Sometimes it’s nice to leave the city and sea behind and escape to the mountains for a bit of R&R. When researching where to get away for the weekend, we kept coming across gorgeous photos of Les Gorges du Verdon in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region of France. Factor in that I could also check off a bucket list item – visiting the lavender fields, we jumped at the opportunity for a trip in mid-June.
The Gorges du Verdon or Verdon Gorge is about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) long and up to 700 meters (2296.59 feet) deep. At the end of the canyon, the Verdon River flows into the man-made lake, the Lac de Sainte-Croix. The gorgeous turquoise-green color just begs you to take a dip in its clear waters.
Visitors can take a leisurely drive around the rim of the Verdon Gorge, hike, rent kayaks & even rock climb the massive limestone walls. It’s a nature lovers dream trip just a couple of hours from the French Riviera.
Here is a look at our itinerary plus a few tips to make your trip a success.
Weekend at the Gorges du Verdon
We left Nice early in the morning and drove the Northern side of the Gorge. Driving the Verdon Gorge in a counterclockwise route puts the car on the mountainside of the road. With the narrow roads and small barriers on the cliff side, it made me feel safer to be on the landside.
Be extra vigilant during the drive. Many drivers coming the opposite way, did not want to share the road! There may also be rocks of various sizes on the pavement.
From Nice to the start of the Gorges du Verdon takes about about 1 hour 40 minutes. This drive took us through Grasse which could be a nice place to stop if you haven’t already visited the village. A majority of this leg of the trip is along Route Napoléon. The Route Napoléon is the route taken by Napoléon on his return from Elba in 1815. This scenic drive is a must to really appreciate the rugged French landscape. You could take the freeway but the scenic drive is part of the appeal.We wanted something to look at other than the taillights of other cars flying by the entire trip!
We stopped for our midday meal about 5 minutes after Castellane, at the first pull off. We walked down a smaller road and over a bridge to the river. It was a peaceful place to eat our picnic lunch and let the kids dip their toes in the river. Even though the water here was freezing, a local was swimming nearby. Castellane is a cute village, so adding time to your trip to explore or eat lunch at a restaurant here is worthwhile.
To see some of the deepest parts of the Verdon Gorge, we drove the loop (D23), which is right off D952. A hotel is next to the start of D23, so keep an eye on the map as you get close. We missed the road and had to turn around. This loop takes about 45 minutes to drive without stops. You will loop back around to D952 to continue driving along the Gorge.
If you’re prone to car sickness, the loop may not be your best option. The drive is pretty curvy , and the loop is even more so and on a bumpier road.
I highly recommend taking the extra time to take the loop as you will be driving some of the highest points of the Gorge. We stopped numerous times to see the Gorges du Verdon and take photos. Our travel time on the loop with stops was approximately 1 hour.
We rented a house through Airbnb just outside of the village of Riez (about 20 minutes from the lake). After living in an apartment in Nice, we wanted the kids to have the opportunity to run in a yard and swim if possible. We had 3 families staying together with a total of 7 children, so a house rental was more practical than renting apartments in the village. This rental also had the pool we were looking for, so we had a houseful of water babies all weekend. And donkeys!
On our next visit, I’d love to stay in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie village. Another great option to stay the night is Aiguines.
Can’t see the video? Click HERE to see our Day 1 video:
Once everyone was up and moving, we drove to Valensole (about 15 minutes from Riez) to see the lavender fields. Once we made our way through the village, it was easy to spot the them.
I found this site to help locate lavender fields all over Provence.
The weather in general had been a bit chilly and rainy, so we were 2 weeks too early to see the fields in full bloom according to locals. Nevertheless, seeing the fields was amazing and now I have an excuse to go back next year 🙂
Just driving around the area, you could smell the sweet scent of lavender. We stopped in a little shop at one of the fields to purchase lavender oil, lavender sachets, lavender honey and honey candies the kids fell in love with. Many places also make olive oil. It was a great place to grab some gifts.
When I first heard of lavender honey, I though there was lavender mixed in with the honey. But pure lavender honey is produced by bees only pollinating the lavender fields. This richly flavored honey is said to be some of the best in the world.
After touring the lavender fields, we made our way to Lac de Sainte-Croix for swimming, kayaking and paddle boating. There are several spots along the lake to rent equipment for water sports. It cost 15€ per hour to rent a paddle boat and 10€ per hour to rent a 2-person kayak. While I found the rates a bit high, the kids had an absolute blast.
We packed sandwiches to eat as we lounged lakeside and soaked up the sun. We realized after arriving that we forgot the rosé. Living in France so long, we couldn’t believe we forgot to pack the wine! Everyone else around us was have a merry old time, though!
There were also a lot of people jumping off the cliffs into the lake. While many people made the leap without mishap, a man near us did get injured. We think he did something to his shoulder. There was a lot of moaning and things being said in the French that I didn’t understand. While we felt terrible he was hurt, we used it as a lesson for the kids. It seemed to take a long time for the ambulance to arrive, so be extra careful during your time at the lake.
After spending the entire afternoon by the water, we stopped for more pictures of the lake then headed back to the rental while our friends went to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. They were having a market with local artisans there on Sunday, and now I wish we would have gone as well. According to the tourism website, the Marché Provençal is also scheduled every Friday morning.
Can’t see the video? Click HERE to see our Day 2 video:
Our final day was a whirlwind of getting 3 families out of the house by 10am. There was a flurry of activity as everyone cleared out their belongings and hit the road. Since we didn’t visit Moustiers-Sainte-Marie the day before, we made this our first stop of the day.
I fell in love with the village immediately. The colorful shops filled with lavender and ceramics. The quaint cafés and restaurants all called my name. I would have enjoyed spending a night or two there. For our visit, we just walked part of the village, purchased olives from one of the shops, then jumped back in the car to continue our drive home. If we had more time, I would have liked to climb up to the Notre Dame de Beauvoir as well.
Our route back to Nice took us around the Lac de Sainte-Croix for more spectacular views. The Southside of the Verdon Gorge takes you through a few tunnels. One was long enough that holes were cut in the side of the tunnel to let in light. Part of the roads were pretty narrow with tight turns. I mumbled expletives under my breath when people wanted to cut over to our side of the road before we had vacated it!
The village of Aiguines along the route back to Nice is a great place to visit if you have time. We were on a time crunch getting back to return the car, so we didn’t get a chance to stop for long.
We arrived home about 5 hours after leaving the rental house. Derrick dropped us just outside of the Old Town and left to return our rental car. After unpacking, we all crashed for the rest of the day 🙂
Can’t see the video? Click HERE to see our Day 3 video:
Visiting the Gorges du Verdon, stimulates all your senses. The smell of lavender and fresh pine in the air, the quiet stillness of the evening, the indescribable blue of the lake, and the feel of smooth limestone on the cliffs. It’s one of my top recommended destinations in the South of France.
Our route from Nice:
- We drove along the Promenade des Anglais toward A8 then to D6185 in the direction of Grasse. We spent 3€ at the toll.
- Merge onto D6085/Route Napoléon toward Castellane. The drive along Route Napoleon is approximately 1 hour.
- Around Castellane is the start of the Gorge. Drive along D952 for the Northern Route of the Gorges du Verdon.
- Jump off D952 to drive the D23 loop. Turn left after the loop to continue on D952 toward Riez.
Our route to Nice:
- Leaving Riez we drove along D952 to D957.
- Then to D19 which ties into D71 at Aiguines for the Southside of the Gorges du Verdon.
- We took D955 to D54 to A8 which pretty much follows the coast on the freeway back to Nice. We spent 4.50€ and 3€ at the tolls. The first toll requires you to grab a ticket then pay the 4.50€ at the next stop.
Our Gorges du Verdon Map:
Approximate driving times:
- From Nice to the start of the Gorges du Verdon including Route Napoleon (approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes)
- From the Start of the Gorges du Verdon to Riez along D952 (approximately 1 hour, 15 minutes)
- Taking the D23 Loop off D952 (add approximately 45 minutes)
- From Riez to the end of the Gorges du Verdon along D71 (approximately 1 hour, 15 minutes)
- From end of D71 to Nice (approximately 1 hour, 35 minutes)
You can see more information about the Gorges du Verdon route in this map.
Make sure to pack…..
- Bug spray – flies were more of a problem than mosquitos in mid-June, but they will be coming.
- Collapsible cooler – for all those picnic lunches
- Swim suit, towel & flip flops plus goggles if traveling with kids
- Hiking boots – if you’ll be exploring the trails
- Car adaptor – to keep your phone charged in the car. We use Pocket Earth PRO Offline Maps iPhone app for navigating.
Have you been to the Gorges du Verdon? Leave a comment and let us know what you did in the area.
Hi there, Thank you for your article on Verdon Gorges. We live in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (near the lake) and are developping in 2020 a new activity: packraft. Apackraft weight 7 pounds and fits into a small backbag. Once you get to the river, you inflate it and the adventure starts!
With a packraft, you can combine hiking and river rafting. Indeed in the Verdon, it allows you to explore (with a guide) sections of the Grand Canyon that are impossible with standard rafts. If you feel like trying, just ontact us and we’ll invite you for a try! You will also find photos on our website.
Heading there in a few weeks time. Initially planed as a stop over on route to Monaco. However, after seeing the videos/photos will be spending a day exploring.
Dana Zeliff says
I think you’ll really enjoy it. We like Monaco but the Gorge is gorgeous!
Wow such a detailed description.. Thank you so much. We are visiting there this Monday ❤
Dana Zeliff says
Have fun! It’s gorgeous~!
Daisy - DaisLikeThese says
We spent a week there two years ago and absolutely loved it!
We hired a little boat and spent the day discovering little secluded beaches, it was amazing!
Dana Zeliff says
Hiring a boat is a great idea! I’d love to do that next time. We just hired the small paddle boats on our recent visit.