The Verdon Gorge is one of France’s most attractive natural sights and stands out for its characteristic colour.
The boats glide contently down the riverstream as steep and naked stonewalls loom on either side. Below, the Mediterranean sun shines in the reflection of the emerald-green water. Around are rich forests and small villages. Joining the boats on the ride are kayaks and canoes with jolly tourists on board. Above, rock climbers are busy scaling towering cliffs.
The Verdon Gorge is a great touristic pull. Its location in the south-eastern Alpes-de-Haute-Provence makes it convenient and accessible for visitors of the French Riviera. It is part of the Verdon river, which stretches across 175 kilometres (108 miles). The gorge itself lies between the towns of Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. It measures 21 kilometres (14 miles) in length and runs out into the Lake of Sainte-Croix.
The gorge has a characteristic shape. It is deep – 700 metres in some places – but varies greatly in width, from 6 to 100 metres. It is believed to have been created as a result of earth movements while the Alps were formed. Gradual water erosion then shaped the gorge during the Jurassic period.
A series of caves have been hollowed out. The process by which they have been formed is due to acid from rain eating away at the limestone rock. Rain collects small amounts of carbon dioxide gas. As it falls through the air, this turns into carbon acid. This again dissolves calcium carbonate, which is a cornerstone in the composition of limestone. As such, rain has gradually weakened the substance of the rock.
Some geologists reportedly believe the Verdon river once ran through a large underground cavern. The acid from rain has over time hammered away at the overlying roof and forced it to collapse. Slowly, the river stream has washed away the rock debris and cleared the path for the gorge we see today.
The surrounding protectorate makes for idyllic walks and discoveries. The Natural Regional Park du Verdon was established in 1997 and spans across 180,000 hectares. Some 40 per cent of the area is covered in forest. One-fourth is farmland. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people live within the park’s boundaries, though that number often increases to 200,000 during the summer months.
There are about 45 villages here. They reside either on the plateaus or in the deep valleys. They are traditional and rural. The houses are closely knit together in order not to waste valuable farmland. Narrow streets surround the houses and village gardens. Among the residents, trades practised include pottery, glass blowing, weaving and woodturning.
Yet despite their authenticity, the gorge dominates the region. And considering its appearance, that is no wonder.
Photos: Florian Augustin, Nejron Photo, PHB.cz (Richard Semik) [all via Shutterstock.com].