Did I plan this trip after seeing an Instagram post by Travel & Leisure? Maybe. Was it worth it? Absolutely! A visit to the Gorges du Verdon or the Verdon Gorge aka the Grand Canyon of France is stunning, beautiful, and well worth the winding cliff drives. While you can shrink this trip into a day or even just a few hours, why would you when there is so much beauty to explore? Here’s how I spent my two days at the Gorges du Verdon.
Day 1: Exploring Gorges du Verdon
I started my journey in Provence visiting little towns of Lacoste, Gordes, Rousillion and Saignon before heading to Gorges du Verdon. The combination of small village life and breathtaking nature was a beautiful addition to my trip. As I made the 2 hour drove to the Gorges du Verdon, I wound through the Valensole Plateau where fields of lavender and sunflowers grow.
Driving around in late May, I was quite early in the season. I had seen miles of lavender fields all through Provence but nothing was blooming. However when I got to Valensole, I ran into a few stray lavender fields that were SOMEHOW miraculously blooming weeks ahead of schedule. Typical lavender blooms late June through July with harvesting in August. I was not expecting lavender! I had even taken some sad pictures in some empty lavender fields–so I was beyond ecstatic to find some lavender!
If anyone should want to visit this region, Valensole is definitely the place to go for lavender. To be honest, most of Provence grows lavender and it’s not that hard to pull over onto the side of the road (literally any road) and take a picture with a field, but a large concentration of lavender fields are located in Valensole. It’s the perfect road trip stop on your way to the Gorges du Verdon!
One of the main things that people do in the Gorges du Verdon is drive around it. The drive is 90 km long and takes about 2 hours if you don’t stop. But trust me, you’re going to want to stop. I went in late May during the week, so there was fairly few cars around. I can imagine that the drive gets PACKED as every European heads on holiday for the entire month of August. Thus my advice would be to go on an off-day or wake up super early and do it. To navigate, I had just plugged some key points into my Google Map and navigated towards them. The road is pretty self-explanatory. Once you get the hang of the roundabout etiquette, offline Google Maps was easy to navigate around. Key points I had keyed in included: Pont du Galetas, Rougon, Trigance, and Pont Sainte-Croix.
About every few hundred meters there are gravel overlooks that fit 2-3 cars, in which everyone is taking pictures of the amazing views of Lake St. Croix, the valley, the mountainsides, the river, etc. I would literally take a zillion pictures, get back in my car thinking I had seen everything, and then turn a corner three minutes later just to be mind blown again and pull over. I probably went 10 km/hr the entire drive because I was so awestruck by the views. Also the roads are super windy and I drive slow. BUT STILL.
Driving is pretty crazy around the roads because you’re sharing it with motorcycles, campers and bikers. Yes, BIKERS. Whole hordes of them will pedal around you up and down the mountain. I was afraid my little car wouldn’t make it up some of the hills, meanwhile these bikers were doing it with pure muscle. Think of those CALVES! Bucket list goal for next time?
I broke up the drive a few times by stopping to take a million pictures, but also going for a hike in Gorges du Verdon! Plenty of hiking trails fill the region and I ultimately chose my trail based on recommendations from this site. Starting at the foot of Rougon Village at the Point Sublime overlook (type in “Point Sublime Parking” into Google Maps), I left my car in the large lot and selected which trail I wanted to do. I choose the 8km hike from Rougon to Trigance. The sign said it would take 3.5 hours, it took me about 2 hours. I did hike close to 150 flights of stairs up and down the valley, so it’s definitely not for the weak of heart, but the views and peacefulness of the woods was well worth it.
Many of the trails are very popular so during the summer months expect more people to be out and about. Yellow arrow signs clearly marked the travels. Going through the forest, whenever I thought there was a fork in the road, spray paint indicating “=” for the direction I was supposed to go and “X” for the wrong direction was always there. I hiked alone and walked past a few people, but never was afraid of getting lost.
When I arrived in Trigane, I caught a ride with some Germans going back to Rougon on the scenic drive. Literally everyone is going the same direction as tourists, so it wasn’t really hard to get back to my car. If I was here for more time, I would definitely go back and do more hikes. It would be super easy to backpack for a few hours, grab lunch in a town, continue on the trail, and then spend the night somewhere. This blog outlines what a 3-day hike would be in the Gorges du Verdon.
After the hike, I finished the drive around the Gorges du Verdon and made my way back to my Airbnb for a well needed shower and dinner. Spending the night in an Airbnb (pro tip: go for a “superhost” that’s hosted many people) is a great way to get to know the little towns, speak with locals, and get recommendations. My Airbnb in Saint Martin-de-Brômes was adorable and had 4 baby kittens to play with! I love the cats in France, they’re so friendly and cute. If you want $40 off your Airbnb, sign up here! My host gave me some good ideas on how to plan my next day in Gorges du Verdon based on the time of the year and local recommendations.
Day 2: Villages and Lake St. Croix
Based on the recommendation of my Airbnb host, I headed out to Moustiers-Sainte Marie for the morning. Renowned for their handmade and handpainted china, the town is nestled on the mountainside in the middle of the Gorges du Verdon park. I parked my car at the foot of the hill and walked up to the city center. Snacking on a crepe with lavender and honey à emporter (to go), I walked around the town. I stopped in a few of the china shops–at first pass they all seem to sell the same thing–but then ultimately got engaged in conversation with a woman at Bondil a Moustiers.
She was very chatty and knowledgeable about the china, happy to speak to me in English and tell me the region’s story. In addition to owning a store adorned with beautiful china that’s literally works of art, she displayed newspaper articles, postcards, and printouts of famous locations around the world that are connected to the history of the china. Examples included Marie Antoinette’s love for hot air balloons, the garden of Versailles that inspired different china plates, Roman fountains that represent the sun and the earth, etc.
I loved talking with her and left with a really got a good feel for the town. I ultimately bought a small piece of china with the traditional blue floral pattern that I could easily transport home. The popular shape is an interlocked circle and square which many different cultures depict in their art. After wrapping my plate up, I headed to my final stop in the Gorges du Verdon–and possibly my most favorite!
Lake St. Croix
The sparkling turqouise water blinded me from the second I saw pictures of Lake St. Croix and even more so when I took the turn on the mountain drive. I knew I was going to go swimming there. For a secluded spot on the shore, a town rep recommended I go to Cadeno. (Type in “Ecole de voile La Cadeno” into Google Maps). It was off the mountain drive (and required some driving on gravel to the get to the bottom, but the views and calmness of the area was wonderful. Definitely where the locals go, I was one of the few people that didn’t speak French. I found a spot among the rocks and read for a few hours. The water in late May was a bit chilly, but refreshing for the strong sun and heat.
At the bottom of the hill, a small hut offered the option to rent kayaks, catamarans, and paddle boards starting at €10 per hour. I was a bit further away from the canyon cliffs though, so I opted not to. If I return (trying to convince my boyfriend that it’s totally worth it!!!), I’d stop at the Pont du Galetas bridge to rent a boat. The Pont du Galetas bridge is somewhat instafamous because you can boat into the canyon across the turquoise blue waters. Absolutely stunning! Again, go early in the day or during the off season, because as the summer booms, those boats rent quickly!
Visiting the Gorges du Verdon, Lake St. Croix and the many small villages was an amazing way to round out my Provence trip. After the day in the sun, I headed back to Marseilles and caught a train back to Paris. Wondering what I’m wearing? Shop my looks here on Amazon! For real time updates while in France, follow my Instagram at @anastasiachansen for some hilarious stories and adventures.