Verdon Gorge

Gorges du Verdon, France
700 meters/2,297 feet
Gorges du Verdon in south-eastern France is formed by the Verdon River, which is named for its brilliant turquoise color, one of the canyon's most distinguishing characteristics. This beautiful area also offers surrounding evergreen forest and polished marble cliffs.

Activities and Attractions
A well engineered road circles the canyon and offers several great overlooks and vantage points. The full loop drive is just over 63 miles and requires a very full day to complete. You can spend the day canyoneering, climbing, hiking or kayaking and then relax in the evening, enjoying fine French food and wine and excellent bed and breakfast accommodations.

The limestone walls attract rock climbers from around Europe. There are over 1500 different routes, including crack and "big wall" multi-pitch climbs. This limestone chasm offers some of the most challenging canyoneering in Europe. Although this climbing area is popular, the depths of the canyons are, for the most part, deserted.

Other regional activities include rafting, sailing, water skiing, fishing, horseback riding and mountain biking. A modern Museum of Prehistory, the largest in Europe, opened in April 2001.

The regional park of Verdon (Parc Naturel Regional du Verdon) was created in March of 1997. It covers a large area that includes 43 towns.

Because of its proximity to the French Riviera, the canyon is very popular with tourists. The gateway to Verdon is Nice.

This spectacular canyon forms a border between the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and the Var. It measures up to 2300’ deep; the 13 mile-long canyon varies in width between 18 and 300 feet at the bottom and 600 to 4500 feet at its rim.

The gigantic cliffs of calcareous rock are the result of the erosion of the Verdon river. The source of the Verdon is close to the col d'Allos hill in the Trios Eveches mountain range, from where it continues, flowing into the Durance river near Vinon-sur-Verdon after traveling 109 miles. The most interesting part of this journey is found between Castellane and the Pont du Galetas, on the Sainte Croix Lake.

Verdon is rich in flora and fauna. It is home to a third of all French flora and to rare animals like the Little Bustard, the Vulture and the Ocellated Lizard. 

There has been a successful program over the last few years to re-introduce wildlife such as golden eagles and vultures, which can frequently be seen souring above the mountains or down into the Gorge. There are many different varieties of lizards and geckoes to be seen.

There is an abundance of wild flowers and shrubs that can be enjoyed throughout the year. In April, the acacia trees produce white fragrant blossoms while the wild irises are a mass of colour and the rarer dwarf varieties in their different colours and hues can often be spotted. May brings the vibrant yellow brooms which abound on the mountain and roadsides. Wild flowers such as the purple columbine, sweet peas, and many varieties of orchid are numerous in the area.

The canyon was formed in the Quaternary Era, as a result of earth movements while the Alpes were "growing" upwards and from erosion of the Jurassic limestone by the Verdon river.

Hundreds of 400,000-year-old artifacts have been unearthed in the Grotte de la Baume Bonne at the village of Quinson (in the Gorges du Verdon, a few miles west of Lac de Ste Croix).

Through the 19th century, the deepest gorges were thought to be impenetrable. Only a few local woodcutters went down into the gorges on ropes.

The canyon remained unexplored until the 20th century. Armand Janet attempted a canoe exploration in 1896, but gave up because of the violent currents. In August of 1905, the speleologist Edouard Alfred Martel did the first complete exploration of the gorges on a 3-day expedition.