A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase. Includes Places to Stay in proximity.
ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
The Gorges du Verdon is the French equivalent of the Grand Canyon. The striking blue-green water of the Verdon is dramatic in its intensity as it carves through and contrasts with the magnificent limestone plateau. The river then plunges into the spectacular trench-like Gorges du Verdon and is enclosed within its steep jagged walls. When you are traveling between the Riviera and central Provence, the Gorges du Verdon makes for a wonderful detour, and a few days spent in this region will prove memorable.
Recommended Pacing: This itinerary extends from Castellane to the delightful village of Moustiers Sainte Marie just to the north of Lac de Sainte Croix. The total distance covered is only about 40 kilometers, including the dramatic 20-kilometer span of the canyon from the Pont de Soleils to the town of Aiguines. The most logical access from the Riviera is to follow the N85, a lovely forested road that winds from Grasse northwest along the Route Napoléon to Castellane, a town set on the banks of the Verdon. You can include a visit to the canyon and cover the distance between the Riviera and Provence in one day, but it would require a very early start and make for an exceptionally long day. We recommend an overnight on the edge of the canyon at the Château de Trigance (recommended in our France hotel guide), in the small hillside village of Trigance. Breaking the journey here gives you time to enjoy an unhurried drive along the dramatic canyon rim and then a leisurely next day to explore Moustiers Sainte Marie. We would also recommend including an overnight in Moustiers Sainte Marie-as we are certain the town and its setting will captivate you-before continuing your journey on to Provence.
Castellane is a natural starting point for an exploration of the canyon. It enjoys a lovely setting on the banks of the River Verdon and is famous for its crowning rock that towers above the town, crested by the Nôtre Dame du Roc Chapel. Traveling the D952 west following the path of the Verdon, at Pont de Soleils you can either choose to follow the south bank or the north bank of the canyon. (If time and enthusiasm allow, it is also possible to make one grand circle journey traveling both sides of the canyon.) For the purposes of this itinerary, the suggested routing follows the south bank, the Corniche Sublime, as it affords spectacular vistas of the canyon and also conveniently passes the enchanting medieval village of Trigance whose thick stone walls guard a wonderful hotel and restaurant, the Château de Trigance. To reach Trigance from Pont de Soleils, travel first south 16 kilometers on the D955 and just before the village of Riblaquon, cross over the Jabron river to the medieval town of Trigance on the opposite hillside.
Following the road round the back of Trigance, the D90 travels a short distance (6 kilometers) before it ends at the D71. Turn north on the D71 and you will soon be rewarded with a spectacular vista of the dramatic Verdon at the Balcons de la Mescla. You can pull off here, and there are terraced points from which you can look down at the dramatic loop in the path of the river some 760 meters below. (There is also a small café where you can purchase snacks and postcards.) From Mescla the road winds through sparse vegetation of boxwood and then crosses over a dramatic span, the Pont de l’Artugy, a concrete, one-arch bridge that rises precariously high above the waters below. From the bridge, the drive is constantly spectacular in its drama and scenery. It rises and falls above the canyon walls, winding in and out of tunnels impressively cut into its rock face. From Artuby the road climbs on the fringe of the ravine to the Fayet Pass. Here a tunnel carves through the rock and square openings through the thick tunnel walls create windows that afford glimpses of the river’s dramatic passage. Every second of the drive following the jagged mouth of the Verdon Canyon is spectacular. The canyon is almost overpowering: the river forges a path through narrow stretches where the canyon sides plunge down to depths far below, and then slows and calms in wider sections, pausing to create glistening, dark-green pools.
The road periodically veers away from the edge of the canyon and rolls past beautiful green meadows dotted by a few mountain cabins and hamlets. In spring, wildflowers bloom everywhere. As the ruggedness and fierceness of the canyon wanes, the road gradually returns to the valley, opening up to vistas of the brilliant blue waters of Lac de Sainte Croix where you see Aiguines, a rosy-hued village silhouetted against the backdrop of the lake. The numerous docks hint at what a paradise the lake is for sportsmen in summer months. At the water’s edge, the road (now numbered D957), travels in the direction of Moustiers Sainte Marie, crossing over the Verdon as it flows into the lake. Be sure to take a moment and park just before the bridge, as it is a beautiful sight looking back up the narrow canyon and if you are fortunate, you might see kayakers at the conclusion of their journey.
Moustiers Sainte Marie Pottery, Faience is a grand finale to this itinerary. Famous for its pottery, it is a wonderful village whose cluster of buildings with their patchwork of red-tiled roofs hugs the hillside and crawls back into the protection of a sheltered mountain alcove. Monks came here in 433, took shelter in caves dug into the mountainside, and founded the monastery Nôtre Dame de Beauvoir, which towers over the village. The church was rebuilt during the 12th century and enlarged in the 16th. You can reach the sanctuary by a winding footpath paved with round stones leading up from the heart of the village.
This is a beautiful Provençal hilltown whose narrow, winding streets offer a wealth of stores displaying the famous Moustiers pottery. As early as 1678, the first master potter created a pattern that originated the style associated with the village. Today, some 15 master potters offer high-quality handmade and hand-decorated products, and pottery is the principal industry in the area. You can actually come to Moustiers and commission a personalized pattern in one of the workshops. Considering the size of the village and its seemingly remote location, it is hard to believe that the workshops of Moustiers Sainte Marie fulfill requests from all over the world for their hand-painted faïence.
From Moustiers Sainte Marie, it is a 1½-hour drive to Aix en Provence where you can join our Provence itinerary.