Nice – Grasse – Gourdon – Castellane – Verdon Gorge
Distance: 151 km
Travel time without stopping is 3 hours one way with full stops – 6 hours.
There will be a toll highway A8 – 2.9 euros on the route for the passage of Nice-Cannes. You can make your way along the free roads along the coast (+40 minutes).
When you can go. At any time of the year. The cool mountains of upper Provence always contrast perfectly with the warm Côte d’Azur. In June and July, lavender fields bloom, but there are almost no tourists in winter, and prices for housing and food are much lower, while the fabulous nature and cozy villages and towns are no less beautiful. The temperature in December-February is from 0 to +10. Until late autumn, nature here pleases the eye with yellow-red colors, and poppies bloom in spring. In any case, at any time of the year, to travel along this route will require warm non-blowing clothes: the region is famous for cold winds – mistrals.
Most of this route runs through the Préalpes d’Azur Nature Reserve. The road will invariably delight you with beautiful views. In June and July, lavender fields bloom along the way. Lavender in Provence is also used in cooking. Look for and try local dishes with their addition—for example, a delicious dessert – Crème Brulee with lavender flowers.
The first stop from Nice will be the city of Grasse, a famous perfume center. This industry has long been the backbone of the city’s economy. It was in Grasse that the action of the famous book “Perfumer” took place. By the way, Ivan Bunin lived here for almost ten years.
In Grasse we advise you to visit:
1. One of the perfume factories (for example, Fragonard).
2. Cathedral of Notre-Dame-du-Puy (Notre-Dame-du-Puy), built in the XII century, will interest all history lovers.
3. The International Museum of Perfumery (Musée International de la Parfumerie), where you will find a variety of samples of perfumes, including ancient ones. In addition to the main exposition, temporary exhibitions are periodically held. The entrance ticket costs 4 euros. The museum is open from 10:00 to 17:30.
It is unlikely that you will find such a huge selection of local perfume products anywhere else. Therefore, it is worth bringing perfumes, eau de toilette, aromatic oils, fragrant soaps, creams, sachets, candles, and much more from Grasse. In addition to perfumes, lavender honey and olive oil will be an excellent souvenirs.
The next destination is the small village of Gourdon, located on the top of the mountain, at an altitude of 758 meters. It is included in the list of the most beautiful villages in France, so it definitely deserves attention. The population of Gourdon is only about 400 people, and this place immediately fascinates with its peace and tranquility. Be sure to admire the panorama of the surroundings from the observation deck. The village’s main attraction is considered to be a small medieval castle, which is open to the public, but in fact, it is quite enough to admire it from the outside if you are limited in time. In addition to the castle, Gourdon has several art galleries, a restaurant with a great view, and good souvenir shops.
The next point of the route is the small medieval town of Castellane, located on a rocky plateau. It is quite possible to go along and across in less than one hour. Be sure to climb to the Notre Dame du Roc chapel, located on a sheer cliff, and take a picture on the charming arched bridge of Pont du Roc at the foot of this cliff.
To the north of Castellan, 5 km from the city, is the Lac de Castillon lake with clear turquoise water. A good way to the water with parking and rental of catamarans is at the recreational center of Le Sirocco (Base de Loisir Nautique Sirocco, GPS coordinates: 43.875096, 6.516996). But if time allows, take a ride for an hour along the eastern shore of the lake. There is a road (D955) from which beautiful views open. You can drive along with it to the fishing village of Saint-Julien-du-Verdon, there is a lovely sandy beach and a great opportunity to wet your feet in the cold water of the mountain lake.
30 km southwest of Castellan lies the Verdon Gorge. This is a giant gorge in limestone rocks, 700 meters deep (one of the deepest in Europe). An excellent panorama of the area is visible from the observation deck at the arched bridge of Artuby (Pont de l’Artuby). Pont de l’Artuby is an arched bridge with a height of 182 meters, which is beautiful in itself. You can jump with a bungee from this bridge for about 100 euros (the cost depends on the number of people in the assembled group). In case you decide on this adventure, be sure to reserve a place in advance here. Jumps are made from April to November on weekends, in July and August – also on Fridays. After the jump, you will be given a certificate that you have made it.
Breathtaking views of the Verdon Mountain River running into the gorge can be enjoyed from the parking lot of the Balcons de la Mescla (GPS coordinates: 43.739704, 6.381789).
You can finish the road trip by staying overnight in one of the hotels in the vicinity of Castellan, and the next day continues along with route #2 (Verdon Gorge – Lake Sainte-Croix du Verdon – Moutiers-Sainte-Marie – Silance Falls). Another option is to go down to the coast to the A8 highway and go to Marseille (about 3 hours) or back to Nice (about 2 hours).