The start/end of this route. Park behind this view near the Hotel Le Provence.

The Gorges of Verdon in Provence, France; are a spectacular natural wonder of mother earth. Limestone cliffs rise up to 700 metres above the Verdon River for about 25 kilometres. There are various ways to enjoy the Verdon Gorge from: expensive kayaking and canyoning. To cycling around the whole canyon; on the: To walking the Blanc Martell Trail alongside the Verdon River deep inside the gorges. Yet, the most refreshing and free way to see most of the Verdon Gorge. Is to cycle along a clifftop road with many viewpoints over the gorge. This route is known as the: Route de Les Cretes.

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The backroad out of La Palud – sur – Verdon

I was staying in the calm of a charming campsite on the outskirts of the village. Run by the brilliant Jean Marc. Who is happy to share his local knowledge on your planned routes in the area. For more information; see here:

You can begin the ride from the campsite if you staying there. Or from the car park on the southern edge of La Palud – sur – Verdon. Either way, take the gravel road shown in the photo above; to reach the Route de Les Cretes. This way you avoid cycling on the much busier D952 road that runs through the centre of the town. When you reach a T junction; turn left and then right on to a tarmac road. Here you will also see an Auberge on your left and a concrete phone tower. You are now at the start of the Route de Les Cretes route.

Climbing to the sublime

Viewpoint: Belvedere de Trescaïre haut

Although it was early June; I decided to start my ride early in the morning to avoid the midday sun. Wearing only shorts and a thin t-shirt; I felt cool as I began to cycle up to the first viewpoint. The midday sun is unforgiving here in Provence. Without the morning breeze; the ground and you will soon start to bake. What is more the entire climb is only 457 metres (1500ft) in altitude. Yet some sections of the climb are much steeper than others. So I found by relaxing into a rhythm and focusing on the scenery I soon gained height.

The French Youth association (UCPA) climbing far above the Gorges of Verdon

The first draw-dropping viewpoint soon appeared around a bend; which left me stunned in silence. There were a few other tourists that had arrived by car. Yet the viewpoints are wide enough for many people to see the views at the same time. I chatted with an English couple and took photos for a loved up French couple. The morning sun; fresh breeze and these amazing views had seemed to make everyone peaceful and happy to be here.

Picturesque panoramas

Looking east towards the Prealpes D’Azur

The French word ‘cretes‘ translates to crests in English. So every hundred metres or more; I was rewarded with a viewpoint over the Gorges of Verdon. Some faced east towards the rising sun; whilst others looked out over the rolling hills of Haute Provence. At the viewpoint: Belvédère de la Carelle; the Gorges of Verdon were over 700 breath-taking metres below me. Here, the French Youth hostel/ activity association (UCPA); were giving climbing lessons for those brave enough to be a little closer to the beautiful view!

Looking south over the Gorges of Verdon

As I cycled between each viewpoint; I noticed the same cars having to overtake me each time. I realised that where I could simply step on and off my bike to see the view. My fellow sightseers had to find somewhere to park the car, then clamber out and walk back to the viewpoint. Using a car is fair enough; if you are elderly or disabled. Yet, if you are lucky to still have use of your limbs; then I would really recommend this route by bicycle. As well as keeping fit; the views on the bike are much more panoramic as they are not hidden by the cars roof and door pillars.

A deserted Route de Les Cretes in early June

Down to the river

A rather vertical viewpoint.

Shortly after the Belvedere du Pas de la Bau viewpoint; the Route de Les Cretes reached its highest point at around 1300 metres. From here the route gently descends all the way back to La Palud – sur – Verdon. From this point I noticed that less car drivers stopped to look at the views; probably grown tired of climbing in and out of their seats? This meant I stood alone to still take in the breath-taking views towards the west. The cliffs either side of the Gorges of Verdon lessened in height here but began to close up too. Long ago, the locals rightly believed that the Verdon River was a route to the under world. With a section of the river becoming subterranean; the similarities to the mythological Styx river are true. This is how a post ride worthy restaurant in La Palud – sur – Verdon; came to be named:

The narrowing gorge resembles the mythological Styx river to the underworld.

Blanc – Martell Trail

Whilst passing through a small hamlet called Chalet de la Maline; I noticed a name on a signpost. It is here; that the historical Blanc Martell Trail descends down to the Verdon River. Then follows its right bank upstream; all the way back to the start of the gorges at Point Sublime. This was the route taken by Alfred Martell and Isidore Blanc in 1905; as they searched for a water source to supply the local communities. Yet history seems to focus on the recent aristocrats and not the hundreds of mere mortals that have lived in the Gorges of Verdon down through the centuries

It took them four days to walk the 16 kilometre route. This route is now possible in four to seven hours thanks to a series of iron stairways. Installed so that every one can benefit from seeing the natural wonder of the Gorges of Verdon. Lookout for my upcoming review.

The last sight of the Gorges of Verdon from the Route de Les Cretes

A Retourner

As I descended further; the Gorges of Verdon veered west and disappeared from view. I now entered a forest that did its best to shade me from the now ferocious sun. After a short climb; I rounded a corner and could see the town of La Palud – sur – Verdon once more.

It was only midday now but my days exercise was over. Returning to the campsite; I pulled out my camping chair and opened a celebratory French beer. That afternoon I lazed in the shade of an ash tree whilst eating too much and reading an Eric Newby adventure. I was a very happy and peaceful man.
The Routes de Les Cretes really is a route to relax; I hope you too can soon enjoy its natural beauty.

To read about my other routes to relax in France; click here: Routes in France
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