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Estérel: Col du Mistral

Esterel: Col Mistral

Each summer, when sun and wind dry Eucalyptus and Pine trees and fire risks run high, parts of the Estérel Mountains close. The Col du Mistral was still closed to cars yesterday. This didn't stop us from hiking around Col d'Aubert and Col du Mistral, but we had to park at the Col Belle-Barbe and hike up to the Col Mistral. The Col Mistral should open up again to traffic by the end of September.


Heritage Days on the French Riviera

JEP

September 19 and 20, 2009 are European Heritage Days. Every year at the end of September, many historical buildings open their secret doors to the public. And in France, over 12 million visitors trot through these doors on Heritage Days.

What's open to visit? In Paris, the Assemblée Nationale, the Hôtel de Ville, the Elysée Palace.

We knew Paris would offer tons of tasty heritage site visits, but what's on for the French Riviera?

JEP2 

The most popular spot for last year's Journée du Patrimoine on the French Riviera? The 18C Villa Arson in Nice for its reputed Arts school and its pretty Niçois hilltops views. 

What else could I visit on the Côte d'Azur during these open days? Here's a full list of open visits for the 2009 Journées du Patrimoine across the Var and the Alpes Maritimes. See the "Voir la fiche" link for more info on individual offerings (in French).

Our piece of advice? Come early for the more interesting sites - entrance is free, lines are long.

In the Var:

1 - Bagnols-en-Forêt - ANCIENNES TAILLERIES DE MEULES DE MOULINS ET OPPIDUM DE LA FORTERESSE> Voir la fiche
2 - Bagnols-en-Forêt - MUSÉE ET CHAPELLE SAINT-DENIS> Voir la fiche
3 - Bormes-les-Mimosas - FORT DE BRÉGANÇON> Voir la fiche
4 - Brignoles - VILLE DE BRIGNOLES ET SES MONUMENTS> Voir la fiche
5 - Cabasse - ÉGLISE> Voir la fiche
6 - Fréjus - AMPHITHEATRE ROMAIN> Voir la fiche
7 - Fréjus - CHAPELLE NOTRE-DAME DE JERUSALEM> Voir la fiche
8 - Fréjus - MOSQUÉE SOUDANAISE> Voir la fiche
9 - Fréjus - MUSÉE ARCHÉOLOGIQUE> Voir la fiche
10 - Fréjus - MUSEE D'HISTOIRE LOCALE> Voir la fiche
11 - Fréjus - THEATRE ROMAIN> Voir la fiche
12 - Grimaud - CHAPELLE DES PENITENTS> Voir la fiche
13 - Grimaud - CHATEAU> Voir la fiche
14 - Grimaud - EGLISE SAINT-MICHEL> Voir la fiche
15 - Grimaud - MUSEE DES ARTS ET TRADITIONS POPULAIRES> Voir la fiche
16 - Grimaud - VILLAGE DE GRIMAUD> Voir la fiche
17 - Hyères - "OLBIA LA MASSALIOTE" : SITE ARCHÉOLOGIQUE GRÉCO-ROMAIN D'OLBIA-POMPONIANA> Voir la fiche
18 - Hyères - COLLEGIALE SAINT-PAUL> Voir la fiche
19 - Hyères - EGLISE PAROISSIALE SAINT-LOUIS> Voir la fiche
20 - Hyères - MUSÉE DU VÊTEMENT PROVENÇAL> Voir la fiche
21 - Hyères - TOUR DES TEMPLIERS> Voir la fiche
22 - Hyères - VIEUX CHATEAU> Voir la fiche
23 - La Celle - ABBAYE ROYALE DE LA CELLE> Voir la fiche
24 - La Garde - CHAPELLE ROMANE NOTRE-DAME> Voir la fiche
25 - La Seyne-sur-Mer - FORT DE L'EGUILLETTE> Voir la fiche
26 - La Seyne-sur-Mer - MUSÉE BALAGUIER> Voir la fiche
27 - Le Pradet - MINE DE CAP GARONNE> Voir la fiche
28 - Le Thoronet - ABBAYE DU THORONET> Voir la fiche
29 - Les Arcs - CHAPELLE SAINTE-ROSELINE> Voir la fiche
30 - Mazaugues - GLACIERE DE PIVAUT> Voir la fiche
31 - Nans-les-Pins - RUINES DU VIEUX NANS> Voir la fiche
32 - Ollioules - EGLISE SAINT-LAURENT> Voir la fiche
33 - Ollioules - MAISON DU PATRIMOINE> Voir la fiche
34 - Ollioules - OPPIDUM DE LA COURTINE> Voir la fiche
35 - Pierrefeu-du-Var - PARCOURS DÉCOUVERTE DE PIERREFEU-DU-VAR> Voir la fiche
36 - PORQUEROLLES - BATTERIE DU LEQUIN> Voir la fiche
37 - PORQUEROLLES - FORT DE L'ALYCASTRE> Voir la fiche
38 - PORQUEROLLES - FORT DE LA REPENTANCE> Voir la fiche
39 - PORQUEROLLES - MOULIN DU BONHEUR> Voir la fiche
40 - Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baum - BASILIQUE SAINTE MARIE-MADELEINE> Voir la fiche
41 - Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baum - COUVENT ROYAL> Voir la fiche
42 - Saint-Raphaël - CENTRE CULTUREL> Voir la fiche
43 - Saint-Tropez - CITADELLE DE SAINT-TROPEZ> Voir la fiche
44 - Seillans - CHAPELLE NOTRE-DAME DE L'ORMEAU> Voir la fiche
45 - Seillans - VILLAGE MÉDIÉVAL DE SEILLANS> Voir la fiche
46 - Six-Fours-les-Plages - BATTERIE DU CAP NEGRE> Voir la fiche
47 - Six-Fours-les-Plages - CHAPELLE DE PEPIOLE> Voir la fiche
48 - Six-Fours-les-Plages - COLLEGIALE SAINT-PIERRE> Voir la fiche
49 - Solliès-Pont - FOUR À CADE> Voir la fiche

50 - Solliès-Toucas - OPPIDUM DU CASTELLAS                                        > Voir la fiche

51 - Solliès-Ville - EGLISE SAINT-MICHEL> Voir la fiche
52 - Solliès-Ville - MUSÉE DU VÊTEMENT PROVENÇAL> Voir la fiche
53 - Toulon - BATTERIE DE PEYRAS> Voir la fiche
54 - Toulon - CENTRE ARCHEOLOGIQUE DU VAR> Voir la fiche
55 - Toulon - ÉGLISE ST LOUIS> Voir la fiche
56 - Toulon - FORT DE BALAGUIER> Voir la fiche
57 - Toulon - FORT DE L'EGUILLETTE> Voir la fiche
58 - Toulon - FORT DU GRAND SAINT-ANTOINE> Voir la fiche
59 - Toulon - FORT LAMALGUE> Voir la fiche
60 - Toulon - HÔTEL DES ARTS> Voir la fiche
61 - Toulon - MUSÉE D'ART> Voir la fiche
62 - Toulon - MUSÉE DES ARTS ASIATIQUES> Voir la fiche
63 - Toulon - MUSÉE NATIONAL DE LA MARINE> Voir la fiche
64 - Toulon - OPÉRA DE TOULON> Voir la fiche
65 - Toulon - PREFECTURE MARITIME> Voir la fiche
66 - Toulon - TOUR ROYALE> Voir la fiche
67 - Varages - ARTISANS FAÏENCIERS DE VARAGES> Voir la fiche
68 - Varages - EGLISE NOTRE-DAME DE NAZARETH> Voir la fiche

In the Alpes Maritimes:

1 - Antibes - FORT CARRE> Voir la fiche
2 - Antibes - FRANCE 3 MÉDITERRANÉE> Voir la fiche
3 - Antibes - MUSEE D'ARCHEOLOGIE> Voir la fiche
4 - Antibes - MUSÉE NAPOLÉONIEN> Voir la fiche
5 - Antibes - MUSÉE PICASSO D'ANTIBES.> Voir la fiche
6 - Antibes - SÉMAPHORE DE LA GAROUPE> Voir la fiche
7 - Antibes - SÉMAPHORE DE LA GAROUPE> Voir la fiche
8 - Beausoleil - L'OPPIDUM CELTO LIGURE DU MONT DES MULES> Voir la fiche
9 - Beausoleil - RIVIERA PALACE ET SERRE JARDIN DU RIVIERA> Voir la fiche
10 - Biot - CENTRE HISTORIQUE DE BIOT> Voir la fiche
11 - Cagnes-sur-Mer - MAISON-RENOIR, MUSÉE DU SOUVENIR> Voir la fiche
12 - Cagnes-sur-Mer - MUSÉE-CHÂTEAU DE CAGNES> Voir la fiche
13 - Cagnes-sur-Mer - VILLE DE CAGNES> Voir la fiche
14 - Cannes - ABBAYE DE LÉRINS - MONASTÈRE FORTIFIÉ> Voir la fiche
15 - Cannes - CENTRE D'ART "LA MALMAISON"> Voir la fiche
16 - Cannes - CHAPELLE ET BUTTE DE SAINT CASSIEN> Voir la fiche
17 - Cannes - FORÊT DOMANIALE DE L'ILE SAINTE-MARGUERITE> Voir la fiche
18 - Cannes - HÔTEL DE VILLE> Voir la fiche
19 - Cannes - MUSÉE DE LA CASTRE DE CANNES> Voir la fiche
20 - Cannes - MUSÉE DE LA MER> Voir la fiche
21 - Cannes - TEMPLE MACONNIQUE DU GRAND ORIENT DE FRANCE> Voir la fiche
22 - Cannes - VILLA DOMERGUE> Voir la fiche
23 - Cannes - VILLA MONTROSE> Voir la fiche
24 - Cannes - VILLA ROTHSCHILD> Voir la fiche
25 - Castellar - CHAPELLE SAINT SÉBASTIEN> Voir la fiche
26 - Castellar - PALAIS LASCARIS> Voir la fiche
27 - Coaraze - CHAPELLE SAINT-SÉBASTIEN> Voir la fiche
28 - Contes - MOULIN A FER> Voir la fiche
29 - Contes - MUSEE DE LA VIGNE ET DU VIN> Voir la fiche
30 - Contes - SITE DES MOULINS> Voir la fiche
31 - Gilette - MUSÉE LOU FEROUIL> Voir la fiche
32 - Grasse - ANCIENNE CATHEDRALE> Voir la fiche
33 - Grasse - ANCIENNE USINE DE PARFUMERIE ROURE> Voir la fiche
34 - Grasse - EGLISE SAINT-LAURENT DE MAGAGNOSC> Voir la fiche
35 - Grasse - MUSEE D'ART ET D'HISTOIRE DE PROVENCE DE GRASSE> Voir la fiche
36 - Grasse - MUSEE INTERNATIONAL DE LA PARFUMERIE DE GRASSE> Voir la fiche
37 - Grasse - PALAIS EPISCOPAL - HOTEL DE VILLE> Voir la fiche
38 - Grasse - THÉÂTRE DE GRASSE> Voir la fiche
39 - Grasse - TOUR DE L'ÉVÉQUE> Voir la fiche
40 - Grasse - VILLA-MUSÉE JEAN-HONORÉ FRAGONARD DE GRASSE> Voir la fiche
41 - La Brigue - CHAPELLE NOTRE-DAME DES FONTAINES> Voir la fiche
42 - Le Cannet - EGLISE SAINTE-CATHERINE> Voir la fiche
43 - Lucéram - EGLISE SAINTE MARGUERITE> Voir la fiche
44 - Menton - BASILIQUE SAINT-MICHEL-ARCHANGE> Voir la fiche
45 - Menton - CHAPELLE DES PÉNITENTS BLANC OU DE L'IMMACULÉE CONCEPTION> Voir la fiche
46 - Menton - CHAPELLE DES PÉNITENTS BLANCS> Voir la fiche
47 - Menton - CIRCUITS DECOUVERTE DU QUARTIER DE LA MADONE> Voir la fiche
48 - Menton - FONDATION BARIQUAND ALPHAND> Voir la fiche
49 - Menton - HÔTEL DANIEL D'ADHÉMAR DE LANTAGNAC> Voir la fiche
50 - Menton - JARDIN FONTANA ROSA> Voir la fiche
    
51 - Menton - MUSEE DE PREHISTOIRE REGIONALE> Voir la fiche
52 - Menton - SERRE DE LA MADONNE> Voir la fiche
53 - Nice - ABBAYE DE ROSELAND> Voir la fiche
54 - Nice - CENTRE DU PATRIMOINE> Voir la fiche
55 - Nice - CIRCUIT DU VIEUX NICE BAROQUE> Voir la fiche
56 - Nice - MUSEE DU PALAIS LASCARIS> Voir la fiche
57 - Nice - OPÉRA DE NICE> Voir la fiche
58 - Nice - PROMENADE DES ANGLAIS> Voir la fiche
59 - Nice - SANCTUAIRE NATIONAL DE NOTRE-DAME AUXILIATRICE> Voir la fiche
60 - Nice - SANCTUAIRE NOTRE DAME AUXILIATRICE SAINT-JEAN-BOSCO - EDIFICE "ART DÉCO"> Voir la fiche
61 - Nice - VILLA ARSON> Voir la fiche
62 - Puget-Théniers - OFFICE DE TOURISME> Voir la fiche
63 - Roquebrune-Cap-Martin - CHATEAU MEDIEVAL> Voir la fiche
64 - Saint-Paul - LE VILLAGE DE SAINT-PAUL DE VENCE> Voir la fiche
65 - Sainte-Agnès - FORT MAGINOT> Voir la fiche
66 - Saorge - EGLISE PAROISSIALE SAINT-SAUVEUR> Voir la fiche
67 - Saorge - MONASTÈRE DES FRANCISCAINS DE SAORGE> Voir la fiche
68 - Tende - MUSÉE DES MERVEILLES DE TENDE> Voir la fiche
69 - Valbonne - ABBAYE SAINTE-MARIE DE VALBONNE> Voir la fiche
70 - Villars-sur-Var - VILLAGE MEDIEVAL> Voir la fiche
71 - Villefranche-sur-Mer - CITADELLE SAINT ELME> Voir la fiche
72 - Villeneuve-Loubet - ESPACE CULTUREL ANDRÉ MALRAUX> Voir la fiche
73 - Villeneuve-Loubet - FONDATION AUGUSTE ESCOFFIER> Voir la fiche
74 - Villeneuve-Loubet - GROUPE SCOLAIRE LES PLANS> Voir la fiche
75 - Villeneuve-Loubet - MAIRIE> Voir la fiche
76 - Villeneuve-Loubet - MARINA BAIE DES ANGES> Voir la fiche
                                                     

The Gorges du Verdon

On the Route Des Cretes, Verdon

Les Gorges du Verdon

Edouard Martel may have spearheaded modern speleology, and he may have officially been trained as an attorney, but he is the first to have thoroughly explored and reported on the Gorges du Verdon, the "Grand Canyon of Europe".

Martel thought the Verdon the most stunning of canyons. Few dispute this today. The Gorges du Verdon is the largest canyon in Europe, carved up to 700 meters deep into limestone rock. From atop the Route des Crêtes on the northern section, the green Verdon river looks like a tiny grass snake wiggling along.

In the 1920s a handful of vista points were built along the canyon, mostly for the intrepid explorers as access was still difficult. Soon after WWII, the D71 road was constructed along the southern ridge. It's only in 1973 that the road on the northern ridge of the canyon was carved and set-up (the D952).  Since then, many have enjoyed visiting by care, as well as on foot, on rafts, by bike and motorcycle (Verdon is a big motorcycle place).

How's the road?

Comfortable. Sure, it winds around. Given the geology, you expect a road that turns, and you'll spot an occasional rock that jumped the cliff to land on the road. You drive slowly and stop frequently to take in the view, so turns aren't as much of an issue as some folks make it to be. The real issue is mid-summer traffic when crowds pack the entire area. Visit the Verdon before July 1 or after August 25 if at all possible.

The traditional loop around the Gorges du Verdon begins from Castellane and meanders along the gorges' northern rim on the D952 to Moustiers Sainte Marie. Count on a half day journey to enjoy it. The return loop heads from Moustiers to Aiguines to Trigance to Castellane on the D71, D90, D995. The southern ridge is a bit less crowded. There's no reason to stick to this counter-clock direction, mind you. Loop it whichever direction suits your trip. The only one-way loop is the Route des crêtes off the D952 on the northern section.

Point Sublime at Verdon

How long is the drive around the Verdon canyon?

As long as possible. Seriously, you might circle around the Verdon north and south in a full day. You would amazed, but dizzy and dazed. With the largest canyon in Europe, best to take your time and soak it all in.

My recommendation? Take 3 days and 2 nights to visit Castellane, Rougon, to stop at the best vista points, to hike a bit along the Point Sublime and on the many marked trails, to experience Moustiers Sainte Marie at nightfall, to ride a pedal boat at the Lac Saint Croix (not when windy, unless you're Tour de France material), to enjoy it when goats block your passage on the canyon road rather than cringe because you're late.

Verdon Goat says: What's the rush?

What are the best spots?

I've underscored what I would consider must-see's. You could easily spend a week to explore more. What's more, the western side of the gorges is also the eastern edge of some of Provence lavender country (Valensole plateau) so a whole other world of possibilities opens up in May, June and July before lavender harvest.

For a view over the raw plunging cliffs of the Verdon  you'll have to stop to the edge of the canyon, at Point Sublime off the D952 on the northern ridge.

It's at the cross road with the street that heads up to the village of Rougon. Perched in the sky and hovering above the entrance to the Verdon Gorges, Rougon is worth a visit. If you're up to it, hike up from Point Sublime to Rougon. It's 3 km or a half hour's hike. You'll feel like an eagle. There's also a good hike from Point Sublime down the canyon. I've not done it, but clearly it must drop and climb a little...

Point Sublime Back on the D952, just before the village of La Palud sur Verdon, the Route des Crêtes loops around the canyon's crest-line for 25 vista-peppered kilometers. Not too many miles, but with all of its "belvedere" view points from the top of the canyon, count on a full hour. 

Vulture checking out tasty tourists, Verdon With a little luck, Eurasion Griffon Vultures (Gyps Fulvus) will circle above your head before it returns to its nests in the cliffs. It's a scavenger who catches hot air currents and glides over the gorges in search of meat. This bird of prey prefers rabbits and wild boars to humans ;-). It was re-introduced in the Gorges du Verdon in 1999 and early 2000. The vultures too seem to love the Verdon.

Continuing west on the D952, you might spot a little road-side cabin that sells lavender pouches, and honey and oil.

You reach an intersection at the end of the gorges: left for the Lac du Verdon for a refreshing dip in the bright green waters or right to experience Moustiers Sainte Marie.

Moustiers Sainte-Marie is magical in the evening when the sun sets on the surrounding gold-colored cliffs. It's full of little restaurants, some of them better than others. We like the Treille Muscate for its location right above the river and in the center of town.

A dip in the Sainte-Croix lac feels very refreshing and many family-run outfits rent pedalos, kayaks and windsurfers on the beaches along the lake. A pedal boat and a good set of legs will make for a fun tour of the lake. If interested, I recommend you rent from the outfits at the northern section of the lake (by bridge off D957) so you can more readily access the Verdon river, its caves and waterfalls.

For the full loop around the canyon, head back on the southern rim by charming Aiguines, on the Route de la Corniche Sublime (D71) then enjoy the Balcons de la Mescla vista spot where the Arturby river flows into the Verdon, then Trigance. From Comps, depending on your next destination, you can head back up to Castellane, take the D955 down to Draguignan or the D21 toward Grasse.

Do you have a map for the route you describe above?

For a map of the Gorges du Canyon loop described above, click on the below Google map. 



View AzurAlive.com: Gorges du Verdon in a larger map