We start the new hot day with a fresh breakfast and leave much too late, but after all we are on vacation. We try to photograph the punctual pine train that runs behind our tent, but this morning the photos did not work out again! After a cup of coffee on the campsite terrace we go again.
The second coffee stop is in Castellane, after a beautiful route through the ever-narrowing valley. In the end we have to pass over a mountain pass and we look down at the imposing rock in the village on which the Capelle Notre Dame du Roc stands. First we have to go a long way, but then we are in the sun-drenched village and we look up at the high rock.
Castellane is a medieval mountain town and now a popular tourist destination for the many visitors who want to see the Gorges du Verdon. There are a lot of people on the road, especially tourists and many motorcyclists, but in the old center of the city it is still fairly quiet and we can buy some nice souvenirs. We would also like to visit the sirens and fossils museum (very curious how these two subjects are combined), but we are unlucky, on Sunday afternoon the museum is closed.
Even though we leave the town it does not take long before we have to make the choice between the northern or the southern side of this gorge which is also called the Grand Canyon du Verdon. Unfortunately we do not have a good travel guide of this area and so we just pick one and take the northern side.
This seems to be the biggest gorge in Europe, with a length of 25 kilometers, carved out by the river Verdon. The rock walls sometimes go up to 700 meters perpendicular (or down, just how you look at it). At Point Sublime, the name says enough, we can park the car and walk into the gorge. You can even take a walk to the south route of the gorge, but we do not go there, not enough fysical condition.
We take a turn just for Palud-sur-Verdon to follow the 'Route des Crécours,' a narrow and sometimes steep road that leads to the canyon and offers breathtaking views. The first few kilometers are nice but not fantastic, but soon after we stop every few hundred meters to take a look or take a picture.
This is probably also the part where those perpendicular slopes of 700 meters deep must be. There is a strong wind and luckily there is a fence in the most dangerous places. Elisabeth no longer suffers from real fear of heights, because she still dares to look down, even if it is not for too long a time. We understand perfectly well that the French dare to call this the most beautiful place in Europe (although we remember in the back of our minds a few other places that can definitely compete with this, such as the fjord coast of Norway).
Here and there are also daredevils who want to descend down. But the boy on the left photo returns to the top after a few meters. It is funny to see that more people have the same thing as us: they want to drive on, but when there is another parking place (and there are plenty) then they have to stop, to look arounf and taking photos again. This way we meet the same people over and over again, no Dutch people this time!
At a certain moment drivers even point out places to others and just when we wanted to skip a parking space, others beckoned us to stop, just before a tunnel. A herd of wild goats has found his temporary home there. We had not seen them from a distance against the sun.
We can recommend this Route des Cretes to everyone, although next time we would also like to take the south route, because we have heard from others that it is also very spectacular. We have now seen quite a few gorges in France, but here we have made the most stops and pictures, so without a doubt the most beautiful and impressive!We encounter almost no oncoming traffic, everybody seems to drive in the same direction but on the last stretch that leads away from the canyon, a Dutch oncoming vehicle stops us. We open the window (yes, we have the air conditioning on again ...) and they ask us if this is maybe a one-way street and if they are going the wrong way. There are indeed signs with a white arrow on it which probably would indicate one-way traffic in the Netherlands, but we can reassure them that both sides can be driven. Or do they sometimes think that we are the wrong-way drivers?
For Moustiers-Sainte-Marie we go south and get a quick view of the Lac de Sainte Croix, one of the reservoirs in the Verdon river. The water looks wonderfully blue and attractive from this distance and even closer. Soon we see the rows of cars parked along the bank.
It is busy, very busy, especially at the entrance to the Gorges du Verdon. It is a Sunday and beautiful weather, and we can hardly find parking. We stop for a photo, but here we are not going to play the tourist, too many people and the police are driving around, probably eager to write fines for people who park on a wrong spot. But what a wonderful place, something to return to at a much quieter time.
And then we have the choice: are we going back along the south side of the gorge or are we going to make a detour on the west side? We have seen enough gorge so we first drive south over the D957, to the west over the D30 and then back to the north, the D11. But except for gigantic lavender fields, we hardly encounter anything interesting and the landscape is fairly flat. Only at Quinson is a large open-air museum with a reconstructed prehistoric village about the people living here about a million years ago. A cave where relics are found also belongs to the park.
And when we arrive in Riez afterwards we are ready for a beer and a pot of tea, both meant to cool down a bit. Maybe today was the hottest day, we love these high temperatures in any case but are secretly also a bit happy that we have air conditioning in our car. We did not have that in the previous years.
We are back at the campsite fairly late, because we have to go via Digne (as Digne-les-Bains is usually called), there is no shortcut. But the sun is still shining and we are just in time for the last train that will pass behind our tent today, a special train and we are ready with the camera again.
From 1891 there is already a train going from Nice to Digne, a route of 151 kilometers with 70 stations where the train really stopped. Nowadays the train goes fast, within 3 hours, but in the old days the train went so slowly that people could pick pine nuts through the window for the nice smell that it gave at home in the fireplace, hence the name of the pineapple-train. Four times a day the train passes and he comes every day at almost exactly the same time. And every time we are ready with the camera, but the train is just too going too fast to make a good photograph at this point. The train bridges a height difference of exactly 1000 meters and also runs in winter when there is quite a bit of snow here. It must be a very nice train journey and tomorrow we will go by car along part of the route.What a wonderful day, although we are tired of the long car ride. But after an hour of idleness and then another hour on the terrace and we are again full of energy. What an incredibly beautiful area, we do not really understand that we have not been gone here before. When the sun is gone, it soon becomes pleasantly fresh again and we are not going to bed too late this time, tomorrow we have a whole program again.