As we were in a great need for holidays and leg stretching, we had planned a good week of holidays / hikes in the Ticino region at the beginning of June. We had planned a nice hike, but unfortunately Summer took way to much time to get to Switzerland and thus, most passes we were supposed to take were still covered in snow.
On Friday night, we thus decided to change our plans and go look for the summer somewhere else.
It is while looking for a backup solution online on Friday evening, that I came across a magnificent picture of a canyon crossed by an emerald green river! I look where the picture was taken…. And ohhhh surprise it’s in France, the Gorges du Verdon, in the Alpes de Haute Provence region. As we know almost nothing about France yet (but that’s going to change it’s promised 🙂 ), we obviously had never heard of this little wonder of nature before. So we looked at each other and said:
“ This is the opportunity to start discovering France, right?”
Leaving spontaneously is good!
And 1 hour later, after having checked that it was possible to hike and camp in the region, we went online to book 2 round trips “Geneva-Nice” for the following morning (for only 140€ pp…. why bother booking in advance 😉 )… Then all that remained, was to pull out the backpacks from the closet.
The photo that made us want to go on this hike :)…. Crédit : Richard Semik
From Nice to the village of Castellane
We arrive at Nice airport in the early afternoon. Once our backpacks are collected, we go to the bus stop to get to the city centre. There, we are greeted by a magnificent “on strike” sign!
“ No doubt… we arrived in France.”
Well, we can still find another bus without too much trouble. Then, after having dropped off our things at the hotel and bought some food for the hike, we decided to take advantage of the late afternoon to discover a little the old Nice.
The thing we hadn’t thought of was that Nice is actually one of the cities that is hosting the 2016 euro… As a result, we were a little surprised when we saw the horde of drunk Polish people at 4pm in the old town. And since we’re both not big football fans, we preferred to take a little height at the park on the castle hill and stop in a small restaurant in one of the small alleys below. A very good start to our holiday in short 🙂
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Getting to Castellane
The next day, we wake up at 6 am to catch the first of the 2 daily buses that go to the village of Castellane. Why Castellane? The reason is simple… it is in fact the only village near the Gorges du Verdon (1 day’s walk) that is accessible by bus from Nice. And since we didn’t really want to rent a car, we didn’t have much choice.
The 2 hours by bus to the village are a real treat and despite waking up at dawn, it is impossible to sleep with these landscapes! We pass among other things by the very pretty city of Grasse, to then take a little height by approaching the department of the Alpes de Haute Provence. The bus takes us to the village square where the market is in full swing (every weekend). We take this opportunity to supplement our food with some good products from the region before we start.
The bus that stops in Castellane is the LER 31 that connects Nice to Grenoble twice a day. More information here (in french only)
Hiking in the gorges du Verdon for 4 days
So during our week of holidays, we had planned to walk at least 4 days from Castellane to the village of Moustiers sainte-Marie crossing the Gorges du Verdon and to keep 2 extra days at the end to rest. Here is the plan of the hike that we had more or less planned:
- Duration : 4 days
- Distance : 56kms (But that’s the minimum….in the end we’ll have done like 65kms with the little photo detours etc….)
- Elevation gain : 3000m (here again, this is the minimum)
- Elevation loss : 3100m
- Highlights : the 14kms of the Martel trail in the heart of the Verdon gorges and the incredible view from the top of the Grand Marges
We did this trek in “semi-autonomy” which means we carried our camping gear and some of the food. We prefer to hike this way because it gives us much more flexibility… We camp if we want to (or if we don’t have a choice 😉 ) but if we have a nice alternative, we also like to sleep in a small charming guest house. Same thing for food, we eat what we have in the backpack when there is nothing around but we also enjoy finding a nice restaurant every here and then.
Wild camping: information to know
For camping, we only do wild camping if we have no choice. In general, we prefer official camping sites if we can. In the Verdon Natural Park, it is forbidden to camp inside the gorges and by the lakes. Anyway, this time we always found an official campsite or a small hotel to stay overnight.
As for food, we had taken with us the equivalent of 3 breakfasts and 3 lunches. We decided this time not to take the stove and to have only cold meals in the backpack (we made this decision because we had also taken a lot of photo equipment 😉 ). It must be said that preparing a trek in France is easier than preparing a trek in South America. We can afford to adapt the equipment and the quantities of food a little bit because it is very uncommon not to pass through a village for more than 2 days in a row. 🙂
Day 1: from Castellane to the Carajuan campsite
After buying some cheese and bread at the Castellane market, we cross the bridge to follow the Verdon river on its left bank. We’re really happy to be here! The weather is perfect, the temperature very pleasant for a June month…. In short, absolutely perfect conditions for hiking.
From the very first hours of walking, it already smells like Provence. There are flowers everywhere and we are even lucky to see the first bushes of wild lavender…
We are actually quite surprised! We expected to have much warmer temperatures and less green landscapes… Good for us you’ll say! On the other hand, we have to admit that we are no longer used to carrying our big backpacks with all the hiking equipment.
Lunch break with a view in the south of France
After about 7kms of a regular and pleasant ascent, we reach the place called “La Colle” (km 7.5 on the map) where we stop for lunch. From this spot, we have a very beautiful 360-degree view of the region and we can already see the entrance of the Gorges du Verdon… We are already looking forward to getting there the next day. We also take the time to admire the large birds that hover above us (maybe they were after our snacks)… By the way, if you have any idea what birds it might be, we’re interested in knowing.
After a big hour of break and a nap, we start again to go down towards the Carajuan campsite. At km 8.7 on the map, we arrive at a small intersection. We decide to turn right in order to shorten the loop around “Château Soleil”.
When you make bad decisions when hiking….
“ A very bad decision… ”
We find ourselves on a small hunter’s path (if we can call it a path). It’s super steep, rocky, and clearly dangerous! After a good half an hour, we hesitate to turn back but as we are already quite a bit down, we decide continue.
In other words, we will save you the details of the swearing, the bushes / stones crossed but we have arrived “alive” at the level of the bridge that crosses the Verdon (Km 14 on the map). As you will have understood it, if you also decide to do this hike, we advise you to follow the path and make the detour. It is clearly not worth it trying to take the “shortcut”.
To recover from our misadventure, we decide to stop 1km before the Carajuan campsite to refresh ourselves in the Verdon (km 15.3 on the map). The water is rather cold but impossible to resist the temptation to go swimming in this emerald green water! And frankly, there is nothing like a little swim after a good day’s walk!
The Carajuan Campsite
After swimming for a while, we continue along the road for 1km and finally reach the Carajuan Campsite. The location is very nice, right by the river and the price is very reasonable (10.5€ for 2 people and the tent).
In front of the campsite, there is a lady who runs a small shop where you can buy an ice cream, beer or other snacks such as chips, sausages… And as a bonus, until 7 pm, you can order fresh bread and croissants for the next morning.
- Distance : 16 kms
- positive elevation change : about 500m
- negative elevation change : about 600m
- Food : You Need to have a picnic for lunch but possibility to eat at the campsite in the evening and buy fresh bread for the next day.
Summary of this first part of the hike
So here we are, Sunday evening at the entrance of the Gorges du Verdon after a day’s walk and having left Switzerland on Saturday morning (I think we got away with it quite well considering that we bought our tickets on Friday evening 😉 ).
In the next article, we will take you with us through the incredible gorges du Verdon by the famous Blanc-Martel trail as well as to the top of the Grand Marges. Might as well tell you that it’s gonna be pretty spectacular
Here is a little picture to make you want to read the next article 😉
Other articles on this hike:
Are you looking for another hike in the south of France that offers a spectacular view? Then come and have a look at our article on our hike to the rock of Orméa
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