The Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon or Grand canyon du Verdon), in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence in France, is a river canyon reputed to be one of Europe's most beautiful and biggest. It is about 25 kilometres long and up to 700 metres deep, formed by the Verdon River. The most impressive views are between the towns of Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, where the river cuts a ravine up to 700 metres down through the limestone rocks.
What I experienced here
The Gorges du Verdon is one of Europe's great natural wonders. Formed where the blue-green Verdon river cuts a deep swathe through the high limestone plateau of Haute Provence. It is over 25 km long and in places over 900 metres deep, and the great cliffs attract many rock climbers. As the world's second largest canyon, it may not compete with the Grand Canyon, Arizona, but it is still the largest canyon in Europe. The Verdon river is named after it's unusual colour, which on a sunny day shines like a beautiful turquoise gem. Verdon is derived from the French word for green.
Although it's smaller than Arizona's Grand Canyon, the Gorges du Verdon is deep, compact, wild and beautiful. This is an excellent place for walking, bird watching or just enjoying the weather and scenery. There are walks and hikes along the river's edge, alongside mountains and some taking in villages or viewing points. There is the most awe-inspiring scenery and a wealth of wildlife and a wide variety of wildflowers and plants to be seen.
Gorges du Verdon is a favourite destination for rock climbers, since it includes more than 1,500 climbing routes on good limestone rock. This is one of France’s top tourist attractions and is also a favoured destination for fishermen, for fly fishing. Hiking, Canoeing, paragliding, rafting, climbing and of course Canyoning are some of the numerous sports practiced in the region.
I drove north from Grasse for about an hour which brought me through some sharp hair pin bends and gradually climbed to about 1000 metres above sea level before reaching the beautiful town of Castellane. Just outside the town the river Verdon is fast flowing making it ideal for rafting and kayaking, for which this region is popular. I stopped to see the rafts with their 6 or so occupants paddling furiously to avoid rocks and steep drops in the waves, with the coxswain shouting instructions. It felt nice to be on the shore watching rather than paddling. I continued on into the town when the amazing sight of the huge rock that stood arrogantly up above the town some 200 metres, with a church perched precariously on the top overlooking the town. The church is called Notre Dame de roc. Even standing at the bottom looking up made me feel dizzy, just as much as if I was on the top rather than at the bottom. The rock was an amazing geology artefact displaying amazing sedimentary strata that were presumably carved out by erosion by the ancient rivers. The vertical twisting of some of the strata seemed to show buckling due to tectonic compressions. Some of the strata were almost aligned vertically showing the extent of the buckling.
I still had a long distance to travel along the routes des Crete so I continued on along the D952, D955, D90 and then the D71. The hair pin turns and gradients were tortuous, death defying motorcyclists over took me on the most dangerous of bends, if only their mothers knew! Then all of a sudden I turned a bend and there was the most amazing site! I pulled in to the lay-by and went to the viewing area called Les Mesculins, the gorge dropped some 200 metres into a small river that still flowed at the bottom. The sedimentary rock displayed pretty green vegetation growing along its strata all the way down with huge glimpses of the limestone in between which had colours caused by mineral impurities ranging from browns to whites making the whole scene a complex but beautiful painting of nature.
I continued on to Pont de l'artuby which was only few more minutes away. This bridge is an arched bridge sitting across the gorges as a testament to human supremacy over geology, matching clean concrete lines with the rugged natural stone of the gorges.