Walks in Provence
Surprisingly, the magnificent Gorge du Verdon and the Lac de Ste. Croix in Provence are relatively unknown to the British. Although a holiday area, it remains unspoilt, especially outside the high season, and walking, bird watching or just enjoying the weather and scenery, is enormously pleasurable. The Mercantour, also in Provence, is a beautiful national park with a mixture of high peaks and valleys packed with ancient towns and villages.
The Gorge, the widest and deepest in Europe, is spectacular and an ideal venue for walkers of all abilities. There are walks and hikes along the river’s edge, alongside mountains and some taking in villages or vantage points. Whatever walk you choose, you can be sure of the most awe-inspiring scenery, a wealth of wildlife and a wide variety of wildflowers and plants.
The enormous cliffs of the Gorge, unique in Europe, are made up of calcareous rock, a result of the erosion of the Verdon river. The Lac de Ste.Croix is the largest of the four Verdon lakes, being approximately 10 km long and 3 km wide, a total of around 2,200 ha, the perimeter road being about 36 kms.
The Gorge and Lake are in a Natural Park, and there has been a successful programme over the last few years to re-introduce wildlife such as golden eagles and vultures, which can frequently be seen souring above the mountains or down into the Gorge. There are many different varieties of lizards and geckoes to be seen on a hot day as well as crickets and cicadas.
The scenery is enhanced by the abundance of wild flowers and shrubs throughout the year. In April the acacia trees bring white fragrant blossoms whilst the elegant wild irises are a mass of colour and the rarer dwarf varieties in their different colours and hues can often be spotted. May brings the vibrant yellow brooms which abound on the mountain and roadsides. Wild flowers such as the delicate purple columbine, sweet peas, and many varieties of orchid are numerous in the area.
The Lake, which the river of the Gorge feeds into, is normally bright blue, reflecting the sun. There are hikes starting from the ancient villages around the lake, such as Ste Croix de Verdon, which nestles just above the lake, Bauduen and Aiguines, which looks down on the lake. On the plateau above the Lake are miles of lavender fields, which are truly spectacular when in flower, around June and July.
Perhaps the best time to explore Provence is outside of the peak holiday period of July and August, when the weather is not quite so hot, but it is usually sunny and warm. In winter time rainy days are a lot rarer than in England and the days tend to be sunny with cold nights. February is often very pleasant and can be quite warm in the day. At this time of the year there are usually breathtaking views of snowy mountaintops, the area being at the foothill of the Alps. It also enables visitors to take advantage of bargain air fares. The area is about a one and a half hours drive from Nice Airport, which is serviced by a number of airlines including Easyjet, and just a little longer from Marseille. However, a leisurely drive through France to the area can be made part of a French holiday.