The biggest gorge in Europe

Today was amazing. From hilltop town to massive gorge, this is why we go on holiday. Seeing new things is always good but when they are such incredible things then life just feels perfect.

Mirinda had arranged with the brilliant Auriane of Getaway in Provence to meet us in a car park and drive us around the rim of the Verdon Gorge so we arrived early enough to take a coffee then stroll through Moustiers-Sainte-Marie first. This was after pootling along the plateau in Celine.

Pootling

Mousiters is one of the most beautiful villages in France and, therefore a very popular tourist destination. This is partly because it is the gateway to the road around the biggest gorge in Europe but also because it is simply stunning. Sat high up as if perched on the edge of a mountain, it commands views across the valley as if sitting in some sort of protective role. While the land spreads out below the town so the twin peaks of the mountain rise behind it.

Between the two peaks, as high as the eye can go, is a star suspended on chains. There are 17 legends regarding this chain. The most popular is that a crusade returning knight had it put up after promising he would if he survived. He did it as an acknowledgement that god exists. It has fallen down a few times over the years, the last time in 1956. Mirinda reckons that’s because god doesn’t actually like it and keeps trying to get rid of it.

The tiny glint at the top is the star

While I am amazed that someone could actually achieve hanging this oversized Christmas decoration in the 10th century – they used a helicopter when the chain broke last time – more amazing is how they built the church just below it. It seems suspended above the town. We didn’t walk up there because we had to meet Auriane but plenty of people did (and do). The views from the church are, presumably, quite spectacular.

As well as stars, Moustiers is famous for faience, a form of pottery that we’ve seen previously in Quimper. Naturally Mirinda had to buy some. The patterns are very different to the ones we’ve seen in Brittany.

“Woopee, Faience!”

Apparently, the shapes are based around the various beds of the garden at Versailles because the potters wanted to please the King. They would then caricature various socialites on the plates. It was said that it was worse not to be caricatured because it meant you were not worth mentioning.

There is a second church in Moustier, one a little more accessible for the less robust or those pressed for time. We popped in on our way back down to the car park.

It’s a sort of branch office of the big one above the town. The best thing is that it contains a lovely little statue of Saint Sebastien, which is always a pleasant surprise.

In the car park, Auriane turned up in her tourist minibus and we hit the road, Mirinda naturally in the front seat.

The road out of Moustiers is fine but it tends to get a bit twisty, turny, hanging off the side of cliffs once you start climbing up. This, of course, means there’s plenty of lovely views. It also means it’s a lot better to have someone else drive.

Auriane takes tour parties up and around the gorge all the time – it is part of her business after all – and knows the drive extremely well. I reckon she could do it with her eyes closed but am thankful that she didn’t today. She also goes rock climbing which, again, I’m thankful that she didn’t take us.

The Gorge de Verdon has been carved over millions of years. It started when the African tectonic plate collided with the European plate and formed the Pyrenees. The ranges cracked, forcing water into the valleys, creating a couple of rivers which still weave their ways between the rocks. It is an incredibly powerful and awe inspiring landscape.

From the highest point

Auriane was an excellent guide, telling us stories of the people who lived there and the seasons (February is the worst month…of course) as they unfold. She was born in Moustiers and knows the place well. Her grandfather told her many stories about the people who used to live in the desolation of the mountains, spending their lives not seeing people apart from the trips into Palud which would take a day to walk to. Then they’d come back the next day with bags full of shopping!

We had a fabulous few hours in Auriane’s company before she dropped us back in town having recommended a couple of restaurants we might enjoy for dinner. Which we did.

It was an amazing day of sightseeing.

Photo by Auriane at the top of the gorge

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