The Verdon Gorge, called Gorges du Verdon in French, in south-eastern France between the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and the Var is a spectacular river canyon that is often considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful. The 25 kilometres long canyon is up to 700 metres deep and varies in width between 6 and 100 meters at the bottom and 200 to 1500 meters at its rim.
The gorge is formed by the Verdon River, which is named after its startling turquoise-green colour, one of the canyon’s most distinguishing characteristics. The most impressive part lies between the towns of Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, where the river has cut a ravine up to 700 metres down through the limestone mass. From Castellane to the village of Rougons, the Verdon river flows clear and swift, and the road follows along the banks. At Rougons, by the Point Sublime, the river plunges into the narrow rock walls, and there’s no escape until it comes out the western end before flowing into the artificial lake of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon.
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 over 1,500 different hiking routes around the gorge. 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.
Throughout the 19th century, the deepest gorges were thought to be impenetrable. Only a few local woodcutters went down into the gorges on ropes, looking for box wood stumps that they used for making boules. The canyon remained unexplored until the early 20th century. Armand Janet attempted a canoe exploration in 1896, but gave up because of the violent currents. In August of 1905, the speleologist Edouard Alfred Martel did the first complete exploration of the gorges on a 3-day expedition. Part of the Martel trail is still used, between Point Sublime to La Maline.