The Verdon Gorge
Yesterday was our second visit to the Verdon Gorge. It’s only a 40 minute drive from Cotignac, where we’re presently living and it is spectacular.
The Verdon River which was named for it’s gorgeous verdant bright green water is the reason for the gorge’s existence. The river has cut a ravine through the limestone mass in places as deep as 700 metres. Great for rock climbing!
Lac de Sainte-Croix
At the end of the Verdon Gorge is a man made lake; Lac de Sainte-Croix. It’s a playground for all sorts of water sports, picnicking, and simply having fun and is the largest reservoir in France. It get’s quite crowded in the summer, as we found out on our first visit, with long lines waiting to hire the boats. Kayaks, canoes, and boats with little electric motors. On the second visit we arrived early.
The Verdon River was dammed in 1974 to improve Provence’s water supply, creating the Sainte-Croix lake. The village of Sainte-Croix du Verdon, which was once perched up high on a rocky promontory and of relatively little significance, now has the lake lapping at it’s base. Tourism followed.
Another village, Les Salles was forcibly razed and flooded to make way for the new dam, angering the residents who’s families have lived there for centuries. The village has been renamed Les Salles sur Verdon and rebuilt with an enormous out-of-proportion church and lots of tourist bars. It’s the youngest village in France, soulless, and worth avoiding, in my opinion. They do say though, that when the water of the lake is low, the original village can be seen through the clear azure water. I don’t know if that’s true, or not.
The nearby village of Moustiers Saint Marie
This medieval village is tucked between two high cliffs close to the edge of the Verdon Gorge, the Sainte Croix lake and the Valensole plateau (famous for lavender fields). Named as one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages” it has cobbled streets, an aqueduct, and even a waterfall in the centre of the village.
Only about 700 people live here on a permanent basis and during the non-touristy months, like most small villages in France, must become extremely quiet. During the summer months though, Moustiers Saint Marie is swarming with visitors.
Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir.
Moustiers (an early provençal word for monastery) was founded by monks in the fifth century, and perched high above the village is the Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir. If you care to walk up the 262 steep steps, you can not only visit the Chapelle but also get an amazing view of village below (rooftops) and the surrounding countryside. The steps are very slippery, having been polished over the years by the tread of millions of souls, but well worth the effort, even on a very hot day!
There it is, way at the top.
At several points on the path, there are columns showing the cross in Moustiers ceramics. (See below)
Times were hard in those days, what with Moorish invaders and harsh weather conditions. This place looks practically impenetrable!
The Chapelle itself is very cool and serene inside. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is one of only a handful of sanctuaries in Provence having a reputation of witnessing miracles. 336 miracles were recorded in the registry at Moustiers between 1666 and 1673.
Each year on the 8th of September a pilgrimage sets out at dawn from the fountain in the village and climbs up to the Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir for early morning mass, accompanied by musicians. They’re celebrating the anniversary of the Nativity of the Virgin. Later, a huge communal breakfast is held in the village square.
Throughout the village are several shops selling ceramics. White ceramics.
A ceramic shop in a cave
During the 17th century a local family, the Clérissys, devised a way of making pottery with an elegant off-white glaze. The delicate and predominately blue, white and yellow designs, became popular all over Europe, and is still practised by a dozen or so artisans. It’s not cheap. But at least it’s authentic!
Can you Spot the Star?
I hadn’t taken my zoom lens with me on this trip as I didn’t want to carry too much on the kayak. I was possibly taking a risk even taking my camera. So I couldn’t zoom in on the 5 pointed star hanging brightly in the sky in broad daylight. If you look closely you can see it to the left, in the sky.
This thing’s been hanging up there for centuries! Well, not exactly THIS star, but A star. No one knows it’s origin but it goes way back before the 17th century, when it was mentioned by historians. Heaven knows how they got it up there way back when! The star has been replaced several times during the centuries, when it’s predecessor has either been removed during the French Revolution, vandalised, or simple fallen down through age.
Suspended in the air between two rocks, the wires holding it in position attracted the attention of 19th century engineers, who later “invented” suspension bridges. The present star was hung using a helicopter and although it looks tiny, is actually 4 feet wide.
The major historical building within the village centre is Notre Dame de l’Assomption, dating back to the 12th century. Here’s a shot of the four-storey Romanesque bell tower.
In and around the Verdon is a beautiful area to explore. If you’re into hiking, you’d have everything you could possibly wish for. There are lots of camping grounds all around the area, for those who want to spend some time and really get into the natural environment.
Here’s just one more shot looking down on the village and surrounding countryside, taken from up at the Chapelle.
If you have called by to read my blog, thank you. Do please scroll down and take a minute to leave me a note. It encourages me to keep on writing 🙂