Visiting the Gorges du Verdon and Cycling the Route des Cretes

Two years ago, while pottering around in the nearby Barronies Provencales Regional Natural Park, we considered taking a trip to the Gorges du Verdon but decided to head elsewhere instead. Well, now that we have visited the Gorge I have to say I wish we'd chosen differently because it is magnificent and I'm very grateful we have finally rectified our oversight. Billed by many as the 'Grand Canyon of Europe', I had still always sort of assumed that the Gorges du Verdon would 'only' be a slightly larger version of some of the other lovely gorges we had visited in this area like the Gorges des Vesubie or Gorges de la Meouge and I suppose technically that's true. Yet the scale of the Gorges du Verdon blew me away.

We started our visit to the area by spending a day and a couple of nights on the motorhome aire in the lovely village of Castellane on the banks of the Verdon river a little to the north-east of the Gorge. Described in the tourist office as "having everything to seduce lovers of outdoor nature and culture", there is certainly plenty to do in and around Castellane with rafting, cycling, hiking and climbing opportunities in abundance alongside restaurants and bars. We, however, did laundry which was much in need of doing and after 3 weeks cycling up hills in the Alps we wanted a more peaceful day.

The following day we decided it was time to check out the Gorge. After passing through Castellane the Verdon river weaves a winding route that heads generally westwards towards the Lac de Ste-Croix and straight out of the Castellane it was evidently a beautiful route. Following the D952 on the north side of the river the road is a twisty one and narrow in places. Initially the road follows the river closely, with water on the left and the incredibly layered rock that has been carved out by the river often making a vertical wall on the right side. In places it was hard driving when the road pinched in and I felt grateful we were here in September and not the middle of summer. Also, being here in Autumn meant that the trees and bushes were shining red, yellow and golden brown in the sun. I'm not entirely sure if this section is offically the 'Gorges du Verdon' but it certainly was beautiful.


After about 10 or 15 km a choice is made between the 'left' and 'right' side of the Gorge (whatever that means, we stayed on north side, the D952) and the road moved away the side of the river but remained picturesque and winding although soon the 'Gorge' was no longer in sight. Parking in the village of La-Palud-Sur-Verdon we decided to get our bikes off the van and take a cycle around a loop of road labelled "Route des Cretes", a loop which boasted no less than 14 viewpoints along its 24km length and which evidently went right above and around the top of the deepest part of the Gorge.

There are many words to describe the cycle we took that day, but "Wow" would have to be one of them. Physically it wasn't a trivial undertaking with (going clockwise) 3km downhill, 7km steeply uphill (I reckon you climb about 500m but check with a profile somewhere to be sure), 10km steadily downhill and a gentle 4km uphill to finish. But visually it was off the scale.

As Esther pointed out on the day you can't really compare the high mountains of Switzerland, the National Parks of the French Alps and a deep, expansive river gorge like this I won't. They are all different and beautiful in their own way. But the Gorges du Verdon, as seen from the Route des Cretes, was stunning. Being on bikes also meant we got to take it in slowly and stop at most of the viewpoints which each offered a new and unique perspective on the deep scar in the landscape carved by the Verdon river, which is over 700m deep in places. The pictures doubtless say more than I can about what it's like to stand on a near vertical cliff and look down a tiny river far below and think 'it carved this', while looking into the distance and seeing the same narrow scar vanishing towards the horizon.

That evening we decided to treat ourselves with a visit to the Hotel des Gorges spa where we cycled between steam, jacuzzi and pool for around 4 hours as aches and pains of the previous few weeks were eased and we watched the sun set over the surrounding hills. The next day we drive the remainder of the route towards the Lac de Ste-Croix, which was beautiful, but not quite so impressive as the Route des Cretes had been. Happy memories.



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Adventures In Life, Love, Health & Travel: Visiting the Gorges du Verdon and Cycling the Route des Cretes
Visiting the Gorges du Verdon and Cycling the Route des Cretes
Adventures In Life, Love, Health & Travel
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