The French Riviera is not just about life in the fast lane. It has so much more to offer if you step outside your comfort zone! Although I love cities, I prefer nature and all that it brings. Besides, the French Riviera is in easy reach of nature if you hire a car. Moving north from Nice, one soon gets into hill country and very soon after that, into the limestone massifs of the Alpine foothills. And so it was that I set off early in search of some peace and tranquillity.
The air felt really chilly the moment I left my accommodation but I didn’t think anything of it at that particular moment. Inadvertently and carelessly, I turned on my wipers and pressed the windscreen liquid button to clean my windscreen before driving off. BIG mistake as the fluid froze the moment it hit my windscreen! I hadn’t realised the air temperature was BELOW ZERO! I panicked at first but then turned the heating in the car to the defrost setting and waited a few minutes for the ice to melt away! Important tip before setting off: ALWAYS check the air temperature outside before using your wipers and windscreen fluid! Lesson learned!
The highlight of the day was to visit the much acclaimed Verdon Gorge. I had read it was really impressive and wanted to see it for myself! Most of the drive was along narrow winding roads but that little unpleasantness was more than made up for by the fact that there are no road tolls to pay and that the route takes you past medieval villages and through woodland and forests, and offers spectacular views of the mountains and lake!
My first stop along the way was at the sleepy village of Tourtours. Well, perhaps it was sleepy because I was passing through early on a Sunday morning! Anyway, it was worth my little detour as it’s a picturesque little village of medieval houses, a long, central square, two old castles and other ancient sights.
My next stop was at the remarkable Troglodyte Caves and waterfall of Villecroze, a mere 20-minute drive away. They will surely take your breath away, more so as one has to walk through an enchanting park to reach them. Unfortunately, the caves were closed but the peace and serenity of the place is made even more sacred by the sound of the 35-metre-high waterfall.
I wished I could have spent more time in this serene garden but another waterfall was calling. This one is even more spectacular and is situated near the medieval village of Sillans-la-Cascade. It’s a small, old village in a lovely setting of forests and small river valley without the addition of a “new” part of town that so often detracts from medieval Provencal villages. I enjoyed walking around the old streets and exploring the little nooks and crannies but I was here to see the waterfall (la cascade).
The walk out to the waterfall begins across the road in front of the large Chateau building, The 8-minute walk, which is clearly marked, is a very pleasant one as it passes through woodland and is mainly flat, except for the last part where one has to climb down a number of steps. The trip is worth it just for the walk, with the bonus of the 42-metre-high waterfall at the end. It’s a very pretty waterfall that looks as good when you get there as it does in the photos!
My next port of call was the famous Verdon Gorge but since it was getting close to lunch time and I was feeling rather peckish, I decided to stop for ‘lunch’ by the serene turquoise waters of the Lake of Sainte-Croix. It’s actually a man-made lake but it’s the perfect setting for a picnic.
Feeling refreshed, I then set out for the last part of my drive. To be able to look down on the gorge from up high, one needs to drive up narrow, winding mountains roads so care and caution is advised here. However, the route is one of the most scenic I’ve ever come across and I ended up stopping a gazillion times at the many viewing places placed strategically along the way!
Eventually, I arrived at the highest point – the Belvédère de la Dent d’Aire. With great anticipation, I stepped out of my car and was blown away, not literally of course, despite the height! The Verdon Gorge is the deepest gorge in France and is one of the must-see natural wonders of central Provence. The views from up high took my breath away at first sight! The place gets its name from the gorgeous turquoise water that flows through the gorge. “Gorges du Verdon” means “gorges of green” in French. And the fact that eagles were flying in graceful circles high in the skies above just added to the charm of the place.