The Verdon Grand Canyon… Simply Stunning!
Nothing more romantic than the contrast of rock and abyss, of green waters and crimson shade, than this sky which resembles the Homeric sea and this wind which speaks with the voice of gods long dead…
is how author Jean Giono described this Provencal canyon set in a landscape worthy of Dante.
Forming a natural frontier between the Var, to the south, and Southern Alps, to the north, this spectacular fault is considered as one of Europe’s foremost natural attractions, despite being seventeen times smaller than the Grand Canyon in Colorado.
This is the stuff myths are made of… the Verdon canyon is a genuine natural jewel; an emerald set against the backdrop of the Verdon regional nature reserve. And the landscapes bordering this exceptional site are just as beautiful too: the Verdon is home to no less than 1,500 plant species and almost all of the species of birds of prey found in France (including the recently reintroduced vultures).
Édouard Alfred Martel was the first explorer to travel the entire canyon in 1905 and reveal this spectacular site and its extraordinary flora and fauna to the general public for the first time. One of the Verdon’s prettiest hiking trails is now named after him: the Blanc-Martel trail, starting out from the little village of la Palud-sur-Verdon.
A transition zone between Provence and the first foothills of the Alps, the Verdon is a genuine paradise for walkers and hikers. Yet to soak up the full diversity of its landscapes, the Verdon is best appreciated by car, motorbike and bike. Travel along the ‘two-cliff road’, a fantastic way of exploring the gorges, head north on the Route des Crêtes from Moustiers to Castellane via La Palud or Rougon, or south along the Corniche Sublime, from Aiguines to Soleils, via Trigance and its fortified castle, now a hotel and restaurant. Set clinging to the rock face, the region’s many ancient little hilltop villages, such as Moustiers Sainte-Marie, have a host of stories to tell.
To the north, the many natural attractions around the canyon include the Verdon valley, Galetas cliff and Sainte-Croix lake situated to its extreme West and a little further on lies Valensole plateau – one of Provence’s most famous lavender-growing sites.
A MILLION YEARS AGO, HISTORY WAS BORN HERE…
The Verdon Regional Park is unique in Europe thanks to its dizzying views, perched sentinel villages and thrilling sports, and dates back to the Quaternary Period when the Alps first arose. This protected regional park offers a remarkable educational foray into the region’s prehistoric era at the Musée de la Préhistoire [Museum of Prehistory] in Quinson, designed by the architect Lord Norman Foster. Homo sapiens appeared in Provence a million years ago during the Stone Age.
The Verdon’s succession of tranquil, turquoise lakes, stretching out between Valensole plateau and the mountains, offer up a taste of pure happiness. Mother nature has definitely spoilt this region!
A little further to the west near the lower gorges lies Quinson and its Prehistory Museum, retracing the history of human presence in the region thanks to various digs performed in the last 50 years around its caves. Just nearby is Esparron-sur-Verdon, the last lake along the canyon.
On the southern side of the gorges, the Haute-Provence Alps give way to the Var region with a gentle relief and drier Mediterranean vegetation instilled with the scents of wild herbs…
The pleasures of Provence simply never end!