Hiking in the Gorges du Verdon

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The stunning ‘Grand Canyon of Europe’, the Gorges du Verdon.

Few places come close to the jaw-dropping scale and natural beauty of the Gorges du Verdon, often hailed as ‘Europe’s Grand Canyon’. Dramatically cutting through 25km of the Haute-Provence, revealing its limestone core beneath the surface, right the way up to the Alps, there’s no better way to experience it than on foot.

The Gorges du Verdon

Where in France: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
Drive from Calais: 1,121km / 11h 30m

The history of the Gorges du Verdon dates back millions of years ago to the Cretaceous period, which is also when the Alps were formed. Massive geological activity caused tectonic plates to shift and fracture, resulting in the sheer cliffs and deep valleys you see today. Some of which are 700m tall, which is over twice the height of the Eiffel Tower!

The Verdon Natural Regional Park is great for water-sports as well as hiking
The Verdon Natural Regional Park is great for water-sports as well as hiking.

In 1997, the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon, or Verdon Natural Regional Park, was established, encompassing 180,000 hectares, preserving the landscape and the wildlife that inhabits it. The park also attracts numerous tourists, especially given its proximity to the French Riviera, who come in pursuit of kayaking, rock climbing, and hiking.

When it comes to hiking in the Gorges du Verdon, you are absolutely spoiled for choice. It really depends on what you’re looking for, whether it’s a relatively short and easy walk over a couple of hours you fancy, or a more rigorous trek over a day or two. Either way, the Gorges du Verdon can cater to all your wildest walking dreams! By far the most popular route, however, is the Sentier Blanc-Martel, or the Blanc-Martel trail.

Hiking the Sentier Blanc-Martel

Generally speaking, a car is an absolute necessity whilst you’re on holiday in this region, and the same goes for this hike. Now, technically, the Blanc-Martel trail is a one-way walk, however the local taxi companies are used to giving tourists a lift from one end to the other, so that’s not really a problem. There is also a local bus service from the end of April until the end of August, but be warned, it is quite sporadic, so you could end up waiting a while.

The best way to walk this iconic route is from Châlet de la Maline to Point Sublime. It’s up to you which end you leave your car, we recommend driving to the finishing point, and arrange for a taxi to pick you up from there and take you back to the start. Try to aim to leave your starting point relatively early, by about 9am.

Few places on Earth can boast as beautiful scenery as the Gorges du Verdon
Few places on Earth can boast as beautiful scenery as the Gorges du Verdon.

Before you set out, make sure you have plenty of food and water, as you’ll be walking for a good few hours. At a leisurely pace, this walk should take you about seven hours, with short breaks for lunch and photo ops. It’s also a good idea to pack a small first aid kit, just in case, and it goes without saying to make sure you have strong and sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots. You’ll also need a torch towards the end of the route.

From Châlet de la Maline, begin the leisurely descent, and follow the gentle zig-zag path until you reach the first viewing platform for a short rest and to admire your surroundings. Back on the main trail, keep following the path right to the bottom. In total, this first stretch shouldn’t take longer than an hour, even if you stop for a good 10-15 minutes’ rest.

The waters running through the Gorges du Verdon are absolutely crystal clear
The waters running through the Gorges du Verdon are absolutely crystal clear.

At the bottom, follow the markers directing you towards Point Sublime, which follow an easy route through the trees, and there are even a few places where you can access the river. Be extremely careful, though. You’ll probably notice some warning signs on the banks, as this is because the river is controlled by a dam. At any given point, without warning, this dam can be released, causing the water to rise incredibly fast, so don’t linger too long at the water’s edge.

Now that you’ve reached the bottom, naturally you’ll have to climb back up to the top, but don’t worry, it’s not particularly steep. Keep gradually ascending along the path, until you reach the highest point of the trail, and another even more spectacular viewing point. From here, the walk will continue for another few hours, so look out for places to stop for a rest and to refuel on lunch and snacks.

The Blanc-Martel trail may be long, but it is worth the effort
The Blanc-Martel trail may be long, but it is worth the effort.

Towards the end of the route, you’ll come to a couple of tunnels. As before, just stick to the signs directing you to Point Sublime, and mind your footing in the dark, as there are a couple of ankle deep puddles just waiting to fill your walking boots with icy cold water! This is when your torch will come in handy. The second tunnel is longer than the first, but there are little viewing windows dotted throughout.

Once you’ve cleared the tunnels, your final destination is a short distance away. Over the other side of a bridge, you’ll come to the ‘Parking du Couloir Samson’, cross the pavement and continue your ascent left. The markings aren’t as clear here, but the path is solid, and at the top, you’ll find your final opportunity for photos and a canteen selling what will probably be the most delicious cold drinks you’ve ever tasted!

Take the time to pat yourself on the back, and admire the views one last time before driving back to your hotel or tent, if you decided to camp in the area. Take the next day to enjoy a well-deserved rest. You will have definitely earnt it!

If you’re feeling the urge to hit the trail and explore some of nature’s most beautiful scenery in France, remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares.