When you think of France, do you simply think of Paris? What about the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera)? Or fields of lavender in Provence? But have you heard of Gorges du Verdon in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence?
In plain English, this is the Verdon Gorge, known for the green coloring of the river that runs through it. It’s also called the Grand Canyon of Europe. However, it is much more fertile and also much smaller than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It’s a different kind of beauty and I love it! When you go in the fall after the tour busses have stopped running and the autumn leaves are in peak season, you feel like you’re in a different era. Time transcends you.
Unlike other popular outdoor destinations in Europe, Verdon Gorge is lesser known and less focused on tourists, so hostels are hard to come by. So, we ended up renting an AirBnB apartment in Riez for the group. To save money, we cooked our own food and only ate out when we were driving back to return the rental car in Aix-En-Provence.
The highlight of the Verdon Gorge trip was hands-down L’imbut Trail. Its name means narrow, which is quite accurate. Although this is regarded as a difficult trail, my friends made it seem easy. It’s hard to not have fun when you’re in a gorgeous gorge! We parked upstream and followed the trail downstream. The trail takes you down 1100 ft to the river quite steeply until you’re next to the river bed. Many switchbacks and stairs line their way up for an easy path, but it still reminds you to watch your step.
From there, we walked along the river, admiring the baby blue color and changing fall leaves. Going at our leisurely pace, the hike was not strenuous. The gentle breeze in the canyon was refreshing and the warmth of the sun was relaxing when we took a lunch break. We explored some of the large boulders in the river and found a bridge that led to another hiking trail. The river-side trail would go in and out of trees, then cut into rock when the shoreline disappeared. This made for an awesome experience, to be surrounded by the rock and holding onto the railings to prevent falling off the edge. But, to be clear, we were constantly mesmerized by this little gorge. Ever step was light and easy, every sight was beauty.
Around 2 miles, the trail started to head back up to the top of the gorge. What a short trail! The climb back up seemed more daunting than the downhill hike. We were all glad we hadn’t taken the trail the opposite direction. Going up, there was more exposure and the vertical gain was steeper. But another 1000 feet up found ourselves back on the main road. We proceeded to walk along the road back to our cars, always looking back down at where we had started in the bottom of the canyon. Amazing where your feet can take you!
Lac de Sainte-Croix
As a post-hike reward, we paddled on kayaks in the lake (Lac De Sainte-Croix) where the Verdon River feeds into. We had a petty fight over who would get the last 2 single kayaks, but we played the seniority card. From the mouth of the lake, you can paddle upstream into the river. As you enter, looming canyon walls appear – no way out except to follow the river. About 2.5 miles in, you hit faster flowing water, so its near impossible to paddle further with the kayaks we rented. So, we started to let the water float us back out to the lake and enjoy the late afternoon sun.
For an evening stroll, there are plenty of beaches to walk along. We chose Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. It has a rocky beach, though more like smooth pebbles. And from the beach, we took side streets through the town above. There was some sort of peace and tranquility as we wandered, enjoying the old stone houses and the cheerful laughter of restaurant guests.
We had rented cars by the train station in Aix-En-Provence, so it would be a missed opportunity to not visit the famous city. We strolled along the streets and looked at street markets. I loved the farmers market with all the fresh and colorful produce. We definitely need more of this in the US. And like any french city or town, good food was abundant. From cafes to pizza shops to fancy sit-down restaurants, you really cannot go wrong.
Provence is known for its lavender fields in the summer, where the purple flower is bountiful. And in nearby Marseille, soap is the famous commodity. Both of which you can readily find in the city of Aix-En-Provence, situated between these other two places. What a beautiful country, France!