Over millions of years the Verdon river has carved a canyon into the countryside in the Haute Provence region of southern France. With an overall length of some 40km and a depth of some 700m at its deepest point, the Verdon Canyon may not compete with the Grand Canyon, Arizona, but it is still the largest canyon in Europe.
There are actually two canyons, one called Les Hautes (upper canyon) and Les Basses (lower canyon), which are separated by the Sainte Croix lake. The Verdon originates in the Alps, enters the upper canyon at Point Sublime, runs south and after meeting with the Artuby canyon, turns to the west. After passing the Sainte Croix lake and the lower canyon, the river discharges into the Durance.
How to Get There
Leave the A51 (Grenoble to Marseille) at the proper exit which is indicated by a tourist sign. The D6 and D952 will bring you through Montagnac and Moustiers St Marie to La Palud and finally to Point Sublime. The last kilometres of this route (beginning at Moustiers), require a driver who is able to concentrate on the sharp road bends despite the breathtaking views which the landscape has to offer. By following the road signs for the Route des Cretes (D23, D952) and the Corniche Sublime (D71, D19), it is possible to drive around the upper canyon. The Pont de l'Artuby (a bridge crossing the Artuby canyon just prior to where it joins the Verdon) is a place where you might have a chance to do some bungee jumping in a natural surrounding. But driving around the upper canyon is nothing in comparison to walking through it.
Walking through the Upper Canyon
Don't worry about spending a whole day for a walk through the canyon. It should be counted as one of France's great walks because, although it is hard work, the panorama of the Haute Provence is just overwhelming and makes the effort worthwhile. The path, called Sentier Martel which leads onto the Sentier de l'Imbut, alternates between the canyon's shoulders and the riverside, thus entailing a lot of climbing up and down.
Parking a car and entering the canyon is only possible at the ends of the upper canyon. Since the tour takes some four to six hours, it is hardly feasible to walk through the canyon and return to the starting point on the same day. Therefore it is a good idea to form two teams, each with their own car. Have the teams park their cars at opposite ends and start the tour from there, and exchange the car keys upon meeting each other halfway through the canyon. Take good care to not leave any precious items in the car and to use a more crowded parking space, since lots of cars get stolen from remote parking places.
The following outfit is recommended:
Strong footwear: The path is marked by some colour dots here and there on a rock, and very little else. In some places the path crosses some heaps of gravel, and the rocks that are exposed to the mist become quite slippery. However, some women have been spotted negotiating the canyon in high heeled shoes.
Warm clothing: Even in the summer it gets quite fresh in the shadow of the canyon walls and especially at the canyon's bottom.
A bottle of water.
Optional: A mobile phone and a camera with enough spare film.
Flashlight: From Point Sublime, the path starts with a few tunnels. Without a torch you would keep both stepping into puddles and hitting your head on the low tunnel ceilings.
Other Sports in the Canyon
The Verdon canyon is also a famous place for rafting, kayaking and climbing. Suffice it to say that the term verdonesque has been coined in order to express a climbing experience comparable to five stars in a restaurant guide for gourmets. France-Climbing.com has more information for anyone considering climbing in France.