfactory, with very friendly welcome and service.