The River Verdon is a spectacular Alpine river that rises in the Southern Alps on the magnificent slopes of La Tete de la Sestriere ,some 20 kilometres south west of Barcelonette, south of Pra-Loup. In the beautiful Alpine region where the infamous German pilot of the ill fated ‘German Wings’ owned budget airliner deliberately flew into a remote mountainside in recent times..
What starts out as a snow melt torrent becomes a mighty river after leaving Castellane on the Route Napoleon, (where the Emperor Napoleon paused en route to Grenoble and Paris 1815 prior to being defeated at Waterloo) below the Lac de Castillon created behind the Barrage de Castillon.
Near the remote habitation Blaron below Mount Mandaron overlooking the western aspect of Lac Castillon that the ‘Famille Vaurnet’ the wife and daughter of the French sunglasses tycoon) along with their fellow cult followers were all famously murdered here at their ‘quasi religious’ commune during the1970’s where weird giant sculptures adorn the grounds to this day.
Canyon du Verdon ‘Northern Side’
Following the D952 out of Castellane beside the white water, treacherous and unpredictable River Verdon. The only access to the Southern aspect of the Canyon du Verdon after leaving Castellan on the Northern Side is at Pont du Soliels which carries the D955 to Comps-sur-Artuby from where the Route D71 serves the Southern Aspect of the canyon.
N.B. It is personal preference, that the most scenic route to follow when exploring the canyon is to follow the D952 down the canyon and the Route D71 up the canyon for the most spectacular views. However, should fellow explorers wish to take the clockwise Southern route around the canyon, then they should take the Route D102 out of Castellane southward of the River Verdon through remote country to St. Thyrse and onto Jabron to join the Route D955 towards Trigance, then cut across country on the beautiful, remote and winding Route D90 to join the Route D71 to enter the canyon over the famous suspension bridge, the Pont de L’ Artuby.
At first the road winds along the bottom of the Vallee du Verdon for some 12 kilometres before entering the greatest canyon in Western Europe at Clue de Karejuan at the confluence of the River Verdon and River Jabron. At which location the Pont du Carejuan spans a wide river bed at this point of entry into the canyon below Castellane. The bridge provides pedestrian access to stunning canyon and Alpine walks with a picturesque path up the River Jabron Valley below a medieval hilltop fortress with a drawbridge entrance over a rocky ravine on the summit, now a hotel, within this ancient Provencal bastide, “Chateau de Trigance”:http://www.chateau-de-trigance.fr that has 10 rooms available on a ‘demi-pension tarif’ making it arguably the best value of any venue from which to explore the Canyon du Verdon.
The Alpine trees here were a virtual rainbow of late Summer early Autumnal colours with a predominance of varying reds, golds, yellows and greens. Parking just below the bridge some 20 metres above the river below, we gathered our picnic together, followed a steep path to the limestone boulder strewn border of the dry expanse of river bed and picnicked upon a water sculpted limestone outcrop beside what had now become a fast flowing torrent of white n’ green mountain snow melt water.
After the Pont du Carejuan, the D952 follows the bottom of the canyon along a road that runs alarmingly under huge overhangs of rock through which cascades of water fall onto the highway, where the highway engineers have blasted an open sided passageway through the undercliff with signs warning motorists of the danger from falling rocks. Not a style of road many drivers from the United Kingdom would ever find themselves upon in Europe. The River Verdon rushes headlong down the canyon down spectacular waterfalls into large rock pools, of which one pool is the length of five or six tennis courts with a rocky islet in the middle, where we sometimes scramble down the rocky riverside to bathe. Whilst being wary of any sign of the river level rising from the opening of sluices at the Barrage de Castillon that can occur without any formal warning. So be warned, if you decide to bathe here, as the mountain water is also refreshingly cool.
Emerging from the undercliff road section the road climbs gently through a seemingly unending series of bends whilst affording glorious views of the River Verdon hundreds of metres below where in the distance the beautiful Roman Pont du Losset bridge spans the river just upriver from Point Sublime which can be reached by footpath commencing below this location. The road runs through a narrow dark rock road tunnel. Emerging at the other side a side road on the left descends steeply below this point to a viewing ‘belvedere’ adjacent to which there is parking. A steep footpath leads down to a timber and stainless steel aerial walkway carrying the path across to enable serious walkers and rock climbers to follow the Sentier Martel GR4 canyon path through tunnels, up and down steel and wrought iron ladders, along the river bank for some 8-10 kilometres where the path climbs vertiginously out of the canyon by Chalet Martel up onto the Route de Cretes on Route D23.
The Point Sublime & Couloir de Samson
One of if not the most awesome vantage point within the entire canyon with the most spellbinding views into the vast canyon corridor of the Couloir de Samson (photo illustration 1) between 2000 ft high vertical cliffs where the River Verdon resembles strip of natural coloured silk below, where Eagles can usually be seen soaring on the thermals whilst sometimes even teaching their young to hunt their prey. If there is anywhere a camera is essential to record the view, then this is it.
Rougon / Route D17 from Pointe Sublime
A beautiful, remote, unspoilt mountainside village above Pointe Sublime boasting Le Chateau de Rougon complimented by a beautifully recently restored 17th cnty Petit Bastide which has been most sympathetically converted into a house on three floors with a spiral staircase and an open viewing terrace with a terracotta an tile roofed loggia, all standing on the ancient mule track trade route to Moustieres Sainte Marie, the centre of excellence for Faience pottery for centuries as it still is to this day that brought wealth to Rougon over the centuries, through Rougon commanding the right of passage through this pass in the mountains (see photo illustration 2).
La Palud / Route des Cretes D23 ( 15 Kilometre circular scenic canyon route )
The D952 offers a remarkable detour along the legendary D23 Routes des Cretes which climbs seemingly endlessly ever upwards through lacets under the Barre de L’Escalles on the north eastern extremity of which are some of the finest free climbing locations in Europe. Where the international stars of this vertigo inducing location congregate throughout the less inclement months of the year to scale the perpendicular cliffs whilst eagles soar above and below them.
Route des Cretes / Advice to motorists
The Route des Cretes road is during periods of ice and snow closed to traffic with a metal gate locked across the route. However, in Spring, Summer and Autumn this amazing road is a sheer joy with regard to the awesome views it affords for mile upon mile, 15 km in all. Do not continue onward from the climbing cliffs mentioned, unless you are an experienced mountain driver, as the road is not for the feint hearted nor inexperienced, you have been warned! Two competitors in a priceless classic ‘Birdcage’ Maserati in the Tour de France one year skidded on the gravel over the edge of the Route des Cretes and were only saved from certain death by their car landing in the branches of a sturdy Alpine Pine, from where both they and ultimately their vehicle were all recovered with minimal injury or damage to the car.
The finest views of the Southern Aspect of the canyon are of course from the Route des Cretes above the Chalet Martel, from which point the astonishing series of road rock tunnels blasted through the canyon walls, some with open apertures blasted out of the rock to allow light into some of these tunnels.
The D23 forms a giant circular route and then rejoins the D952 at La Palud and runs on along the canyon cliffs past the Col de Ayen to the Belvedere Mayreste where wonderful views of the canyon are worth pausing to enjoy. The road climbs tortuously along canyon walls underneath high mountainsides above that often run into the clouds, although we were fortunate to enjoy brilliant sunshine, blue skies and summer temperatures.
Col de L’ Olivier & Le Galetas Belvedere
After passing below the Col de Olivier, the road clings to the last section of the Canyon du Verdon cliffside walls which in the sunlight are a glorious mixture of shades of white, pink and grey which are quite beautiful in sunlight. At Galetas there sre fixed stainless steel eyes fixed into the rock beside the road on the cliff edge for the use of those experienced in abseiling. We were fortunate and privileged to be able to watch a brilliant young couple, who quickly ran rope through this fixed facility, followed by the man throwing some lengthy section of climbing rope down into the depths of the canyon below after which he set up and attached his abseil harness, then walked of the cliff edge, bouncing down the canyon wall to a ledge some 100 ft below, from where he called out to his glamorous climbing companion to follow him down which she did with equal alacrity. Simply amazing to watch.
Moustiers – Sainte- Marie
The most famous centre for superlative Faience in France for centuries and still today.
We spent two nights here, eating well in local bistros whilst staying at the charming, although expensive “Bastide de Moustiers”:http://www.bastide-moustiers.com where the rooms and food are stunning.
Canyon du Verdon
Explored by Electric Launch
We hired a superb brand new electric launch on the Lac St. Croix and motored up into the Canyon du Verdon underneath 2,000 foot high almost vertical canyon walls full of caves and ravines of great natural beauty millions of years old. One of the most spectacular and beautiful boat trips we have ever experienced. We took an excellent pic and a good bottle of wine with us which only added to a magnificent and wonderfully romantic and uniquely memorable experience of a lifetime.
Canyon du Verdon Southern Aspect
Route D71 Aiguines to Comps- sur- Artuby
This has been fully described in previously in one of my previous reviews as can be referenced from my list of previous reviews on travelling through France.
Written, researched and illustrated by John Hayden Halsey.