For those spending autumn on the Cote d’Azur, one of the most spectacular day trips is undoubtedly a visit to the Gorges du Verdon. It’s a destination within easy reach of the coastal resorts on a Monaco, Nice or Saint-Tropez helicopter transfer with Skycam.
The breath-taking canyon at Verdon was formed by the river of the same name, so-called for its stunning turquoise-green colour. An incredible 25 kilometres in length, at some points the gorge reaches depths of 700 metres. Between the towns of Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, the river has cut a spectacular ravine into the limestone. Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon is a man-made lake at the end of the canyon that is popular with day trippers.
The lake offers a haven for tourists but is dramatically more peaceful outside the peak summer months.
To experience the best of the Verdon, it is possible to rent kayaks, pedalos or electric boats until late in the year. You’ll travel through the narrow gorges and take a dip in the cool, turquoise water. Rambling paths make it possible to hike the surrounding areas of natural beauty as the temperatures drop. There are many delightful spots to stop to rest and enjoy the view, while for those of a more adventurous spirit, the steep limestone walls offer a variety of 1,500 different, technically challenging, rock-climbing routes.
Kayaking or boating into the lower part of the gorge is a popular activity, and kayaks and other types of craft can be hired at the top end of the Lac de Sainte Croix, at boat-hire outlets near the bridge.
Rafting is not practised in the Gorges du Verdon itself, but further up the valley, from the small town of Castellane, where there a couple of companies providing rafting trips down the river rapids.
For those looking for a more relaxing way to spend the day, the Lac de Sainte-Croix is full of many fish species, including brown trout, tench, barbel and roach, as well as the large carp and pike. Position yourself by the shore, or fish from a boat on the lake; it is reputed that a catch can often exceed ten kilos!
Vultures were reintroduced into the Gorges du Verdon in 1999. Today Griffon vultures and black vultures are among the largest birds that can be seen in the Gorges du Verdon; but there are also eagles and other large birds of prey. The vertiginous crags of the gorge provide perfect nesting areas for these large raptors.
To the north, the picturesque village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is built on platform terraces a hundred or so metres up the side of a limestone cliff, when the sun strikes the south-facing cliff at twilight, a diffuse pink light glows across the village.
If you chose not to picnic beside the lake, the town is home to Alain Ducasse’s Michelin-starred La Bastide de Moustier and is the perfect place to stop for lunch or dinner at the end of a busy day. The wonderful Provençal-style cuisine is further enhanced by the fact that much of the ingredients are grown on-site, in the restaurant’s own vegetable garden.
At the other end of the gorge is the medieval village of Castellane, which is dominated by a 184-metre rock on which a chapel perches. The neighbouring village of La Garde is home of the Auberge du Teillon, another recommended lunch destination.
At the end of a long, busy, but rewarding day in this spectacular place, you can be swiftly whisked back to Monaco, Nice or St Tropez by helicopter in a matter of minutes.
The only question is, with so much to see and do in this beautiful place, will one day really be enough?