Quite a few weeks ago now we met a couple of Dutch motorhomers who regaled the terrifying tale of their journey through the Gorges du Verdon, accidentally following a cycle route on their Sat Nav and getting themselves into all sorts of nail-biting bother! Ever since then, we have had a certain amount of trepidation when planning our own trip. Surely we wouldn’t have any problems? Should we even attempt it, given that the roads are so narrow with jutting rocky overhangs, narrow tunnels hewn out of the rock face and perilous steep hairpins to navigate? Yes, of course we should! It’s a place of wild, rugged beauty, the deepest gorge in France and a showcase for the unforgiving natural landscape at its very best and there’s no way we were going to miss that.
The day before we had driven through Castellane, stopping at the sight of the stunning blue lake (Lac du Castillon) a man-made reservoir with a surface area of 5 km² covering over 1,200 acres. Next to it stands the imposing 95m high Castellane dam, with its enormous sundial artwork, holding 150,000,000 m³ of water. Still clearly struggling with the selfie stick, we spent a good 10 minutes positioning ourselves next to Buzz for the perfect shot, only to realise later that we had turned on the wrong side of the camera and ended up with loads of photos of the empty road and none of us with the intended beautiful lake backdrop! So here it is on its own ….. probably better anyway.
We spent the night in the town’s commercial aire/campsite arriving late afternoon just in time to sit out in the sun for an hour before it went down and almost instantly turned cold. As the weeks go by and the sun is starting to set earlier there is definitely an immediate cooling as soon as the sun sets. As we were settling in, we noticed that our neighbours were British, a rare sight on our travels so far for some reason, so we got chatting and it turned out they were planning to drive the gorge the day after us but had already been to the tourist office in Castellane and got themselves a map and a bit of info, giving us a few snippets of useful advice. The next morning we were just about to set off, having spent ages faffing about taking far longer than we needed to just to get going and our neighbour very kindly came over with a hand-drawn map which he had copied from his printed one, detailing the best and easiest motorhome route around the gorge in a clockwise direction. Bolstered by this new information we confidently set off, the sun shining down on us and Buzz the motorhome looking forward to yet another exhilerating drive!
About half an hour later, we arrived at the town of Rougon with its small smattering of houses, driving onwards towards the gorge, making sure to take the turning once reaching La Palud sur Verdon to begin our clockwise loop of the gorges and the Route des Cretes. The road twists and turns and the gorge deepens below, up to 700m (2,297ft) downwards at one point, creating a gaping chasm in the limestone massifs with beautiful blue waters running below. We have to remind ourselves that we are in Provence here and there’s not a lavender field in site! We are often led to believe that Provence is just about these fragrant fields, olive trees and vineyards but Provence – Alpes – Côte d’Azur is a large, diverse area with so much more to offer than the stereotypical description. It is said that the Gorges du Verdon are France’s answer to the Grand Canyon and while breathtaking and majestic, they don’t have the same scale so shouldn’t be compared. They are dramatic and beautiful in their own right and with sharp pointed peaks, vast crevasses, ridged sloping summits and an appealing colour palette ranging from grey to orange.
Several parking areas alongside the road allow you to park and get out to admire the magnificent views or ‘belvederes’, over the valley carved out below, the first viewpoint also the perfect place to watch the circling griffon and black vultures gliding in circles, their wingspan reaching up to 2.5 metres, suddenly swooping for prey or heading to their nests clinging precariously to the side of the rocks. With numbers dwindling over the last century, a number of vultures were re-introduced into the gorge in 1999 and there are now thought to be around 150 of them gracing the skies over Verdon.
Visiting in October we were lucky that there was very little traffic and very few visitors relatively. The only issue we had was a short one day window of good weather with a couple of days of bad weather either side, so we didn’t linger for as long as we would have if the forecast had been better. A high summer visit would be nowhere near as enjoyable as there’s nothing worse than having to drive on by a stunning view because the parking area is full. It’s not as if you can pull over here on the edge of the road or turn around further along because it’s just too narrow, which brings us back to our trepidation of taking this route in the first place. As it was, we had no problems at all and we encountered no more than a handful of vehicles coming the other way on the roads, and were all clear round the bends and through the craggy tunnels hacked out of the canyon. Some parts of the route are also one way only (another reason to go clockwise) so those parts were particularly enjoyable knowing we could take our time and not have to look out for anything oncoming. Towards the end of the loop we caught up with one intrepid visitor driving along in a kind of quad buggy that looked like great fun, but so close to the ground he couldn’t have seen over the edges and down into the gorge – one big bonus of being up high in a motorhome.
Emerging the other side of the gorge we stopped for a quick cuppa before driving on to our home for the night in the nearby Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, one of ‘the most beautiful villages in France’, which would be our first port of call the next day. We found a peaceful aire on two levels with a fantastic view of the hills, glowing in the setting sun and got there just in time to sit out and soak it up for a bit before heading inside to settle down for the evening to browse our photos and relive yet another memorable day of motorhoming.