Gorges du Verdon – An Active Holiday Guide
Activity Holidays in the Gorges du Verdon
The Gorges du Verdon has a well-earned reputation as a hot ticket destination for outdoor sports enthusiasts the world over. Paragliding, rock climbing, slacklining, mountain biking, rafting, kayaking… You name it, you can do it in Verdon.
Straddling Haute Provence and Var in the south of France, the Gorges du Verdon is a dramatically beautiful area mixing the best of Alpine and Mediterranean terrain. Its centrepiece is a 21 km long and 700 m deep canyon carved by the turquoise-green Verdon river. The cliffs along the river’s banks loom imposingly over the water offering a sensational backdrop for river runners, and the pocketed limestone rock harbours thousands of routes for rock climbers.
The Gorges du Verdon may be the highlight of a visit to the area, but nearby lakes Chaudanne, Castillon and Lac de Sainte-Croix offer less extreme activities. Hire a canoe or pedalo, swim in crystal clear waters that reach 27 degrees in summer, or hike the many trails through the forest along the water’s edge.
If you’ve had a tough few days exerting yourself, a visit to the old Roman town of Gréoux-les-bains with its thermal baths and mineral hot springs is highly recommended.
Getting to the Gorges du Verdon
Travel inland 100 km from the Mediterranean coast, roughly 150 kilometres north-east of Marseille, and you’ll be struck by an imposing landscape dotted with ancient provencal villages – including pretty Moustiers-Sainte-Marie at the western edge of the canyon, and the activity centre of Castellane, which stands guard at the gorge’s eastern edge and serves as an ideal base for exploring the area.
A day trip to the Gorges du Verdon is possible if you’re based on the Mediterranean, but if you’re planning to participate in an activity, you’ll need longer than a day. Bear in mind that accommodation, including campsites get booked up in summer, so book ahead if you’re planning to stay overnight. If you’re driving, be prepared for winding roads through mountainous terrain with incredible views. There are frequent parking spots for taking in the views. There are organised day trips and public transport options as well, with regular service in the summer months from Cannes, Grasse, Nice, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille and between the villages that dot the canyon.
Active Holidays in the Gorges du Verdon
We’ve teamed up with the best active holiday companies to help you organise an unforgettable trip to the Gorges du Verdon:
Gorges du Verdon Activities
The Gorges du Verdon region is a lively hub for active holidays and outdoor sports.
The jaw-dropping Gorges du Verdon with its steep limestone crags towering over the turquoise river has some exceptional rock climbing routes. There are more than a thousand climbing routes in the Verdon valley, with something for every skill level from novice climbers who can begin their climb from the valley floor to experts looking for the challenging multi-pitch climbing that begins with abseiling in from the top of the gorge.
Most of the climbing spreads along a nine-mile stretch of south-facing limestone cliffs below the 26-kilometre Route des Cretes (the ridge road that forms an open loop from La Palud north of the gorge).
For expert climbers, the Gorges du Verdon is a globally recognised destination that offers both multi-pitch sports climbing and free-climbing routes.
There are plenty of outfitters and guides based mainly in Castellane, Aiguines or La Palud to get you set up with maps and gear. For stunning views over the Lac de Sainte-Croix, choose routes on the left bank of the Verdon river. La Corditelle, based in Aiguines, can set you up with a guide and gear. To climb the big wall routes further north, head to La Palud where the guys at the Maison des Guides du Verdon will be able to help you out. Autumn is the best season for climbing in the Gorges du Verdon when it’s dry and not too hot.
Rafting, Kayaking and Canoeing
Tandem kayaking near Castellane in the Gorges du Verdon | © Verdon Photo – Ride The Verdon
What better way to see the Gorges than a trip down the Verdon river itself? Think turquoise water, rapids, mind-blowing scenery and huge amounts of fun! The rafting and kayaking on the Verdon river can be split into three distinct sections of water – the Upper Verdon (Haut Verdon), the Middle Verdon (Moyen Verdon) and the Verdon Grand Canyon itself.
The Upper Verdon runs between Allos and Saint-André-les-Alpes and is accessible to river runners only when the water’s high enough, which generally means the spring and autumn. It’s a fabulous descent with much more of a high mountain feel than the Middle Verdon and the rapids can get seriously fun when the water’s pumping. Rafting companies tend to run this section when there’s no release from the dam at Castellane, or when the water level’s excellent.
The mid section is situated between Castellane and the Gorges with 20 km descents possible. River running is possible when they release water from the dam. The rapids are fairly tame along this section but it’s without doubt one of the most beautiful descents in the southern Alps. Ride the emerald green water all the way to the mouth of the canyon. You can ramp up the excitement with a session of hydro-speeding, which is essentially body-boarding down the rapids.
For a more relaxed experience, pedalos and canoes are available to rent at the Lac Sainte-Croix bridge. Alternatively, you can take a guided canoe tour of the prehistoric La Baume Bonne cave on the Verdon near Quinson, or even a moonlight canoe trip through the gentler stretches of the river and its tributaries.
Canyoning and Aqua-Rando
Abseiling into crystal clear water in the Gorges du Verdon | © Couleur Canyon
For a proper adventure in some of the Gorge’s most pristine and unique landscapes, you have to try canyoning. Squeeze into your wetsuit, which will both keep you warm and protect you from scrapes on the rocks, and leap, slide, swim and abseil your way down the canyon. There are so many possible canyoning descents in the Gorges du Verdon, the sport may as well have been invented for the region.
A good introduction to the sport can be had at the Haut Jabron canyon about 15 kilometres from Castellane. Here, the source of the river Jabron and its caves provide an ideal playground for a couple of hours for kids or beginners.
Canyoners with a bit more experience or chutzpah will enjoy exploring sites such as Saint Auban and Riolan where zip-lining and higher leaps and more hours in the water get added to the mix. Transport to the sites, guides, wetsuits and safety gear are provided by a number of companies in the region.
Our canyoning partners offer full-day and half-day canyoning adventures and cater to all abilities and group sizes. Canyoning adventures are staged in magnificent mountain terrain in remote locations. Take a guide, you’ll be safer and you’ll have a lot more fun.
Slacklining and Highlining
Highlining takes slacklining to its most extreme and the Gorges du Verdon is one of Europe’s premier locations for the sport. It involves walking along an inch-wide piece of climbing webbing strung across a gorge and is strictly for hardcore adrenaline junkies only. Verdon was put firmly on the map in 2011 when Seb Montaz-Rosset and his band of Flying Frenchies released their amazing film I Believe I Can Fly, which saw these pioneers in highlining take the sport to a whole new level.
There are designated anchor points set up specifically for highlining along the Route des Crêtes near La Palud, giving you access to spans of 85 m, 160 m high. For advice on safely rigging up a high slackline, check out slack.fr/highline.
The most famous trail for hikers in the Gorges du Verdon region is the 14 km Sentier Martel with trailheads at Point Sublime near the tiny village Rougon or at the Chalet de la Maline near La Palud sur-Verdon (considered the less strenuous of the two routes as it’s a descent). It can take between five and eight hours to complete and there are two dark tunnels en route so be sure to pack a flashlight or headlamp. A bus runs frequently between the two starting points during the summer months and there are local taxis for hiking in the off season.
Other popular (though not easy) hiking trails in the region include the ten-kilometre Sentier Imbut, which runs directly from the Hôtel Grand Canyon in Aiguines to some of the canyon’s quietest sections, and the shady six-kilometre Sentier des Pecheurs.
There are many less strenuous hikes and rambles in the flat areas surrounding the lakes. And, make sure you check out our favourite Gorges du Verdon day hikes.
From mtb routes through the fields of lavender on the Valensole Plateau in June and July to the circuits of Lac Saint-Croix that take in the ancient villages of Sainte Croix, Bauduen and Les Salles sur Verdon, options for mountain biking abound in this region. If you’re looking for pitch and drama, a 100 km circuit of the gorge follows the Route des Cretes (the ridge road). Cycle experts Verdon VTT is based in Moustiers Sainte-Marie and will rent you mountain bikes and gear, arrange supported multi-day tours and even set you up with an electric-powered bike if you want to take it easy.
If you like the idea of a multi-day mountain bike trip, the Trans-Verdon MTB trail is a great option. Beginning in Mézel, ride the 160 km to Gréoux-les-Bains over 3 days via Castellane and Moustiers, taking in a mixture of tracks along the Gorges and high mountain terrain.
Tandem paragliding over the Lac de Castillon | © Aérogliss Parapente
Experience the splendour of the Verdon Gorge from the air! There’s a launch site for paragliding and hang-gliding high up in the hills near Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, but gusty winds and unpredictable air make it dangerous to fly across the actual Gorges.
North of the Gorges du Verdon, at the top end of the Lac de Castillon, Saint-André-les-Alpes is known the world over as a top paragliding site. 300 days of sunshine per year and reliable thermal winds mean conditions are ideal and some of France’s longest cross-country flights are recorded here. Testament to the quality of the site, the European Paragliding Championships are held here each year. Aéroglisse Parapente offer tandem flights and paragliding lessons from their base in St-André-les-Alpes.
If seeing the Gorge from the skies appeals but paragliding is bit extreme for you, Aero-Provence offer hot air balloon rides across the lavender fields of the Valensole plateau.
Thrill seekers can get their bungee jumping buzz from the the 182 m Pont de l’Artuby, the highest bridge jump in Europe, situated at the south rim of the Verdon canyon. If that sounds a bit too extreme and you’d rather a smaller leap to kick-start your bungee jumping career, head to Guillaumes and give the 80 m Pont de la Mariée a go.
Accommodation in the Gorges du Verdon
Hotels and B&Bs
The region is dotted with good hotels and B&Bs. Most of them clustered in and around Les Salles-sur-Verdon, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Castellane and Gréoux-les-Bains, but almost every one of the park’s 43 “custodial” villages has at least one decent place to stay. Most are modest with basic amenities. For luxury stays try Hotel des Gorges du Verdon in La Palud sur-Verdon, a boutique establishment with an attached wellness centre or the palatial Chateau Berne and vineyards about an hour away in Lorgues. Or there’s always the medieval Chateau in Trigance, with its former weapons room dining hall, antique furniture and panoramic terrace. Or the Grand Hotel Bain in Comps-sur-Artuby, which holds a Guinness World Record for being the longest family-run hotel ever – seven generations.
Here’s a selection of our favourite places to stay:
Gites and Rental Villas
Self-catering gites and private rental villas and chalets are abundant and may be a better long-stay option, especially for small groups or families. If you are travelling off-season, they may be the only option as many hotels in the region close after mid-October through to April or May.
Campsites and Hostels
For serious hikers and climbers, a series of auberges, hostels, shelters and campsites service the major trails and routes along the river. The most famous is perhaps the Chalet de Maline, a mountain refuge built in the 1920s and recently renovated. It is situated near one of several belvederes overlooking the canyon. When not closed (by law) between November and April, the Chalet provides refuge along with dormitory beds, simple meals, parking and unbelievable views.
Here’s a selection of our favourite campsites:
Where to Eat in the Gorges du Verdon
The Gorges du Verdon region has a good selection of fine restaurants, créperies and bistros, many of them sourcing their ingredients locally. The Auberge du Teillon on the Route Napoleon near Castellane is a popular establishment with a gastronomic menu. Hotel La Bastide De Moustiers in Moustiers prides itself on having one of the region’s few Michelin-starred restaurants and serves typical Provencal cuisine. Foodies may also want to chase down master chef and king of truffles Clement Bruno at Chez Bruno in nearby Lorgues – his restaurant is considered one of the finest in France.
For spectacular views while you eat, check out Auberge du Point Sublime, perched at the edge of the Sentier Martel hiking trail near Rougon.
Specialties of the region include artisanal goat cheeses, truffles, lavender products, honey, olive oil, wine (especially rosés) and many of the other mainstays of traditional Provencal Mediterranean cooking. There are weekly farmer’s markets in Castellane, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and Bauduen where you can buy local produce.
Just 100 km from the sophisticated Côte d’Azur, but a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the coast, the spectacular Gorges du Verdon is an ideal destination for adventure seekers. The best time to visit is the spring or autumn when tourists are fewer and prices are lower, but if you do go in the summer just make sure you get your accommodation booked ahead of time.
The Gorges du Verdon is undoubtedly one of France’s hot spots for outdoor sports and whether you’re a climber, kayaker, mountain biker, paraglider or highliner you’ll find this part of the south of France a dream destination for your active holiday.
Please leave a comment below if you need specific advice for your trip to the Gorges du Verdon, or if you have any recommendations to help us improve this guide. Happy holidays!