Exploring the Breathtaking Gorges du Verdon in Provence

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Provence, France is world-renowned for its exquisite beauty, but there’s way more to this picturesque region than acres of beautiful flower fields you’ll see on a Provence road trip. Guest contributor, Susan Guillory from The Unexplorer, recently went off-the-beaten-path on a kayak adventure through the gorgeous Gorges du Verdon.

When you think of Provence, you likely think of lavender fields. Maybe even Rosé or Pétanque. But,  you most likely don’t think of neon blue waters and breathtaking cliffs in France.

And yet, the Gorges du Verdon are 100% Provençal.

This past September, I spent a week at a yoga retreat in Provence, near Besse-sur-Issoles. One of our day trips was to the gorge. One look at the surreal photos of the place, and I’d made my mind up to go.

Our group took two vans on the winding hour-plus drive to the Verdon Canyon, which is northeast of Aix-en-Provence. When we arrived, we clambered out of the vans and scurried over to the bridge overlooking the most gorgeous (or…gorge-ous, if you will permit the pun) view I’d ever seen.

A sparkling turquoise river cuts through limestone for 15 miles, all of which is enjoyed by visitors in kayaks, electric boats, and paddleboards.

Riding Solo in Gorges du Verdon

Gorges du Verdon
The earlier you visit the Gorges, the less boat traffic there is.

The plan was that our group of 15 or so would share the boat rentals, explore the gorge for an hour and a half, and meet back on the shore. Rose had reluctantly agreed to be my kayak buddy, but when she saw the adorable electric bateaux, I could feel her wistfulness.

“Go on and go with that group in the boat,” I told her, “I don’t mind kayaking by myself.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

I nodded and nudged her toward the group of three embarking on the tiny wooden boat.

Gorges du Verdon
Whichever boat option you choose, you’ll get up close to the natural beauty.

Once I got to the front of the line, however, I was dismayed to find there were no single kayaks available. I didn’t want to miss out, nor did I want to pay the cost of an electric boat for myself.

“Could I take a double kayak on my own?” I asked the dreadlocked attendant in French. He shrugged with Gallic disinterest, and within minutes I was awkwardly navigating a kayak too long for one person.

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France’s Best-Kept Secret

Gorges du Verdon
Here, I’m getting towed after exhausting myself in my double kayak!

As I navigated my kayak in between the 2,000-foot-high cliffs, I marveled that so few people in the US know about the “Grand Canyon of France.”

Interestingly, no one outside of France had heard of the Gorges du Verdon until 1906. What a well-kept secret! Now visitors from all over the world explore the river by boat, as well as hike the many trails and climb the challenging rocks.

It was a bit difficult to stop paddling, not lose my paddle, and take photos that weren’t blurry on my kayak ride, but with such a natural beauty, I ended up with some great shots.

On the way back, though, I faced a brisk wind and found it even harder to make headway. A group of fellow yoginis saw my distress and gave me a tow back to shore.

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Rounding Out the Day

Gorges du Verdon
Picturesque Moustiers Sainte-Marie is the perfect complement to a few hours at the Gorge.

We were all gushing after our trek down the river at how amazing the scenery was. We continued our outing in Moustiers Sainte-Marie, a picturesque town nearby where you can easily lose a few hours enjoying a nourishing meal, hiking to the chapel at the top of the mountain (we got caught in a rainstorm!), and shopping.

The Gorges and the village of Moustiers Sainte-Marie make for a fantastic day in Provence. You can be as adventurous and active as you like, or go for a lazy day on the shore, followed by a glass (or bottle) of rosé in town afterward.

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