Heading to the South of France and hoping to go paddle boating or kayaking on the Verdon Gorge? Keep on reading, as this post has everything you need to know and more. I’m sharing all the best viewpoints, where to stay to really maximize your time, and other fun things to do nearby!
Towering limestone cliffs. Turquoise colored water. Dozens of boats and kayaks and happy families. As soon as we pulled up to the Verdon Gorge, I couldn’t believe my eyes. How was this in the Provence region of France?! Completely unexpected and surreal. It’s not what you think of when you picture the French countryside – not one little bit!
The Gorges du Verdon is super iconic and I’ve been wanting to go ever since I saw a photo of its shimmering turquoise waters! So when we started planning our 2 week South of France road trip, I knew I needed to include this spot into our itinerary. We rented a paddle boat and I swear, it felt like we were paddling in a sea of gatorade!
If you’re planning a visit soon (HIGHLY recommended), this post gives you exactly what you need to know about this majestic landscape.
I’m not joking when I say it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been (and I LOVE visiting beautiful spots!). There’s a reason the gorge sees millions of visitors each and every year – I mean, it’s simply breathtaking (the crystal blue waters and the impressive cliffs)!
Psst: The Verdon Gorge is also known as The Gorges du Verdon (in French!). This translates to “gorges of green”, which makes complete sense considering all the green shades of water!
Important Info About The Gorges du Verdon
What is the Verdon Gorge?
One of the most beautiful natural landscapes you’ll ever land eyes on! Emerald waters and impressively tall gorges. The scenery is so crazy dramatic and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before! People even call The Gorges du Verdon Europe’s Grand Canyon, but honestly, I don’t see the resemblance too much. Both pretty spectacular, though!
The Verdon Gorge is the deepest gorge in France (it is a 700-meter-deep canyon afterall), and one of the largest canyons in all of Europe. Wild! There’s white-water rapids, limestone cliffs as far as the eye can see, and yes – that sparkling turquoise water below!
The gorge is carved by the Verdon River, which flows for an impressive 15 miles, and then empties into the Lake of Sainte-Croix (a man-made lake!).
And get this – about 250 million years ago, the entire Gorges du Verdon was underwater! Shifting tectonic plates and intense weather brought the canyon to what we see today. So crazy how nature works!
Where is the Verdon Gorge and How to Get There
Simply put, the Verdon Gorge is located in France! More specifically, the Gorges du Verdon is in the South of France in the heart of Provence and a couple hours north of the iconic French Riviera.
It’s not far from the famous lavender fields of Valensole, so if you’re visiting in June or July, make sure you do both! The lavender fields are pretty epic, especially in peak bloom, so it’d be a shame to miss them if you’re so close by!
While you can easily make a day trip to the Verdon Gorge from elsewhere in Provence and even the French Riviera, I recommend spending a night or two over here to really get a feel for the area! We stayed in the Provencal village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie for 2 nights and loved it! More on that later!
Here’s a few distances and travel times so you can get a feel for how far the gorge is from other popular spots in Provence and France in general. No, you definitely cannot do a day trip to the Verdon Gorge from Paris, sorry!
- Moustiers-Sainte-Marie: 10 minutes (~8km)
- Aix-en-Provence: 1 ½ hours (~100km)
- Marseille: 2 hours (~135km)
- Nice: 2 hours (~150km)
- Avignon: 2 ½ hours (~200km)
- Lyon: 4 ½ hours (~350km)
- Paris: 9 hours (~900km)
Verdon Gorge by Car
By far, the easiest way to visit the Gorge du Verdon is by driving yourself via rental car. We picked up our rental car in Nice (after taking a long train ride from Cinque Terre), and loved having the flexibility of going wherever, whenever we wanted!
I HIGHLY recommend having a car when visiting Provence in general. Getting around the region without one will be really difficult if you wanna visit some of the more remote towns and villages (which is honestly, the true beauty and appeal of the area).
Psst: Some of the roads are curvy and steep. If you get car sick easily, pop a dramamine before you go!
Important Tip: If you’re using Google Maps for directions, DO NOT put “Verdon Gorge” into your GPS. This will not take you to the area I’m talking about, but to a completely separate area of the gorge and nowhere near the bridge and the lake of Sainte-Croix (where we’re headed). Instead, input “Pont du Galetas” for the bridge and/or “Base de L’Etoile” to rent a boat.
Public Transportation to Verdon Gorge
Unfortunately, you won’t find much if any public transportation near the Verdon Gorge. The high-speed trains only head to the larger areas, including Nice, Avignon, Marseilles, and Aix-en-Provence. The railways of Provence don’t stop near Verdon Gorge or Moustiers-Sainte-Marie either.
You can find some buses from Nice and Marseilles on the regional express lines (LER). You’ll need to take the LER 31 route from Nice or the LER 27 route from Marseilles. Each takes a few hours (2-3 ½ hours or so) and costs between €15-30 approximately.
I don’t really recommend this route though because the bus stops in Castellane which can still be about an hour’s drive on the mountainous roads, and a hella expensive taxi/uber ride.
Guided Tours of Verdon Gorge
Not renting a car in the South of France and don’t wanna attempt to navigate the buses?! I don’t blame you. Don’t fret – there’s a whole bunch of guided day trips you can take to get to The Gorges du Verdon!
Note that tours don’t take you on the lake itself – that’s not allowed. Look at the specifics of each guided day trip to see how long you’ll have at the lake/gorge to ensure you’ll have time to rent a paddle boat/kayak for an hour or so!
Remember to book well in advance if you’re visiting during the high season (June through September). Tours do sell out, and you don’t wanna get stuck missing out on this epic adventure because you waited until the last minute to book a tour!
A few recommended options:
1. Verdon Gorge and Lavender Fields (from Nice): Not only does this tour stop at the Verdon Gorge, but if you’re headed to France during lavender season (June to July), I highly recommend choosing a tour that also makes a stop at a lavender field (like this one)! This tour also makes a stop in the charming medieval village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie for lunch – basically, all three of my favorites of this region in one day!
This tour is similar in case the first one gets sold out (which might happen in the busy season!).
2. Verdon Canyon & Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (from Aix-en-Provence): Similar to the tours above, this tour from Aix-en-Provence visits the Verdon Gorge as well as the super cute town of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. You’ll also visit some lavender fields in Valensole if you’re visiting during June or July! Plus a short stop at L’ Occitane factory for a guided tour!
When to Visit the Gorges du Verdon
Provence and the Verdon Gorge experience all four seasons, although a bit milder than what we’re used to in the United States. Whenever I think of the South of France I just picture it hot and sunny, but that’s not always the case!
Summer (Busy Season): June through early September is the best time to visit the Verdon Gorge! You’ll find consistently warm and sunny weather, and boat rentals will definitely be open. This time of year is perfect for sunbathing on the beaches and taking dips in the water.
For reference, we visited in early July, and had perfect weather (despite high temps in the mid 90sF!). I could have stayed on the water all day! It’s most crowded in July and August, so plan to arrive early to snatch a boat rental.
Spring and Fall (Shoulder Seasons): I always love traveling in the shoulder season, as the weather is usually close to perfect and there’s less crowds! But don’t go too early or too late as boat rentals may not be open! The company we rented from is open from April to October.
Winter (Off Season): Weather in the Provence region of France (including Verdon Gorge) is tricky at best in the chilly winter months. You won’t be able to get out on the water since all the boat rentals will be long closed, and plus, it’ll be far too cold anyways.
And don’t forget about those nasty Mistral winds – fierce, cold, and dry winds from the north that can reach speeds of 50mph! You probably won’t wanna be standing on the bridge then…
Time of Day
If you’re planning to rent a boat (and I highly recommend it!!), aim to arrive at the boat rental no later than 10am. Especially in the busy season!
The boats do in fact sell out, and if you unfortunately get there after all the boats are gone, you’ll need to wait until one comes back in (which, depending on your timing, could take a while). There are plenty of boats, but in July and August you may need to wait if you get there too late.
Where to Stay near the Gorges du Verdon
While you can easily do a day trip to the Verdon Gorge from almost anywhere in Provence or the French Riviera (namely from Nice and from Aix-en-Provence), I recommend staying nearby for at least a night or two! There’s lots to do in the area, and plus, you’ll wanna get to the lake early to ensure you get a boat!
Small Towns and Villages Near Verdon Gorge
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (10 minutes away): Such a charming medieval little village, and a must-visit on any Provence itinerary! And it’s the closest town to the lake entrance – just about 10 minutes away! We stayed in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie for 2 nights and felt this was the perfect amount of time.
We spent an entire morning paddling at the gorge and checking out the view from the bridge, and had tons of time to explore Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, the lavender fields (at both sunrise and sunset), and sit by the pool at our hotel. You could easily spend one night and fit all those activities in on the same day, but we enjoyed breaking them up and really savoring our time in Provence.
Cotignac (45 minutes away): Another beautiful Provencal village, what can I say?! There’s a waterfall in town, tons of color and charm, and plus lots of restaurants, quirky shops, and art galleries!
Valensole (45 minutes away): You probably heard of Valensole already – it’s super famous for all those gorgeous lavender fields in the area. BUT I honestly don’t recommend spending the night in Valensole, as the town is super tiny and it’s pretty sleepy as well.
We couldn’t find many restaurants and the village just wasn’t all that inspiring (you’ll see what I mean after you check a few villages out). Just putting that out there if you’re planning a visit in June/July to see the lavender fields as well.
Castellane (1 hour away): This historic town with medieval churches is perfect for those with an adventurous spirit – there’s lots of outdoor sports right on Castellane’s doorstep. Think rafting, aquatic hiking, canyoning, hydrospeed, and canoeing, plus hiking and mountain biking and horse riding! Don’t miss climbing to the top of Pont du Roc for great views!
Camping The Gorge du Verdon
Now, I’m no camper and I won’t even pretend we camped near Verdon Gorge. But we passed quite a few campsites on our drive over to the gorge (coming from Nice), so I wanted to share the fact that there are indeed camping opportunities if that’s your style!
Here’s a few highly rated campsites to check out:
- Camping Le Clos de Barbey
- Verdon Parc in Gréoux-Les-Bains
- Camping La Farigoulette
- Camping Les Restanques
Some other Verdon Gorge FAQs:
- Why the intense turquoise-green color? The tiny rock particles in the water, known as Glacial flour, are what give the water its beautiful color! Just like in some of the lakes in Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada!
- Entrance fees? No fees to enter the gorge and its surroundings, but you’ll need to pay for a boat. We paid 40 euros for 2 hours for a paddle boat.
- Where to park? If you’re planning on renting a boat, there’s a decently large car park right above the boat rentals.
- Verdon Gorge vs. Lake of Sainte-Croix: When I was starting my research on the Verdon Gorge and the area, I was a little confused whenever I saw a mention of the Lake of Sainte-Croix. I originally thought the gorge and lake were two completely separate areas, but nope – the gorge flows right into the lake! Just letting you know so you’re not confused at first like I was!
- Are there guided tours of the gorge/lake? Nope, you’ll need to rent a boat yourself! But don’t worry – it’s easy!
- Droughts and water levels: Depending on the year and amount of precipitation, the water levels of the lake and gorge will change. We visited during an intense drought, and despite the lower-than-average water levels, the boat rentals were still available to rent. I recommend checking in advance to be sure (although I never heard of them closing).
- Can I bring my dog on the water/boats? YES!!!!! While we obviously left little Kona at home (that flight is way too long for him all the way from California), I was so excited when we saw dogs on the boats! Remember to bring a lifejacket for your pet and be extra careful with them (remember, there’s hardly any shade on the gorge and lake).
What to Take with You and What to Wear:
It’s most likely gonna be pretty hot when you visit, so keep that in mind when packing for the day! Here’s a few essentials I highly recommend bringing along:
- Sunscreen, wide-brimmed sun hat, and sunglasses: You’ll find little to no shade on the lake and while paddling in the gorge, so be prepared with sun protection!
- Water, Drinks, and Snacks: You’re allowed to bring drinks and snacks on the boats, so why not bring some along and have a little picnic on the water while you cruise around? Of course, please drink in moderation and be safe! And this goes without saying, but keep all garbage on the boat with you and dispose once you get on land.
- Bathing suit: Your choice, but I definitely recommend it. While we didn’t jump in the water, you may unexpectedly wanna go in for a little dip if it gets too hot. Plenty of people did! And if you’re kayaking you’re bound to tip over at least once or twice…
- Water shoes/sandals: The beaches are kinda rocky, so you’ll probably wanna have something on your feet while on the sand.
- Towels: We kept towels in our car but ended up not really needing them since we didn’t go in the water. They did come in handy to protect my butt from the scorching hot seat while sitting in the super hot car afterwards though! On that note, try and park in the shade if you can!
How Long to Stay:
You can easily spend a full day on the water at Gorges du Verdon, but we felt two hours were enough to get a feel for the lake and the surrounding landscapes. The company we rented our paddle boat from has a max rental period of 2 hours anyways… but if you wanna go for longer I’m sure there’s others!
And then we probably spent 15 minutes or so admiring the view from the bridge and taking photos.
Plan for a busy morning/half day at the gorge, and then head to Moustiers for a late-ish lunch!
Things to do at the Verdon Gorge:
Finally, what you’re probably here for – all the fun things to do at the Verdon Gorge! Including the best viewpoints, hiking/climbing opportunities, best beaches for swimming, and of course paddle boating and kayaking the Gorges du Verdon.
Pont du Galetas Viewpoint
Now THIS is the spot you see in all those swoon-worthy instagram shots! I originally thought it was super hard to find, but the bridge is literally a 2 minute drive from the boat rentals and is not a secret in any way at all (nor are those pictures taken with a drone).
Simply pop in “Pont du Galetas’, and you’re there! The bridge overlooks the Verdon Gorge, the striking turquoise water, and all the boats entering the Verdon River through the towering limestone cliffs. It’s truly a sight to be seen! From the bridge, you get to see the gorge on one side and the lake of Sainte-Croix on the other. And depending on where in the sky the sun is, the water will look completely different shades of blue/green.
As far as parking goes, there are parking lots on each side of the bridge. The lot on the right is pretty tiny (only room for a handful of cars or so), but the other side has room for more cars.
We visited the viewpoint twice and thankfully got lucky with a spot both times – once on our way from Nice to Moustiers around 5pm, and once before renting our boat around 9:30am or so the next morning. Come early or late and you’re bound to find a spot pretty easily.
Here in the middle of the day? It will be busy. Be patient and you’ll eventually get a spot – most people only park here for a few minutes to walk over the bridge and take photos.
On that note – be extra careful when photographing the gorge from the bridge! The viewpoint is a fully-functioning bridge (over the Lac de Sainte-Croix itself!), so yes, there will be cars! And don’t be one of those tourists who stands in the middle of the bridge blocking cars – you WILL get honked at. Plus it’s just rude and inconsiderate – take your pictures quickly if there’s cars driving on the bridge, or wait for them to pass.
Renting a Paddle Boat/Kayak
Paddle boating or kayaking the Verdon Gorge is the most popular thing to do over here, and I bet this is what you wanna do as well! To say we loved our time on the water is a complete understatement, and as noted before, I could have stayed there all day! We loved sunbathing in the sun and getting our paddle on!
You can either paddle to the bridge and then into the gorge, paddle out on the open water, or a combo of both! I think we spent the first hour and a half or so in the gorge, and then spend the rest of the time hanging out (not really paddling, haha) on the lake.
We opted for a paddleboat since we’re, well… not very coordinated and don’t have much practice maneuvering a kayak together. A paddle boat just seemed like the much safer option for us, haha.
Companies: Once you make your way to the bridge, you’ll see boat rentals on both sides of Pont du Galetas. There’s paddle boats, stand up paddle boards, kayaks, and motor boats to choose from. We rented on the right side from a company called “Base Nautique de L’Etoile”, and there were plenty of paddle boats left around 9:45am or so when we got there. It looked like they had the most amount of boats.
You can also rent a boat from other parts of the lake, including companies like “Alize Electronic Location”, “Lac-loc”, “Surf Center”, “MYC Plage”, and “Kanojano”. We found Base Nautique de L’Etoile to be the most convenient for where we were staying, but none are really that far from each other.
Pricing: Expect to pay about 20 euro per hour for a paddle boat (for up to 5 people). A 2/3 person canoe costs 20euro per hour as well, while a 1 person kayak costs 10 euros an hour. Unsurprisingly, electric boats are more expensive, at 40 euro per hour (I’m pretty sure they don’t start renting these out until a bit later in the day).
You’ll need to show a form of ID when renting the boat, so make sure you have that handy! Psst: the company we rented our paddle boat from does NOT take reservations, so get there early to ensure you get a boat!
Piece of advice: If you decide to jump in the water from your boat, make sure you’re able to get back in! We saw plenty of people having difficulty getting back into their kayak/motor boat/paddle boat, and were thankful we stayed put. Although it did look super refreshing!
Hiking and Climbing
So…. we did not hike or climb even a minute in this area (we were way more interested in being out on the water), but if you’re a keen hiker, there’s lots for you! With over 1500 hiking trails in the area, you’ve got lots to pick from. Expect sweeping landscapes from all!
Some of the most popular trails are:
- Sentier Blanc Martel: a 16km trek between the towns of Palud-sur-Verdon and Rougon; one of the most popular hikes in all of France – and pretty famous!
- Sentier L’Imbut: a more difficult route starting in Palud-sur-Verdon, with fantastic views all around
Whatever you do, be sure to take lots and lots of water with you, ESPECIALLY in the hot summer months. Gotta keep yourself hydrated, friends!
Swimming and the best beaches in the Lac de Sainte-Croix
If you’re visiting in summer, don’t resist the urge to take a dip in the emerald waters – talk about refreshing! While there are no real beaches along the gorge itself, there’s quite a few alongside the Sainte-Croix Lake. I recommend renting a boat first, then heading to the beach afterwards to relax/swim for a bit.
I was surprised to learn that the lake is actually artificial! The dam supplies electricity to nearby towns and villages, kinda like El Penol and its lakes in Guatape, Colombia! And just like in this Colombian town, the original village was flooded as part of the Dam project. So interesting!
A few of the most popular beaches at Sainte-Croix Lake:
- Plage de Chabassole: one of the most popular public beaches on Lake Sainte-Croix, with stunning views, crystal clear water, bathrooms, and boat rentals in season
- Plage La Cadeno: one of the most beautiful beaches on the lake, but I heard it’s kinda hard to get to
- Plage de Bauduen: small beach right near the medieval village of Bauden on the edge of Sainte-Croix, and significantly less crowded than the other beaches
Psst: Plage means “beach” in French, wink wink.
Drive up to the viewpoints on La Route des Crêtes
While you can get fantastic views of Verdon Gorge from on the water itself and from the bridge right above, if you go a little further, the views will be even more impressive! To get here, you’ll wanna drive on La Route des Crêtes des Gorges du Verdon – D23 (which literally translates into “the road of ridges”). It’s a 24 km circuit which loops around the canyon.
There’s 14 different viewpoints that overlook the Verdon Gorge, some from an impressive 700m high! Lookout points are called “belvederes”, and a few I found on the map that looked particularly special are “Belvedere du col d’illoire”, “Belvedere de Bau Beni”, and “Belvedere de L’imbut”.
We didn’t make it up here ourselves – the heat really got to us and we were beyond exhausted after being on the water the whole morning! And you gotta be extra careful driving on the La Route des Crêtes; the drive is super curvy and steep (definitely gotta be paying attention).
*This drive is different from the route des Crêtes near Cassis, France, although they have the same name. Don’t get confused! We actually drove up that one when we were on the coast for views between Cassis and La Ciota, but that’s nowhere near Verdon Gorge! I later learned that “route des Cretes” is a name given to drives with magnificent views in a mountainous tourist region.
Other activities at the Verdon Gorge
For those looking for something a bit more adventurous, there’s also rafting through rapids, paragliding over the gorge, mountain biking, canyoning, and even bungee jumping! We chose to simply rent a paddle boat, so unfortunately I don’t have more info on these other activities. But go for it if you’re in the area for longer or paddle boating sounds too late for you, haha!
Things to do Near the Verdon Gorge
If you followed my advice and are spending at least one or two nights nearby (preferably in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie), you’ll have time to explore the surrounding area!
Explore Moustiers-Sainte-Marie: While we stayed here for 2 nights and got to thoroughly explore the town, you need to at least visit for a few hours! The village is known for its rich history in ceramic craftsmanship, and there’s plenty of shops with beautiful pieces.
Also, stock up on lavender products here – think soaps, essential oils, candles, and even lavender honey (we brought some home and can’t wait to drizzle some on French cheese!). It’s actually known as one of the most beautiful villages in France, so if that sounds right up your alley, be sure to stay there (or at least save time to check it out!).
Lavender fields of Valensole: Visiting in June or July? You can’t miss seeing the lavender fields in Valensole! We lucked out and our trip coincided with peak bloom – which is usually the last week in June and first week in July. The best fields are only 30-45 minutes away from Verdon Gorge, so you can even go right after!
Try lavender ice cream: There’s plenty of places in the area to get a few scoops of lavender ice cream! We had some in Moustiers and in Valensole. Just FYI – ice cream/gelato in France is known as “glacier”, so be on the lookout for those on the map/while in town!
L’Occitane En Provence Boutique and Factory Store: A quick little stop on our way to L’isle-Sur-La-Sorgue, and not terribly far from Verdon Gorge and Valensole. While there are L’Occitane stores all over California and even more in Provence, we couldn’t not stop at the factory store in France!
Prices were really good and we stocked up on a few things at almost half off! Just remember you’ll need to check your luggage on your flight home if you buy anything larger than 3.4 ounces.
Hope this helps you plan the best day paddle boating or kayaking at Gorges du Verdon! It’s really such an unexpected gem in the South of France! Are you visiting soon?!