Photo Credit: Philippe Chauveau
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Because of its proximity to the French Riviera, the canyon is very popular with tourists, who can drive around its rim, rent kayaks or hike. The limestone walls, which are several hundreds of metres high, attract many rock climbers. It is considered an outstanding destination for multi-pitch climbing. There are routes encompassing cracks, pillars and seemingly endless walls. The climbing is generally of a technical nature, and there are over 1,500 routes, ranging from 20m to over 400m.
The Verdon Gorge is renowned as one of the most beautiful canyons in Europe, and attracts numerous tourists, especially during the summer period. It is easily accessible on its right bank from the North (via route D952 from Castellane to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie), and on its left bank from the South (via routes D71, D90 and D995 from Aiguines to Castellane).
The southern route offers views of the Col d'Illoire, the summits of Plein Voir, le Pavillon (1624 m), la cime de Barbin (1560 m) and le Mourre de Chanier (1930 m), and the Saint-Croix reservoir. The "Sentier de l'Imbut" hike begins from this side of the gorge. When the road passes through the Tunnel du Fayet, there are openings cut into the tunnel to afford a view. The road then crosses the Artuby River over a bridge known either as Pont de l'Artuby or Pont de ChauliÃ¨re; soon after, at the relais de Balcon, the Artuby flows into the Verdon. This area is also known as the "Mescla," meaning "mixture" in ProvenÃƒÂ§al.
On the D90 in the direction of Trigance, another bridge spans the Jabron river (another tributary of the Verdon) and then the Pont des Soleils. Just below Rougon there is the Couloir Samson (Samson's Corridor), the entrance to the part of the fluvial landscape designated as "gorge." From there one can hike along the Verdon and take the famous "Sentier Martel." La Palud-sur-Verdon, a village with museum and tourist bureau, is nearby; the "route des CrÃªtes" (Crest Route, linking various panoramic viewpoints) proceeds from here. The Sentier Martel also is accessible from this route, beginning at the French Alpine Club or "chÃ¢let de La Maline." This path covers over 100 km of not always easy roads.
The Verdon Gorge is an appreciated destination for rock climbers, since it includes more than 1,500 climbing routes on good limestone rock. The Verdon and its Gorge is also a favoured destination for fishermen, particularly for fly fishing. Hiking, Canoeing, paragliding, rafting, climbing and of course Canyoning are some of the numerous sports practiced in the region.
Hiking and Scenic Walks
The most famous and beautiful hikes in the gorge include:
* Le sentier (pathway) de Martel
* Le sentier de l'Imbut
* Le sentier du Bastidon
* Le belvÃ©dÃ¨re de Rancoumas par le pont de Tusset (the Rancoumas panoramic viewpoint near the Tusset Bridge)
The most famous of these, the Sentier Martel, was laid out in 1928 by the Touring Club de France, and given its present name in 1930 to honor the explorer Ã‰douard-Alfred Martel (1859â€“1938). Martel had visited the Verdon in 1905 as an employee of the Southeast Electricity Company, carrying out precise geological surveys of the river. On 11 August, he and his team (explorer Armand Janet, schoolmaster Isidore Blanc, geographer Cuvelier, plaus Baptistin Flory, Fernand Honorat, Prosper Marcel, and Tessier Zurcher) began an expedition of the region by boat and foot (especially when one of the boats became unusable). They discovered a narrow corridor which Martel named "Styx." When they arrived at Imbut (meaning "narrow" or "funnel" in ProvenÃ§al) Martel wished to abandon the expedition, but his comrades encouraged him to continue. They entered the canyon proper 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.
Other expeditions to the Verdon included Martel's team the following year; Robert de Joly who in 1928 was the first to completely cross the Verdon Gorge, passing over the Imbut; explorer and filmmaker Albert Mahuzier in 1938 and 1939; a group of Scouts in 1945 and the Canoe Club of France in 1946; and Roger Verdegen, who made several expeditions in a boat made from animal hides and natural rubber, and became an authority on the Verdon.
The Hiking Route
From the chalet de la Maline to the Point Sublime, passing through Martelâ€™s pathway with a detour via the Mescla.
The present-day Sentier Martel travels 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) along the right bank of the river Verdon from its entrance into the Canyon (Point Sublime) to the ChÃ¢let de la Maline. Some experienced hikers can do the round trip by foot in 12 to 13 hours; for those going one way, this section of the hike takes 7 to 8 hours with the detour via La Mescla.
Beginning at La Maline and going toward the canyon, the route descends in hairpins to join the water at the EstelliÃ© ford. Notable sights along this section include the Ravin de CharenÃ§on, the Pas d'Issabe, the PrÃ© d'Issane (a small pebble beach along the Verdon), the Ã‰troit des Cavaliers (a narrow passage between cliffs), the GuÃ¨ges scree, and the large cave of Baume-aux-Boefus.
A detour allows one to visit la Mescla, where the Artuby river joins 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 BrÃ¨che Embert and its 6 stairways, totaling 252 steps (descending). Thereafter, the route climbs again along the Verdon, first very high above the riverbanks, then very close, to arrive at a pebble beach by the Baumes-FÃ¨res stream, near the cliff of l'EscalÃ¨s.
The hike continues along the river bed, passing the Tours de TrescaÃ¯re on the other bank: two impressive monolithic pyramids. Then comes three tunnels: the Tunnel des Baumes, the Tunnel de TrescaÃ¯re, and the Tunnel du Baou, which were originally built for hydroelectric projects that were abandoned after World War II. Hikers wishing to explore these need pocket lamps and warm clothing; they range in length from 110 metres (360 ft) to 670 metres (2,200 ft).
At the end of the Tunnel de TrescaÃƒÂ¯re is a view of the narrowness of the Gorge, with the cliff walls of l'EscalÃ¨s to the left and the rock face of l'Encastel to the right. Partway 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.
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