No visit to Haute Provence would be complete without a trip to see the Gorges du Verdon (www.lesgorgesduverdon.fr). This spectacular limestone ravine measures up to 700m (2,300 ft.) deep in some parts. Nicknamed the “God of the Green Waters,” the River Verdon that runs through the canyon is known for its emerald hue, which it gets from its high fluorine content. Three main tributaries (the Jabron, Artuby, and Colostre) join to form the canyon’s rapid waters, although five dams forming five retention lakes have tamed its tempestuousness over the years.
The Gorges du Verdon form the largest canyon in Europe and the second largest in the world, after America’s Grand Canyon. Straddling the border between the Var and the Alpes de Haute-Provence, these hollowed-out limestone gorges meander for 21km (13 miles) from Pont de Soleils to Pont du Galetas. From Pont de Galetas, you’ll see pedalos and canoes floating from the watersports haven of Lac de Sainte-Croix towards the gorges’ mouth. Vertiginous roads wind along both rims of the canyon; among the best viewpoints to stretch your legs and take a drink are at Balcons de la Mescla on the southern rim or Point Sublime on the northern rim. Between Rougon and Castellane, the road dips down to the gorges—ideal for stopping to dip your toes into the ice-cold rapids. The canyon enjoys an Alpine climate, so you’ll need a sweater for cooler summer nights.
Information about how best to take advantage of the region’s natural beauty and sporting options, as well as information on events, is available from the tourist offices in Castellane and Moustiers Sainte-Marie.
High up in the Verdon valley, Castellane is the region’s top spot for active visitors. The town is also a great base for gathering information and tips about the wider Parc Naturel Régional de Verdon. Unsurprisingly, Castellane’s streets are crammed with shops selling outdoor clothing and equipment, from kayaks to inflatable rafts, including L’Échoppe). It’s a cheerful, cosmopolitan place in summer, and there are lots of pleasant campsites nearby, including Camping Les Collines de Castellane, many of them with lakeside or riverside locations.
Lac de Sainte Croix
The turquoise expanse of Lac de Sainte Croix is an inland sea that was created by damming the River Verdon in 1974. Today it’s France’s third-largest lake, its petite beaches splashed by emerald waves. On a hot summer’s day, Lac de Sainte Croix is best explored by water. Le Petit Port, Plage de la Fontaine, Sainte Croix du Verdon (www.lepetitport04.com; tel. 04-92-73-08-77), rents pedalos (from 14€/hr.) and small boats (from 20€/hr.).
Moustiers Sainte Marie
High above the Lac de Sainte Croix, Moustiers is one of the prettiest villages in Haute Provence, with a babbling brook running through its center and views from the cliff-top church of Notre Dame. Unfortunately—partly due to the popularity of super-chef Alain Ducasse’s Bastide de Moustiers—it’s far from a secret. In summer its cafés and restaurants can be packed, although the village is still lovely enough to make a well-timed visit worthwhile. For unique souvenirs, be sure to peruse the dozen or so ateliers that create Moustiers’ exquisite ceramics.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.