SOUTH OF FRANCE (DAY 3 – VERDON GORGE, TINY ROUGON AND FAIRYTALE ENTREVAUX)

I did feel nervous about the Route Des Cretes drive – we’d driven the main route along the gorge before but not this detour; I’d read various warnings about it. It would take us about 60 – 90mins, letting us enjoy more of the area’s famed views. In peak season, it must be a nightmare of fumes and a bun fight to find a parking space at the various pull-ins. That said, I thought the best views were at the very start of the main drive after Moustiers and then at the very start of the Route des Cretes! But it has all been much improved now with safety barriers (apart from one short section) and is One Way only – no more creeping nervously past cars going the opposite way, with a dizzying drop – Sod’s Law – on your side! 

Another fine sunny warm day when we set off, after having a look at lovely St Anne’s Chapel outside the village. The initial view of the gorge , of the pyramid peak looming over the turquoise/green waters of the river, is one of the best on the whole drive. It’s difficult to see the river easily after this, which tends to rob the scene of scale.

It’s not the USA’s Grand Canyon (but what is? one of the finest landscapes I’ve ever seen) but it’s a beautiful area and we had the joy of it being super – quiet.

Last visit, we took one of the boats and pedalled our way into the gorge near the Lac St Croix.

Boating in the gorge

A coffee stop first in tiny, sun drenched Palud village where for the first time, in a quiet café, sitting outdoors, we were asked for proof of vaccination. All presented and approved, we sat and enjoyed a bit of creamy and very good caffeine before heading off in the car to the gorge Routes des Cretes detour.

One of my guide books (The Sunflower Walking Guide to Provence) outlined about 11 different stopping points, but suggested a Top 6 which we used to determine where we would pull in.

View from one of the first viewpoints on the Route des Cretes
First stop

The first stop was the best, with good views of the river 2,000 feet below. The next stop offered great views of the vultures gliding on thermals above the gorge. I don’t like them much but they were an impressive sight.

Vulture above the gorge

Thankfully, it was all very safe and a better introduction to the area than the shorter drive of last trip.

Gorges du Verdon landscape.

That said and at the risk of sounding difficult to please (probably true) it is all quite ‘samey’  – with the exception of the Grand Canyon, I’ve never been a huge fan of gorges, feeling a bit claustrophobic in them, stuck with the same scenery for mile upon mile; walking some of the routes here, way below, didn’t take my fancy either given the warning to those suffering from vertigo (me!) though there was one short route which I hoped we’d manage after lunch.

An enjoyable morning though.

Tiny Rougon, dating from the 9th century, sits high above one end of the gorge and had a small restaurant which got rave reviews. So we parked and walked into the village past fields of grazing sheep. At this side of the gorge lies very rich farmland, a high level plateau of rural peace and small farms. It’s a lovely juxtaposition against the wild cliffs and drops.

Once again, plans went awry! The restaurant was shut for the season. A bit downhearted and also hungry, we wandered through the deserted main street of this tiny, tiny place  and were amazed to find a little oasis of clinking cutlery and glasses – a delightful Pizzeria with a stunning terrace overlooking a significant drop.

Great lunch in a little Creperie in Rougon village.

It was even better positioned than our first choice. Got a table with a fine view and sat down to Crepes with Gruyere and Ham accompanied by a terrific Roquefort and Walnut Salad. Couldn’t pass over a Sundae for dessert so Chocolate Ice Cream and Sauce for me with fresh pears and a Sorbet Sundae for Chris. A good find and nice people!

The driving route ahead, leading out of the Gorges.
The driving route out of the gorge awaits

Fuelled up now and with no decent excuse for not exercising the old pins, I announced to Chris what the plan was – following a path down to the river for 45 mins to a 12th century stone bridge. That was fine, he said, but we’d then have to come all the way back up!! But finally, he was persuaded and off we set from Point Sublime car park, initially treading our way along the main road, then dropping down to a good track which descended through the forest to the Verdon river.

Unfortunately the river was quite muddy instead of a glacial green, given the rain that had fallen some days before. But well worth getting out and into the landscape, breathing in the air and autumn scents.

In the South of France, Verdon Gorge area
Myself hoping the bridge would hold

This took us to the lovely Tusset Bridge – a deserted, leafy spot which was enlivened by the wonderful bright red colours of Venetian Sumac. Beautiful.

Nice autumn colours - especially Venetian Sumac

The ascent was soon done and dusted and I felt we’d just about earned our lunch. A final admire of the scene before heading off on the 75 min drive to Entrevaux, a place which had captured us a few years earlier and where we would spend the night before hitting the coast next day.

More dramatic driving leaving the Gorge to get to Entrevaux

Very tortuous on the (endless) D952 before we branched off at Castellane and followed the D955 round by Lac de Castillon – which I though was much more scenic than Lac St Croix, yet hardly mentioned in any guide book.If I sound less than enthused by that final gorge section it’s because I still suffer at times from car sickness so anything super winding can be a trial.

By 5pm we reached Entrevaux and began the search for a decent food shop for eating in. No cars are allowed in the village so we parked in the newer section across the bridge and carried an overnight bag and supplies in for the night.

The beautiful entrance gate to Entrevaux with the castle ruin above
Entrance gate with castle showing high above

The wonderful entrance gate was already looking as spectacular as I remembered and a bit like something they might have dreamed up one of the venues in Game of Thrones.Running up the hillside behind the village was the tortuous, zig zag path which led to the ruins of the 12th century fort, glowering over the tiled roofs far below. What a place.

Tomorrow – Villefranche sur Mer and the Cote D’Azur

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