When you hear about Provence, or South of France, the very first thing that usually comes to mind is the lavender fields. Indeed, it is what made the region so famous and trendy, for all the reasons I explain in my article about how to visit them. Be sure to check it for all my tips on when & how to go, where to stay, where are the most popular fields and photo spots, secret activities & so on.
But once the fields visited and captured, usually at sunrise or sunset, you have a whole day in Provence to spend, and trust me there are soooo many other gems to explore! Keep on reading to learn about them all!
1. Gorges du Verdon
Also known as the “Verdon Gorge” in English, this insanely stunning canyon is the very first place you have to visit in Provence once done with the lavender fields. It is located approximately 1h15 from Valensole by car. Filled with the vibrant greenish turquoise Verdon river that is running through it, and surrounded by dramatic limestone cliffs, it is often considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful. Long of about 25 kilometers all the way to the Alps’ foothills, it is the deepest gorge in France. The most impressive part lies between the towns of Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, where the river has cut a ravine to a depth of 700 meters through the mass.
It is a really popular place during summertime, for both tourists and locals. A true French jewel with so many hidden corners to discover along the narrow winding ledge you will drive on. These pictures were taken from the road D952, or “Route de Castellane”, where you can find many panorama points of view. But be careful, sometimes the route is very narrow and people can drive fast, while the stopping spots are not always secured. GPS coordinates of the spot below are 43.7873381, 6.2656627.
The main place to access the gorge though is lower, by the Pont du Galetas (meaning Galetas Bridge); you can enter it into your GPS directly if you have one to find it easier. This bridge gives you a beautiful view over the gorge and you can park there too. It is there also that you will be able to rent kayaks, pedalos or boats if you want.
Indeed, most people go kayaking or canoeing on the main gorge. We didn’t because it was too packed for us, but it is still a very fun thing to do I guess! Renting a canoe will cost you 20 euros for one hour. For a boat it will depend on how long you want to be on the river for, 2 hours is 40 euros, 3 hours is 60€, and 4 hours is 80€. CAREFUL – most stands do not accept credit cards so you will need cash for the payment, along with a passport or identity card to hire any of the options.
If you want to beat the crowds, which are quite intense in summer, and have a more peaceful time on the river, be there at 9am when the boat hire places open. Then you will be among the first on the water! There is also less people around noon in general, or during June it’s still quite calm. But the main spots overall stay very crowded at any time from mid-June to the end of August.
Therefore, the other option you have is to go swimming in a more hidden place, like the one we have been to, called the “couloir Samson“. The water is not really warm in general in the gorges, but who cares when the view is so extraordinary! Their crystal blue color is simply out of this world! So pure and barely looking real, this stunning turquoise is due to the microscopic algae contained in the water.
To find this place, you will need to drive another good 45 minutes along the gorge on D952. Not so long though, as the views keep on being extraordinary and make the road go faster. Enter “couloir Samson”, “Belvédère du couloir Samson” or even “Tunnel du Baou” in your GPS, you should find it easily. Just in case, GPS coordinates are 43.7868025, 6.3953113. And trust me, it is really worth it! After walking down the stairs leading to the river bank, you will be on your own, or almost, as the place is quite large and still unknown by most of the tourists. Perfect for a peaceful swim, a picnic by the water and a lovely afternoon ahead.
The other advantage is that even in the middle of summer, when temperatures hit hard, this part of the gorges stays very fresh and protected from direct sunlight. And if you like hiking and have enough time, you can also try one of the many beautiful trails around les Gorges. Then you will be rewarded by a jump in the clearest water! Don’t be afraid to escape the crowds and get more adventurous as we did, finding a secret spot like this was priceless!
The one last thing you could do to have a full experience of the place is taking a hot air balloon or ULM ride. More information here.
At the end of the canyon, the Verdon River flows from the canyons into the artificial lake of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. The water there is way warmer, and calm, making the place just as popular in summer, if not more!
2. Sainte Croix Lake
The same road D952, going from along the gorges to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, will give you an absolutely epic view on the lake already. The GPS coordinates of the precise spot below are 43.8058136, 6.2540813. But to go closer to the water, you need to either take the road D957 in direction of Les Salles-sur-Verdon, or the “Route de Moustiers” in direction of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. It simply depends on which side of the lake and which village you want to explore.
The bigger beach space you can see on the left side of the picture above is the Galetas beach, near the bridge with the same name, in the direction of les Salles-sur-Verdon. It will of course get a bit crowded in summer, but there is a lot of space, and what a perfect thing to do on a hot sunny day! Again, the water in the lake is of course warmer than inside the gorges, and the sun is facing the beach all the time. For a swimming and sun-bathing afternoon, this is probably the best spot!
But the other side is also great to explore. There are a lot of trees and picnic areas, along with a bank of shingle (yes it’s not sand by the way), smaller than on the opposite coast but nice too! We had a slice of pie there, by the water on a very hot afternoon, after exploring the village by car and running around all day. It was so nice! I definitely recommend having a look at the Sainte Croix lake, you will not be disappointed.
And if the villages surrounding the lake are pretty already, you still need to discover the most charming villages of Provence. I am sure you heard about some of them already!
3. Provence villages
On your way to or from the two spots above, you definitely have to make a stop in this stunning town. It is indeed near the Gorges du Verdon and the Sainte Croix Lake, located around 30 minutes by car from them, and also 30 minutes from Valensole on the other side. Cuts the road in half perfectly! Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, or Moustiers as you can simply call it, is a tiny little picturesque village. More than this, it is actually considered as one of the most beautiful villages in the whole country, according to the official French contest called “the prettiest villages of France”.
What makes it so charming and special is the waterfall running in the middle of the houses: a spring flows out of the cliff up above and creates a waterfall in town, providing water power. You can drink this water from public fountains; they are everywhere in the village! And there is nothing more magical in summer than wandering in little cobblestone streets with the sound of dripping water, especially on the hottest days.
Parking in Moustiers can be quite tricky though, as it gets really crowded in general (unless you go off season). You will probably need to park outside the center, and then walk back up. The town is quite hilly, so have your legs ready, but it is worth it! Once inside, the center is very tiny and it is easy to see all of it in a couple of hours, including lunch.
And about lunch, let me recommend you an amazing restaurant address: La Cascade. GPS coordinates are 43.8470709, 6.2223575. Located by the water directly, it has a view on the waterfall from the big terrace you will sit in, and the food is absolutely delicious. Eating with the sound of the waterfall is such a nice moment!
The other advantages of this place are the price and the space. You can find fancier restaurants in Moustiers, but they will either be overpriced (or supposedly gastronomic) or completely packed. It depends on what you are looking for! In any case, you might want to book a table in advance if you want to be completely sure beforehand to find a nice lunch option.
As mentioned above, the lovely Moustiers is quite hilly. Indeed, it was built on platform terraces around a hundred meters up the side of a limestone cliff. Nestled against a rocky escarpment, it is often compared to a crèche, because of a star suspended in the void. Hung on a chain, stretched between two mountains, this star overhangs the village several tens of meters above the ground. Nobody knows the real story of why it ended up here, and there are in total 17 versions on its origin. The star has fallen at least eleven times. The current chain, 135 m long, weighs about 150 kg. The star itself has a diameter of 115 cm and now only has five branches, while it had sixteen at the very beginning, from what they say.
Right under to the small floating star, you can also see Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel. The oldest parts of it were built in the 12th century. You can go up there if you don’t mind the stairs, and admire the view over the village and the landscape. Another option to contemplate the panorama from above is to take a hot air balloon ride in Moustiers itself; more information through this link.
Last but not least, and in plus of the waterfall, the village has been a center of the pottery trade, especially “faïence“, for centuries. It makes it even more typical. So if you want to take some earthenware back home as souvenirs, this is where you need to get them! There is also a museum about it that you can visit.
I definitely recommend you to come visit Moustiers for a day or half a day while you are in Provence. However, don’t stay there, especially if you also came for the lavender fields, it’s a bit far from the main plateaux! Better check one of the two cities below, as I explain in my blogpost about how to explore the fields.
Not far from the Sainte Croix Lake either (around 20 minutes), but lower in terms of altitude, the lovely village of Riez is worth your attention too. Built in the first century, this ancient roman town is the oldest of the region! Therefore, you can find ruins from the roman era in a part of the city. How picturesque?!
It is a charming town where you can stay to be in the center of the whole area, and especially to be close to the lavender fields. Click here to learn more about where, when and how to visit them! You can also shop all the lavender products there obviously. You will basically find lavender essential oils everywhere in the area, as well as lavender perfume, lavender soap, etc. Very recommended to treat anxiety especially, lavender can be put on your pillow, or rubbed on your wrists for instance to relax your body.
And talking about lavender, there is of course one last village that I need to mention here, and it is Valensole!
Valensole is one of the most famous names in Provence, but mostly for its lavender plateaux, and not so much for the village itself! However, it really deserves a visit as well, for instance in the evening. It is very nice to wander around this charming town, have one, two or even three scoops of lavender ice cream (yum!) and a nice dinner to enjoy the South of France summery vibe. Perfect after a hot and long day spent exploring!
For dinner, we went to the Brasserie du Plateau, and I can only recommend this restaurant! Located on the city hall square, it overviews some fields and it is a very cute place on its own. The food was yummy too, especially the fresh fish and the lavender desserts. Bon appétit!
But yes, above all, Valensole is especially beautiful because of the fields surrounding it! Exploring them in the morning and evening, and then spending the day driving to all the spots mentioned above is how you will enjoy Provence at the fullest.
We only stayed two days in the area, for a quick weekend, so we didn’t have time to visit everything of course. But here are a few nearby villages that you can also check out:
– Gordes & Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey
– Saint-Rémy-de-Provence & Salon-de-Provence
Hope this post was useful! Don’t forget to also check the other one I wrote about Provence, and more especially about all the flower fields you have to explore in summer.
Do not hesitate to leave a comment or to contact me on Instagram to give me your feedback or if you have any question!