This little village sits on the edge of the artificial lake of Sainte Croix du Verdon and at the western end of the Gorges du Verdon. It is a beautiful Provincial town with its red tiles roofs, abbey, and vineyards. The setting could not be more perfect.
We first noticed Aiguines as we were exiting the canyon and spotted it from one of the pull offs while trying to capture a photo of the lake. It was the middle of winter and snow was covering the ground. Also, because it was mid-winter, the village was pretty much closed down. We saw one other car with people and they were admiring the view of the lake from the hill on which the monastery sits.
During the summer, this would be an ideal setting for a break after driving through the gorge, or if coming from Avignon, a nice stop before heading into the canyon area. Even if just to get out and stretch your legs and take some photos of the beautiful lake, it is worth a stop.
I did not notice any gas stations in town, so plan to start your journey with a full tank before reaching Aiguines.
One of the highlights of our trip to southern France was a drive along the Gorges du Verdon, the “Grand Canyon” of Europe. The gorge runs approximately 25 kilometers (15 miles) along the Verdon River, which formed the canyon that is in places 700 meters (2,300 feet) deep.
It was about an 1 ½ hour drive from Nice to get to the start of the gorge. We had rented a car at the Nice Airport and near Cannes headed up the D6185, a winding road through Grasse and on towards Castellane. We opted to drive on the Rive Gauche side of the gorge so we didn’t go all the way to Castellane, but turned onto the D71 for our journey (the town at the other end is Aiguines). The signs were well marked as we were coming through these little towns for the two sides of the canyon.
The road is a two-lane winding road that goes up and down the hills while twisting and turning along the canyon. We were there in the middle of winter and we were the only ones on the road; we actually did not pass any other vehicles until we were almost at the other end of the canyon. I can imagine that this road is crowded and slow driving during the peak tourist time. There are turn offs in places where you can get out for a great view and two locations where there are places to get something to eat (both closed while we were there). While we were there we had several spots where the snow and ice had not melted and it was a bit scary going around some of the turns on the road.
But the day was sunny and the view was spectacular! We crossed the Pont d’Artuby, the highest bridge in Europe and one where in the summer they offer bungee jumping off of. Because there was no one on the road, we parked and walked to the middle of the bridge for a look down. The bridge is 182 meters (nearly 600 feet) high and spans the River Artuby, which flows into the River Verdon.
At the Aiguines end of the canyon is the gorgeous artificial lake, Sainte Croix du Verdon, which has some amazing turquoise colored water (like the Verdon River) and reflections of the countryside in the calm waters. From a lookout above Aiguines, you can capture this with photos, although I found the most beautiful views were from the other side of the lake.
Once at the other end in Aiguines, we continued on our way towards Avignon which was our next stop. Day trippers from Nice or Cannes can follow the signs to the highway which will bring you back down to the A8 and full circle to your starting location. Note: You can take the trip in the reverse from Aiguines to the other end, although on Rive Gauche your vehicle will be not be on the side of the road with the best views, although there are pull outs to stop at.
Besides the two stops along the canyon, there are very little services available. Be sure to start with a full tank of gas and perhaps bring lunch with you. There are several hikes that you can take – although we did not take them due to the snow and ice making it rather treacherous.
Plan on a full day to visit the Gorges du Verdon, especially in the peak tourist season, because the narrow road will be slow driving once you get there.
This was definitely well worth the trip!
This area is a natural wonder in France. On a smaller (yet still impressive) scale than the Grand Canyon in the US, the Verdon river has eroded the land hundreds of feet down, leaving limestone cliffs and caves in it's wake and creating a massive gorge.
Here there is swimming, rock climbing, canyoning, hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, canoeing, rafting, bungee jumping, fishing, water skiing, sailing and caving as activities which you can do at various points in the gorge or in it's man-made lakes. It has some of the most exposed and thrilling rock climbing in France.
The park is large, and is located roughly in between the 4 Provencal cities of Digne-les-Bains (north), Manosque (west), Draguignan (south) and Grasse (east).
The water is clean and turquoise blue, and in late June the temperature was perfect for swimming.
A topo map is recommeded for hikers or rock climbers. Many guiding companies exist to assist, if you want.
Canoes, paddle boats, kayaks and rafts can be rented on the shore of Lac St Croix in between Les Salles sur Verdon and Moustiers Sainte-Mairie, where there is a section that you drop down very close to the beach when on the D959 in between the 2 cities. There are other spots on lakes where you can rent these, but this is where we went.
From Lac St Croix you can enter into the canyon by canoe and see close up the caves which have been eroded by water.
From the top of the canyon close to Aiguines (D71) there are some hikes which go down into the Grand Canyon which has some of the deeper and more picturesque sections of the gorge, as well as the narrowest point.
A hike we did in the Grand Canyon section took 5 hours, going down, along the canyon through the narrow 'Le Styx' secion and back up again. Some parts involved narrow paths with sheer drop-offs whilst holding onto a bolted on metal cable, or climbing up a metal ladder bolted to the cliff. Not all hikes are this complicated, but choose your hike to suit your style!