Social media can introduce us to the most beautiful places. Years ago, I pinned a post from The Blonde Abroad about her trip to Gorges du Verdon. And when I saw the awe-inspiring blue water in her photos, I knew I had to see it for myself. So when Mal and I were planning our vacation throughout southern France, we knew we had to add this stop to our vacation. Here are the top things to do near Gorges du Verdon, including Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.
About the Area
The Gorges du Verdon touch both the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Var départments — the first of which is one of the least populated areas in France. After Mal and I had made our way through the bustling French Riviera, this quiet nook of France was a great way to end our trip. Because it’s not in a highly populated area, getting here isn’t as simple as bigger cities like Paris or Marseille.
We rented a car in Marseille and took a road trip throughout the Riviera. It takes about two hours to drive from Marseille to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, which is near the Gorges du Verdon. Here’s how to get to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie either by car or bus. Mal and I stayed in an Airbnb in Montagnac, which was a 30-minute drive to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Although we weren’t crazy about the Airbnb, it ended up being a good location.
The Gorges du Verdon are part of Lac de Sainte Croix, and I’m here to tell you it really does live up to its hype. The water truly is that blue.
Snap photos at Pont du Galetas
To get the best views of the Gorges, put Pont du Galetas into your GPS. There’s gravel where you can park your car and walk along the bridge to take in the gorge’s sweeping views. And there’s a boat rental spot nearby — more on that later.
Paddle boat in the Gorges du Verdon
Let me tell you: the water truly is this blue. The whole time Mal and I were kayaking, we were ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the color. You can’t go wrong visiting southern France during summer, but it’s also stunning in autumn, too. The reds and oranges of the trees contrasted the deep blue of the water, and it is totally worth the hype. If you’re looking for the top things to do near Gorges du Verdon, nothing beats actually going on the water.
Mal and I had our heart set on kayaking on this blue water, and we drove all the way to a boat rental place. We got out of the car and said, this water is not blue enough for us — ha! It was another part of the Lac de Sainte Croix, and it honestly wasn’t as pretty.
So we drove back to a place we’d passed near Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Mal and I rented a paddle boat at the Base Nautique l’Etoile, and it was fabulous. I’m so glad we didn’t settle because these prices were competitive and the views were much better.
Visit the markets in Riez
On Saturday morning, we drove to Riez to see its markets. The moment I stepped out of the car, I smelled fall. You know, that faint smell of changing leaves, bonfire and crisp air? I can still imagine this halcyon scent. As I mentioned, this area of France isn’t densely populated, so you’ll get a peek into French village life. Even with Covid, the town was bustling that Saturday morning with vendors offering fresh produce, sweet honey and little trinkets.
Mal and I stopped for a quick coffee at Café de France, and the atmosphere brought me back to a small diner my friends and I frequented in Missouri. The café patrons were clearly repeat customers: same orders, same newspaper in hand. Whenever I tell people about my love for France, they think the entire country is hoity-toity. But that just ain’t the truth. I love big bustling cities, but it’s small villages like these that reflect the heart of French culture.
Dine in Cotignac
For lunch, we stopped in Cotignac, whose population is about double that of Moustiers’. (But that doesn’t say much considering Moustiers has fewer than 1,000 inhabitants.) This small town has a beautiful square and sits nestled in the mountains. We dined at La Table de Marie Alice, and it was one of the best meals of this trip.
My gluten intolerance limits my options, and even more, I don’t love seafood. So, that can complicate things. I was a bit apprehensive about finding something I liked here and decided to order their chicken dish with lemon sauce. And my word, did I eat any and all pre-meal apprehension. Not only was the presentation sophisticated but the taste was also packed with rich flavor. And Mal and I ate outside in Cotignac’s idyllic square.
Stop by Gréoux-les-Bains
On our last night of vacation, we headed to Gréoux-les-Bains, a spa village known for its thermal baths. We planned to eat at one of the hotel restaurants there, but this spot and several others were fully booked on Saturday night. We ended up at La Terrasse des Marrionniers, which ended up being perfect. Since it was our final night, we balled out with dinner, drinks and dessert. The food was superb, and the atmosphere was lively.
Friends, this village of 700-ish inhabitants stole my heart. I bought cute sunglasses in Cannes earlier that week, but I did not want to wear them because I wanted to soak up every sight in full color. We visited in fall, and that meant rich reds, oranges and yellows permeated the landscape. I keep looking at photos from this day because it evokes a sweet nostalgia.
Flâner about the town
When you think of classic French village, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie fits the bill. One of my favorite French words is flâner, which means to wander, stroll or meander. And this is one of the best activities to do Moustiers-Sainte-Marie with its windy, cobblestone paths and quaint shops. The town is known for its faïence, or earthenware. And there are plenty of cute shops with, you guessed it, earthenware. Oh, and don’t forget to add gelato to your itinerary.
Hike up to La Chapelle Notre-Dame de Beauvoir
Get your steps in by visiting this church with its nave dating back to the 700s. Talk about old. The Gothic-style pews and chorale have been there since the 1500s. Stepping into a room rich with history reminds me why I love travel. I think about the hundreds of people who have sat in those pews over hundreds of years, and it gives me a glimpse of life so long ago. It also makes me wish I would’ve paid more attention in AP European History, oops.
I got a good laugh when I learned you had to pay to turn on the lights inside La Chapelle Notre-Dame de Beauvoir. When you combine the sheer old age and the village’s tourism bent, I guess it makes sense. All that to say, it still looked beautiful in the dark with its stained glass windows. And the views of the valley are phenomenal.
It pains me to think that when people think of France, they only think Paris. Believe me, I love Paris, too, but there is so much more to explore. (Also, southern France has much better weather, too.) From stunning views to quaint villages, here are the top things to do near Gorges du Verdon and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.