Yesterday, we experienced something truly special – the Gorges du Verdon, the second largest Canyon in the world. Today we travelled the south side and it was truly amazing. The topography, the vegetation, and the river flowing through it are a sight to behold. The road is winding, but has been built to allow many viewing points for the traveller. Our first viewing from an outcrop below the road was breathtaking and alerted us to the marvel of nature that lay ahead of us. We crossed the Pont de l’Artuby and the boys walked across to stand on it, their voices echoing around the canyon as we called out to them.
We continued our winding climb around the rim, stopping off at every opportunity to look down on this magnificent spectacle which nature has created. The south side drive is less hair-raising than the north side, but nevertheless is absolutely awesome, in the true sense of the word. The sheer cliffs tower above you as you drive, and beside the road, they seem to drop away beneath you, down to the azure river below.
Aiguines was our first stop once the rim drive was completed. It is a pristine little town, and was virtually deserted save for the few shopkeepers just opening their doors. We stopped in the Place de la Fontaine for a coffee, under the shade of the cafe umbrellas, and then wandered through the town. In the height of summer it must fill up with tourists, but today it was very sleepy. It does boast however, the magnificent Chateau d’Aiguines, a restored 17th-century castle with round tiled towers at each corner, and alongside is the 17th-century Eglise Paroissiale St Jean, with a small cemetery attached. The privately owned Chateau is an impressive building, set apart as it is from the cluster of buildings which form the small town, and from a viewing point outside it, you can look up to the crumbling ruins of a 13th century castle.
We continued on our way until we came to the Pont de Galetas. It spans a narrow part of the gorge where it flows out into Lac Sainte-Croix, and we knew that we could get on the water here to view the canyon from below. We decided to hire an electric boat rather than a pedalo as I would not have been able to take my turn with my injured ankle. The boat was a great choice – it was only able to move very slowly, which is fantastic for viewing. We took it for an hour and what a fabulous experience! As we moved slowly through the gorge on the almost emerald coloured water, we could see its true splendour – beside us, above us, around us – it is truly too hard to describe, but is an experience to remember forever.
After an hour in the gorge and a potter about on the lake, we headed to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and it is as beautiful as we expected it to be. It is situated near the entrance to the Canyon and one of its claims to fame is the 227 metre long iron chain with a centuries-old gold Crusader’s star suspended from it. In reality, it is quite hard to see the star with the naked eye however. The village is also famous for its Faience pottery and we saw some absolutely beautiful pieces. Sadly, we just missed the Friday market as all the stalls were closing up, but we decided to make Moustiers our lunch stop. Like Aiguines, the village was quiet so we kicked Phil’s birthday celebrations off in a gorgeous, yet almost empty restaurant situated beside a brook of cascading waters. The menu offered really refined fare, beautifully presented in fine dining style, beginning with amuse-bouche.
After lunch, I had to choose between exploring the town, or shopping, so I did what a girl does and Frances and I went to peruse the artisan shops, especially those with the pottery. There were some truly elegant pieces, with prices to fit. Sadly it meant I had to forego viewing the 14th century Chapel of Notre Dame de Beauvoir.
On our return journey, we wanted to visit the town of Aups, which we had also heard was worthwhile, and it truly was. Like the previous two villages, it was quiet, so we were able to stroll around at our leisure, ducking and diving under old arches, unto narrow streets and lanes. We realise it is a real privilege to be able to do this in these centuries old towns and we appreciate that the inhabitants are so obliging, though sometimes it is hard not to feel as if you are intruding in such small and old communities. Aups has a quality to it that is hard to explain – it was truly appealing…
On reflection, this has been one of our highlight days, simply because we have witnessed one of the miracles of nature, and because we have seen three stunning historic towns – it will go down in my traveller’s memory as one of my best…