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More about the Verdon Gorges (south east France)

The Verdon Gorges, located in the Alpes-de-Haute Provence department, are considered to be one of the most imposing settings in the world and are said to be Europe‘s most beautiful rock-climbing site.

The Verdon canyon, called “Le Grand Canyon du Verdon” in French, is the world’s second largest canyon. It is about 25 kilometers in length and more than 300 m deep. It was formed by the Verdon river, and one of the canyon’s most distinguishing characteristics is its startling turquoise-green colour.

Verdon Canyon, France

The roads through the Verdon Gorges are buzzing with tourists in summer and become quiet in winter. Precautions are extremely important while doing any outdoor activities in “Gorges du Verdon” as Mother Nature often changes the weather in a matter of seconds at these high altitudes, and that can bring sudden rain and cause rapid waters in the river.

The most impressive part lies between the towns of Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, where the river has cut a ravine more than 300 m down through the limestone mass. At the end of the canyon, the Verdon river flows into the artificial lake of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon (in French: lac de Sainte-Croix).

The limestone walls along the canyon, which are several hundreds metres high, attract many rock climbers. It is considered an outstanding destination for multi-pitch climbing. There are routes encompassing cracks, pillars and seemingly endless walls. The climbing is generally of a technical nature, and there are over 1,500 routes, ranging from 20m to over 400m. So there are many great spots for rock climbers.

Geological History of the Canyon:

During the Triassic period, the French region of Provence subsided and got covered by the sea, leaving thick layers of various limestone deposits. Several million years later, with the arrival of the Jurassic period, the area was covered by a warm shallow sea, which allowed the growth of various Corals.

That is why you can find so many fossiles in this region!

The Cretaceous period saw what is now Basse Provence being raised and the sea reaching the current location of the Alps, which were themselves erected during the tertiary era. As a result of the large scale geological activity resulting from this, many of the Jurassic limestone deposits fractured, forming relief with valleys and other such features. Indeed, it is at that time that the origins of the Verdon Gorges can be traced.

The dawn of the Quaternary period witnessed large scale glaciation, transforming water pockets and lakes into unstoppable rivers of ice, which remodeled the topography, scouring and striating the landscape. At the end of this activity, erosion by rivers continued, forming the Gorges as they are today. The accumulated coral and limestone sediments at Verdon’s river bed were scoured by waters running at 2000 to 3000 cubic metres per second.

The Verdon Gorges have been marked as a national park called “Parc Naturel Regional du Verdon” and it is packed with visual delights… so please don’t forget to take your camera and numerous batteries!

Verdon Gorges, south east France

Recent developments:

On the 10th of July 2006, the French Conseil d’État cancelled the declaration of public use of the EDF (Électricité de France; Electricity of France)’s project, relating to a high voltage line carrying 400,000 volts that had to pass through the Verdon Gorges. This decision ended 23 years of struggle by public groups and associations of environmental defense to preserve a site of exceptional natural interest, of which a part contains protected animals and plant species.

Verdon Gorges, south east France

Tourism:

The Verdon Gorges are renowned as the most beautiful canyon in Europe, and they attract numerous tourists, especially during the summer. It is easily accessible on its right bank from the North (via route D952 from Castellane to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie), and on its left bank from the South (via routes D71, D90 and D995 from Aiguines to Castellane).

Sport:

The Verdon Gorges are a popular destination for rock climbers, because they include more than 1,500 climbing routes on good limestone rock. They are also a favourite destination for fishing, particularly for fly fishing. Hiking, canoeing, paragliding, rafting, climbing and of course canyoning are some of the numerous sports available in the region.

Verdon Gorges, south east France

Click on the videos to get a feel!






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