Thursday 5 November 2015

A Weekend Walking in the Verdon Gorge

France, 24th – 25th October 2015

We’ve enjoyed a great weekend with friends in the Canyon de Verdon, or Verdon Gorge, the widest and deepest in Europe. The scenery in the gorge is beautiful, some of the nicest we’ve seen, and it’s great walking territory. It was good to spend time with friends too, after six months on the road this is the first time we’ve seen people that we know so made a welcome change.

Above: The main cascade
Below: One of the many smaller pools
While travelling through Croatia we’d been in touch with friends Steph and Matt who we know from when we were at university, as they’d just been on holiday there in their campervan. They’re currently living in the south of France so Steph had said we were welcome to call at their house if we were passing. When we were getting nearer a couple of weeks ago I suggested we could meet up with them for a weekend in the campers. They thought this was a good idea so that’s what we were going to do this weekend. With their local knowledge and internet access for research they were better able to form us a plan and we met on Saturday morning at Sillans-la-Cascade at the spot that we’d stayed the night before.

We took the easy 400m walk along a gravelled footpath to the viewpoint at the end looking across at the main waterfall (cascade) which was pretty. From here we followed instructions from a book of Steph and Matt’s that guided us around the fencing and down a path towards the river which was technically closed and indicated as dangerous but was a well-used path. We followed the river bank which had lots of obstacles like tree branches and muddy slopes which we should’ve had our walking boots on for but hadn’t been expecting! There were lots of smaller waterfalls, cascades and pools along the way which gave stunning scenery which we think is some of the best we’ve seen on our travels so far. At one waterfall that formed a curtain of water falling into the pool below, Matt and Steph decided to go in for a swim, Matt swam to the waterfall and back and Steph got half way in before thinking better of it due to the cold water temperature. Further along the river before turning back we saw a house on the opposite side to us in a very picturesque location by the water. Back near the start we headed over to look at the main waterfall from the bottom which had a lot of fences blocking access which people had found ways through, including metal fencing with sturdy mesh that had been cut and rolled back to make a hole through. Quite a few people were coming and going, who we joined to get a good view of the waterfall from the water’s edge. Apparently all these fences had been put up a couple of years ago in reaction to a freak rock fall here to remove any future injury liability from local authorities.

After a walk around the village where we saw one of the traditional lavories that looked like it had been in use until quite recently, we got in the vans and set off in convoy to Lac de Sainte-Croix. This is a lake at the end of the main part of the Verdon Gorge and is the largest of the four Verdon lakes at approximately 10km long and 3km wide. We stopped in Bauduen to look around the village which was generally quiet but the couple of restaurants here were surprisingly busy with people sat outside. The weather was very calm so the lake was extremely still with a mirror-like appearance. It’s another very pretty area that was peaceful at this time of year and the trees were a range of autumnal colours with oranges and reds. There was still the sun out and clear blue skies too.


Lac de Sainte-Croix with boules court in the foreground
Moving on to Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon, the height barriers were open down by the lake (presumably due to the time of year) so we parked up here for the rest of the afternoon. Equipped with our camping chairs we went down to the beach and chilled for a while and watched while a couple of catamarans from the nearby sailing club tried to go despite the lack of any wind, so needless to say they could barely move. We got the Cadac out to have my postponed Birthday BBQ on the beach, with a very tasty feast of corn on the cob and some of Jo’s homemade burgers. We timed it well, so as it started to cool off we packed things away and had a nosey at the other guys’ van as it’s the first time we’ve seen it. It’s a self-built SWB Transit which they’ve done an excellent job of designing to make use of the compact size, and building to a high standard. They then educated us on how to play Potanque, a form of boules, which is a popular French game particularly with the older men. A lot of villages here have courts to play it (boulodromes) and handily there was one here too. It was good fun. After a couple of games we all retired to our van for the evening and got the drinks out. Steph brought some games around but we didn’t end up using them, spending the time chatting over a few glasses of wine until we called it a night. There’s an Aire in the village and signs say overnight parking is not allowed at the lakeside for camping cars but we decided to stay there anyway (GPS: 43.76116 6.15716) as several other vans were doing so. It probably isn’t a problem at this point in the year when it’s quiet, the Aire has stopped charging and the campsite is closed.

Jo struggled with insomnia so only got an hour or so of sleep and disturbed my sleep, along with the acorns that occasionally dropped on the roof from the tree above. In the morning we were both feeling rough, which we’re not sure why as we’d only had a few drinks, maybe our bodies aren’t used to having more than a couple after being out of practice recently? We were determined to stick to plans to do an all-day 14km walk into the heart of the gorge so got ourselves ready, albeit a bit behind schedule. As the walk was in one direction with no buses running on the remote roads at this time of year we had to leave one vehicle at the end of the walk and one at the start. Driving to the end point took us along the D952 which was the most scenic driving road we’ve driven, with views down across Lac de Sainte-Croix firstly, then into the gorge itself as the road snaked along one side of it. After parking our van up we got in Steph and Matt’s to drive to the start point.

The walk, the Sentier Blanc-Martel, is estimated to take 6.5 hours so as we were starting quite late and the clocks had just gone back this morning we tried to keep up a quick pace to get to the end before sunset. It was an excellent walk with great views of the gorge that took in challenging terrain with a lot of going up and downhill again along the gorge side, and rocks to climb up or over. Towards the end two dark unlit tunnels had to be walked through which were made harder to navigate due to large puddles and patches of flooding in them which covered the full width in places. In our low energy state the walk was hard work but we managed to not hold up the other guys too much and completed it ahead of time in about 4.5 hours plus a lunch break.

We all got in our van, which was the first time we’ve had passengers in it, and drove to pick their van up taking the more scenic way of the two options to travel around the Route des Crêtes road loop which has parts that are one-way. There are several viewpoints into the gorge, of which we stopped at a couple, but it was starting to get dark now and one section was filled with cloud. On a clear day Steph said you can see eagles flying around here. Once back at their camper we said our goodbyes as they had to get home for Matt to be at work in the morning and we had to find somewhere to stay the night. Travelling back on the D952 we spotted a large gravelled parking area to one side shortly after passing through La-Palud-sur-Verdon (GPS: 43.76864 6.31578). As there weren’t any restriction signs and it was quiet we got parked up here for the night. We were shattered after lack of sleep and all the exercise so had dinner and were in bed by 8:30pm!

- Matt

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