Day 17: Pertius to Castellane, France - The Gorges of Verdon

Looking down to the valley of northern Gorge du Verdon

This is the view from inside the southern Gorge du Verdon
You can see the road running along the wall

And this is the narrow gap going into the Gorge
Spectacular stuff!

The Gorges du Verdon are really are two different gorges, both on the river Verdon. The southern one is the "Grand Canyon of Europe" and the northern one is simply a nice, rarther gentle gorge with spectacular walls. When I was an hour of so from the end of that second gorge, I saw a fancy bus pulling a bicycle trailer for two dozen on more bikes. It had one bike on it. I though the bus was heading up to the end of the ride down from the high point - 1100 M down to 600 M in about five miles - to pick up bicyclist that had been hauled up there. Then, about 20 minutes later, still riding towards Castellane, I saw several groups of people, mostly older, riding bikes just like the one on that trailer, down the gentle gorge of the Verdon. It had no more than a 1% average slope, yet these folks had paid to ride down it and be hauled back up . I realized then that no company was going to put unskilled people on bikes and expect them to survive the spectactular ride down - with 8% grades and lots of sharp corners with fatal vertical drop offs - but that the gentler Gorge du Verdon was perfect for those same folks.

The Durance River valley near Pertius

La Bastidonne, a town on the climb east from Pertius on D973

The roundabout where I got on D 952

It took me 7 hours and 45 minutes of pedalling to cover 78 miles today, an average of 10 mph. I was on the road by 8 AM and stopped for the day after 6 PM. I climbed a mile vertical and I am very tired. I had a ball! The Gorges du Verdon are a great ride, even on a loaded bike. I did see one other loaded bike today, shortly before I reached the gorges. He had just finished riding through the Gorges du Verdon from the other direction, and he had a big smile on his face.

My climbing started as I left Pertius. D 973 climbed around 200 M in the first five miles, then leveled out and after a few miles of descent, including a mile on N96, I reached the round pont (roundabout) for D 952. I rode D 952 for the rest of the day. Now that is my kind of route!

D 952 in the Durance River valley, with the big canal, the A 51 Autoroute
and what is left of the river all in this one, not very good, image

Note the town on the Durance (St Paul) and the town on the Verdon (Vinon)
The C.E.N. Caradache is a BIG nuclear research establishment that is between the two rivers

D 952 changes character many time is the 60 miles I rode on it. It starts out as almost an expressway in the Durance valley, is the major road up the Verdon Valley, and then shrinks down to little more than a small road though a forest as it climbs towards the Gorge. It was almost always fun to ride and I saw bicyclist on all the sections except the steepest ones . Some of the cyclists were very fit, other were just pretentious, and several bunches looked like they had been carried up and were riding down. Two of the very fit cyclists passed me on my way to the gorges and paused to visit. That was nice, but our lack of a common language prevented some good visiting.

Climbing towards the Gorge after lunch in Reiz

D 952 climbs to about 700 M before descending about 200 M to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, the closest town to the southern gorge

The steepest riding is in Gréoux-les-Bains and climbing out of the southern gorge. In both cases I was in about a 20 inch gear doing 4 to 5 mph. The climb out was about 400 M vertical (1400 feet) Most of the rest of the climbing was gentler - what I have come to think of as the standard, 6 to 7 mph, climb in southern France. When, looking ahead, I saw that D 952 steeply climbed out of the gorge, I stopped and used my routing software to compare climbing out to going back to Gréoux. I decided to climb out since that worked better for my routing, but going back was also a good option. I really would have enjoyed the, mostly downhill, ride back through the gorge -- some of the most scenic riding I've ever done - and the only real climb in that direction is the 200 M climb out from Moustiers. I didn't know how big the climb out was, but I ould see that it was more than 200 M and was steeper than the climbs in the other direction. However, I had decided to route through Genoble, and Castellane, on the other side of that climb, was on N 85, the "Route Napolean", which looks like the best way to ride to Grenoble.

Looking towards the gorge from near Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

Lake de St Croix at the southern end of the Gorges from D 592 after it has climbed about 100 M above the lake

Riding in the southern gorge

Looking back on D 952 as I am climbing out of the gorge

I stopped near the top of that climb at a 'snack bar' which sold me a 2 E coke and provided a stunning place to sit and cool off. Then I rode on up, over, and down into a new valley. That downhill gave my brakes a good workout! When I got to the bottom, I had to climb again and then do another great descent to the river Verdon. The ride from there to Castellane was slightly uphill, and very nice.

D 952 heading down to the Verdon

And running along the gentle Gorge du Verdon towards Castellane

This ride goes through three districts in Provence, but most of it is in the des Alps de Haute Provence, the start of the mountains in Provence. It is a very beautiful department, with, to me, some of the best riding in France.

Here come the mountians!

And the fields of Lavender

This is the rock with a church in it, which dominates Castellane

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