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Martel trail in the Verdon Gorges (sentier Martel)

This trail was laid out in 1928 by the Touring Club of France and bears the name of the French speleologist Édouard-Alfred Martel (1859-1938), who undertook the first complete descent into the canyon in August 1905, with the help of Isidore Blanc, a Primary School teacher from the village of Rougon.


Martel Trail in the Verdon Gorges (sentier Martel), France

Martel was an employee of the Southeast Electricity Company, carrying out precise geological surveys of the river. On 11th August 1905, he and his team began an expedition of the region by boat and foot (especially when one of the boats became unusable). They discovered a narrow corridor that Martel named “Styx”. When they arrived at the Imbut (meaning “narrow” or “funnel” in the Provençal dialect). Martel wished to abandon the expedition because it became very difficult at the Imbut, but his mates encouraged him to continue. They entered the canyon and discovered more passages and rock formations; their successful arrival at the “Pas de Galetas” marked the completion of the first expedition of the Verdon Canyon.

On a separate note, in 1902, an important project started for damming the Verdon at “clue de Carajuan” and channeling the torrent’s waters to a hydroelectric plant located downstream from the Grand Canyon. The project was indefinitely interrupted by the World War I.

Since then, this splendid hike, (15 km long – 7 hours) has become a must-do in this region. Sometimes from an overhang, sometimes along the water, it follows the course of the Verdon river. The trail has its charm regardless the direction from which you start, but it’s easier when starting from “chalet de la Maline“, since the steeper sections are on the way down.

The trail also goes through three tunnels that are pitch dark, so a torch is essential.

Martel Trail in the Verdon Gorges (sentier Martel), France

Chalet de la Maline

Plan to leave a vehicle at the end of the trail or use one of the taxis (quite expensive). There’s also a shuttle bus in summer (6 euros only per person).

The trail is clear and dry in any season and a guide is not necessary. But you must watch the trekking sign-boards carefully along the way to maintain the correct path.

Dogs are strictly forbidden on this trail (as you would need to carry them many times). Mountain bikes and children below 6 are also forbidden. If you decide to do this trail with your children, they must obey. If not, serious accidents can happen.

On the sign board, you can read: “Only attempt this hike in good weather. Be careful of rock slides caused by rain. Avoid the metal ladders during thunder storm. Do not go into other tunnels: it is dangerous. The water level of the Verdon can change often and quickly: be very careful of the rapid rise in the water level.


Martel Trail in the Verdon Gorges (sentier Martel), France

Martel Trail in more detail :

From the “chalet de la Maline” to the “Point Sublime“, passing through Martel’s pathway with a detour via the Mescla.

Martel trail follows the right bank of the Verdon river from its entrance into the Canyon (Point Sublime) to the chalet de la Maline.

Beginning at La Maline and going toward the canyon, the route descends in hairpins to join the water at the Estellié ford. Notable sights along this section include the “Ravin de Charençon”, the “Pas d’Issabe”, the “Pré d’Issane” (a small pebble beach along the Verdon), the “Étroit des Cavaliers” (a narrow passage between cliffs), the “Guègues” scree, and the big cave of “Baume aux pigeons” (pigeons’ cave).

A detour allows you to visit “la Mescla”, where the Artuby river mixes with the Verdon, and where the Abbot Pascal, one of the Verdon’s pioneers, drowned in 1928.

The main path towards the “Point Sublime” quickly ascends and comes to the “Brèche Imbert” and its 6 stairways, totaling 252 steps (descending).

Thereafter, the route re-ascends along the Verdon, first very high above the riverbanks, then very near, to arrive at a pebble beach by the Baumes-Fères stream, near the majestic cliffs of the Escalès.

The hike continues along the river bed, passing the “Tours de Trescaïre” on the other bank (two impressive monolithic pyramids). Then come three tunnels (ranging in length from 110 to 670 meters) that require hikers to bring pocket lamps and warm clothing.


Martel Trail in the Verdon Gorges (sentier Martel), France

At the end of the “Tunnel de Trescaïre” is a good view of the narrowness of the Gorges, with the cliffs of the Escalès to the left and the rock face of the Encastel to the right. Through the “Tunnel du Baou” there is a window hollowed through the rock that allows access to the “Baume aux Pigeons”, with a steep metal staircase leading to the river and its rock formations.

After this last tunnel, the route goes beside the Verdon once more, then over the Baou to a new footbridge, leading back to the parking lots for hikers’ cars.

Some experienced hikers can do the complete roundabout trip in 12 to 13 hours, and for those doing just one way, it takes about 7 hours with the detour via La Mescla.

Here are a few videos on Martel trail:

Beginning of the trail:

The “Baume aux pigeons” (pigeons’ cave):

For more information about the Verdon Gorges, click on this link:

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