Road Trip in the South of France
If ever traveling the South of France or are planning a trip consider doing a road trip from Castellane to Moustiers Sainte-Marie. We did it in two (long) days but you could easily add some extra time. We were staying in Mougins and started there. Renting a car with a GPS is key, given that trying to follow a map anywhere in France is practically impossible. The road is a windy one so choose a car that hugs curves well and has great gas millage. Map the route on Google maps first so you at least have a visual idea of what you will be driving.
The route begins by taking you trough the village of Grasse. You can stop if you like but we were eager to get to Castellane… but I do recommend stopping at “Boulevard Bellevue” – it gives an outrageous overhead view of Grasse. The route from there consists of country side, flowering fields, small villages and far off castles until the mountains in the distance begin to grow in size.
When you reach Castellane it may seem like just another little village in the hills but what is great about this little place it that it sits at the beginning of the most impressive part of what is to be considered Europe’s most beautiful gorge – Gorges Du Verdon. I will suggest eating lunch in Castellane given that you have already been driving for two hours and if you are going to see the gorge properly you will be driving for at least another hour, so eat up. There are plenty of little cafes and should have no problem finding a good one.
The gorge was formed by the Verdon River, which is a startling turquoise-green color. The section of the gorge that lies between Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, like I said, has the most impressive part of the gorge where the river has cut a ravine up to 700 metres down through limestone rock. The river flows into a massive man-made turquoise lake called Lac de Sainte-Croix – more on that in a bit. When driving the gorge take a detour onto “Route des Cretes”. It’s a 30 minutes loop that will spit you back onto the main road. The views from this route are unbelievable and you can take dozens of photos (like I did) but they will never do it justice for what you see with your eyes. Make sure to pay attention and watch for the road, the sign for Route des Cretes is a small one. I would also recommend stopping and getting out every chance you get on this little road… the views just keep getting better and better.
After you make your way around the windy road you come to my favorite of all the French villages we visited – Moustiers Sainte-Marie. It sits perched in the hills and is looked down upon by the village’s chapel “Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir”. The town is spilt by a generous spring and a series of small waterfalls. If you will be traveling during high season (summer months) book a hotel ahead of time. We were very lucky to find a room at the very simple but nice hotel “Le Belvedere” which sat cliffside and had amazing views of the countryside below and surrounding village. Depending on what time you arrive in the village I would encourage you to wait to just before sunset to hike up the “Chemin de Courchon”, which is the path that leads up to the chapel. As you walk the cobble stone steps keep in mind that it has been walked on by pilgrims for the past 1500 years!!! Some massive amounts of history under your feet! Once you get to the top you have sweeping views over Moustiers, the Maire valley and Lac de Sainte Croix. Stick around and watch the sunset… you wont regret it. When you make your way back down to the village stop off at the restaurant “La Casade”, which sits next to the waterfall and flowing stream. Make sure to order the goat cheese salad and the fish of the day (that’s if you like fish of course). So yummy, I would have to say that it was one of the best meals of our trip. After dinner rest up because the next morning you’re going to want to head to the lake.
The next morning take your time rising. There is a market in town that starts at 8:30 and most of the water activities down by the lake don’t open till 9:00. We ended up getting to the lake right at 9 and walked right up to a kayak place called “L’Etoile pont du Galetas” (when we returned two hours later there was a line of as least 50 people!). The cost was 15 euro each for two hours to take a kayak. You have options of other water transportation such as little motorized boats, canoes and paddle boats. Once on the water you will see everyone headed in one direction… in this case, follow the crowd. You will find yourself floating along massive limestone rock and beautiful landscapes. About 30 minutes up the river once you pass under the bridge you will find a waterfall. But watch out for water traffic though… not everyone knows how to steer a boat. Once you are done with the kayak adventure you can stick around and lay on the beach and swim in the turquoise water. Also, if you have time, drive around the lake – it takes about an hour. There are a couple little villages along the way if you want to stop for lunch. We ended up going back to Moustiers Sainte-Marie and catching the tail end of the market and ate lunch at the same restaurant the night before, again ordering the goat cheese salad and the fish of the day… yes, it was that good. If you do that make sure to hit up the little crepe stand at the backside of the village (you can’t miss him), made fresh when you order!
We then headed home, but if you have an extra day – stay and live it up. It was one of the most beautiful places we visited in France. We ended up taking another way back that also gave us astonishing views and jaw dropping scenery and still made it back to Mougins for dinner. I’m excited for you if this inspired a trip to France for you and if not… well then… at least you learned a little about France and looked at some cool photos. 🙂 Happy travels!