10 Jul ROAD TRIP IN PROVENCE. Perfect roads and stunning views.
- WHAT To Expect and ROUTE
- MADDALENA PASS. Crossing the border
- GOURGE DU VERDON (D952) and ‘La route du Crete’ (D23)
- LAVENDER FIELDS (D56-D593)
- LUBERON, red lands and ancient villages
- GORDES and ABBEY NOTRE-DAME DE SENANQUE
- crossing THE ALPILLES NATURAL PARK (D5)
- Get lost in the salines and lakes of the CAMARGUE
- The CALANQUE NATIONAL PARK
- MARSEILLE , the capital
- a taste of the FRENCH RIVIERA and the ‘ROUTE DE NAPOLEON’
- END OF THE TRIP _ Going back home
WHAT TO EXPECT in a road trip in Provence and ROUTE
Are you planning a road trip in Provence?
What a marvellous idea!!
Generally speaking France is an incredible country to travel by road.
Provence, well known for its lavender fields, has much more to offer with an incredible variety of parks and landscapes: from pine forests to the Camargue plains.
For me this was the first solo moto travel and a hell of an adventure! I left from Florence right after getting my driving license. In fact I can tell now, I was barely able to drive, but I got back home safe and has been one of the most amazing experience!
It is a road trip that can be done with any kind of vehicle,
Just choose your favorite !
Best period for a road trip in Provence
The best period to visit Provence might be June – July when the lavender fields are blooming.
I bet it has to be an amazing spectacle. However if that is not an option for you , well then I can tell Provence is worth a visit at any time, from June to end of August-begging of September.
It In other times, you risk to get a little cold in the mountains.
Personally, I went in August and didn’t meet much of a crowd, if not a little on the coast and in the Gourge du Verdon.
I was literally hit by the beauty of this wonderful land, with its incredible landscapes, the uniqueness of the stone houses with their turquoise windows and perfect gardens.
Also the care and respect of French people for nature, precious resource of living beauty, and the way they enjoy it. For example I have seen families of four fitting in a car and two small tents, people carrying inflatables canoas in the back of the car to be ready to get in any lake found on their way.
Beside that in Provence, the roads are well maintained and perfect to drive.
To not mention the very respectful driving manners of people, which gave me a relaxing and pleasant driving experience.
If camping is what you have in mind I will speak about it down here in the Gorges du Verdon section and extensively talk about it in a separate article. In my experience camping in France is a very good option.
Route_planning your road trip in Provence
Here an idea of the route. I tried to explore the most I could in my road trip in Provence.
As you can see is basically a ring and you can join in from wherever you want.
Or , of course, just peek the spots you like and make your own route!
Provence has so much to explore , many places, cities, art as well as offers many open doors activities.
Anyway here I will share with you my route
MADDALENA PASS, crossing the border
There are many spectacular passes to get from Italy to France, or viceversa. For this trip I have chosen ‘The Maddalena Pass’, which on the French side is ‘Col de Larche’. 1,996 meter high and connecting Cuneo to Barcelonette. It is a 43 km scenic road climbing up the mountain with 25 turns on the Italian side.
From the top of the pass I followed the road D900 all the way down to Digne
Right after the small town I took the N85, which becomes D4085 and straight to Castellaine.
Before getting there and jump into the famous and spectacular Gourge du Verdon, I took the left road, D955 and a ride along the side of the LAC DE CASTILLON.
I am always attracted by water sources!
If you have time and you’d like to relax and take a swim to cool down, this is your place !!!!
Here you can find a beach (Ravin de Cheiron), free or with deckchair, canoes, kayaks and pedal boats to rent + campings to spend the night.
A the matter of fact I didn’t spend the night , but honestly the place was great and , could be a good camp base to visit the Gorges du Verdon.
Instead I decided to proceeded forward in my way to the D952, La rue de Gourge
You won’t find any grocery store all the way to the other side of the gourges to the Village of Moustiers Sainte Marie. So, if you plan to spend the night middle way, as I did, you want to buy what you need in Castellaine! Not even sure you can find any restaurant nearby.
GOURGE DU VERDON (D952) and LA ROUTE DE CRETE (D23)
If you are planning a road trip in Provence, the Gourges du Verdon is a must!
Gourge du Verdon
Also known as ‘French Grand Canyon’, the gorges du Verdon is a river canyon, qualified as one of the most beautiful roads of Europe.
A narrow road was carved out of the cliff, passing through, across and, at times, under some towering rock formations with craggy rock overhangs, offering dizzying views downwards and breathtaking vistas across the valley between Castellane and Moustiers Sainte Marie.
This part of the route, road D952, on the north side of the river is locally called the rive droite (right bank). It is dramatic and rugged with much less vegetation.
Up to 700m deep, the 21-km-long canyon varies in width between 6 and 100 m at the bottom and 200 to 1500m at its top.
Route des Crêtes, D23
Do not miss the route des Crêtes, D23. This is a narrow and twisting loop with nonstop epic views of the south side of the rift. Here you can spot the vultures flying high in the skies of this area.
Worth a stretch to Rougon, meanwhile visiting the Gourges.
As the matter of facts I got here walking under the sun up to the mountain from the camping, but you can certainly get here by following the road to the top of this very very small village with the ruins of an ancient castle and a breathtaking view on the gorges. Impossible to resist the natural balcony and indulge with an exquisite crepe at Le Mur d’Abeilles.
While riding and looking for a place to stay, a camping particularly caught my attention.
Camping Verdon Carajuan, placed at the bottom of the canyon in a piece of pine forest on the side of the river , this will be the perfect place if you like to stay in contact with nature.
Easier to check photos and reviews on google map rather than the web site http://camping-gorgesduverdon-carajuan-rougon.com/ .
Despite the website is in French, they speak a good English.
Here for the first time I got to discover the so called CAMPING MUNICIPAL.
It is a precise style of camping, which specifically want to preserve the naturalness of the place, instead of building up a ‘village’.
In this camping you will find large pitches bounded only with rocks, all the services you need, bathrooms, showers, washing machines, a cooking corner, but not a pool (you can bath in the river tough). You even have a little bar track right on the side of the entrance, where you can preorder croissants and bread the day before to enjoy your french breakfast in the morning.
Ever since in France I looked for this type of campings. You can search directly on google maps by typing in ‘ camping municipal’ or check on this page to have a complete list with an overviews on prices. It is in French, but I found it easy to understand , at list the basic as location and prices.
LINK -> http://www.camping-municipal.org
I will extensively talk about camping in France in a separate article, sign up to the newsletter by filling the form at the end of the page if you want to be updated !
The Verdon area also offer a great variety of activities. Check the link if you are interested in exploring them ->https://verdonsecret.com/
I didn’t because my best entertainment was exploring and hitting the road with my brand new motorbike for the next stop of my road trip!
LAVENDER FIELDS (D56-D593-d8)
After passing the gourges on the D952 , take the right into D56 until you get to Puimoisson. There you can take the right into the D593 and then left into D8 . Here you’ll find yourself riding alongside the lavender fields.
It’s worth the ride even if is not in the blooming season.
Your eyes will rest on this extended fields filled with lines of round cut plants, which looks like a master piece of perfect work.
If you are lucky , even in August you’ll get to see a beautiful lavender field lying in a colder valley. But if not, you will eventually meet few dismiss lavender crops giving you a taste of the famous cent. Along the way there are also many factories offering plant based products, if you want bring home with you a little of that good smell!
LUBERON, RED LANDS and ANCIENT VILLAGES
Finding my eyes filled with the red, yellow, white colors of the ground matched with a variety of green tones of the vegetation, was definitely a surprise!
If you are short on time, I would skip the Provençal Colorado Park. Although it has a beautiful main spot, the rest of the walk it is nice, but not so special.
Instead I wouldn’t miss a visit to Roussilon and ‘Le Sentiere des Ocres’.
August gets crowded yet worth a visit !
Oppede Le Vioux and the Église Notre-Dame d’Alidon
And after that a stop in Oppede Le Vioux, one of the most authentic and preserved villages of the Luberon.
Literally a timeless village.
Here you can step into the past on the way up to the top of the hill in a picturesque path trough the ruins of the old village.
As you reach the top you come to Notre-Dame-d’Alydon, which is a little gem of a Romanesque church.
Inside there are some lovely faded frescoes and it is an intimate venue for classical music recitals in the summer.
From up here you can see the whole plain of the Luberon.
GORDES and ABBEY NOTRE-DAME DE SENANQUE
Gordes is 30min from Avignon, 45min from the Marseille and two hours from Nice and the Riviera.
On the way to the village you will encounter a view spot. From here you will have an idea of its privileged position and typical architecture, which granted Gordes a spot on the list of the most beautiful villages in France. Its houses and buildings of white stone root themselves into the sharp cliff of the mountain and has been home to many artists.
It is also the seat of cultural events in summer with its museums, a festival, concerts and exhibitions.
Abbey Notre-Dame de Senanque
All about the Abbey at https://www.senanque.fr/en/
The Abbey (Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque) is a beautiful and austere abbey, founded in the year 1148, that houses a community of Cistercian monks very close to the beautiful Gordes.
Senanque is a beautiful place, far from civilization and only accessible by narrow and charming roads.
The contrast between the sober form and color of the monastery and the intense violet of the lavender fields cultivated by the monks is startling.
Again the best time to go is from the end of June to about the second week of July, when it is the time the lavender is bloomed.
But, like I said before, it worth a visit in any season!
CROSSING THE ALPILLES NATURAL PARK (D5)
Further in my road trip in Provence I came to cross Les Alpilles.
Les Alpilles, literally meaning the small Alpes, is a secret yet extremely desirable part of the French Provence.
If you have time or it call your curiosity, the Alpilles offers a rare diversity of natural scenery, ranging from ragged peaks to cliffs, valleys, foothills and plains. In this small piece of provençal land nothing has changed, time and beauty just froze once upon a time…
Le Parc Naturel Regional des Alpilles hosts 15 little villages, and each and every one of these villages are a unique destination by themselves. In fact the villages are really typical and just the way you imagine France in your most romantic dreams.
In my road trip trough Provence I just enjoyed crossing down the Alpilles to get to the next stop of the road trip : Camargue
GET LOST IN THE SALINES AND LAKES OF THE CAMARGUE
CAMARGUE deserve a place in your Provence road trip
From the Alpille take the right into D17 and than D570 all the way.
Located on the western coast of Provence, La Camargue, in the summer can get quite crowded in the edges, where most of the campings and places to stay are spotted, preserving the heart of the natural park.
When you enter La Camargue and you cross the ‘borders’ of this area, feels like to be entering in a completely different country. Leave behind the images of the perfection you had seen since until now.
It is a Unique place in France, the wild Camargue, born out of a marriage of the Mediterranean Sea and Rhône River. Considered as wild, in reality its environment is actually supported by the hand of man. Thanks to smart water management, wetlands, rice fields, marshes and grazing land live happily side by side here. Camargue is none less to the other areas of Provence in terms of attractions, including birding, horse riding, tours of the local ranches and succulent local cuisine, to name but a few!
NEXT STOP_The CALANQUE NATIONAL PARK
I had to drive trough the city of Marselle to get to visit the Calanque National Park.
What a nightmare was to get into the wild and chaotic traffic of this city!!
Maybe even more because I was an unexperienced moto driver, but hell yes! I swear it is not a pleasant experience, which I suggest to avoid.
I choose Cassis, right after Marseille, as the base to explore the area, the Calanque National Park as well as the city of Marseille.
Cassis is right on the side of the Calanques, where you can even get by feet. Just in case you need a break from your vehicle. I did!
The Calanques National Park is a remarkable treasure that will surprise you with rocks over the crystal clear waters of the sea.
As I said earlier I decided to walk, as a break was really required.
So I walked all the way from the camping Les Cigales to the calanque the Port-Pi and Calanque d’En-Vau.
From the camping was a good walk. Google says 1 and a half hour . Quite of a walk for me, because of the hotness of the end of August (carry with you as much water as you can) and because I wasn’t trained AT ALL!
Still I didn’t mind cause I was very much excited to get there to see those beautiful places with my own eyes…….definitely worthed !!!!
MARSEILLE , THE CAPITAL OF PROVENCE
From Cassis you can easily get to Marseille by train.
I wouldn’t want to repeat the driving experience. It didn’t feel safe at all.
And when visiting the city, later on, I also got to notice that motorbikes were secured by a lock to any kind of pole available on the side road, as it would normally be for a bicycle!!!!!
So even happier about my decision to not get there riding!
In terms of unsafety, as italian, I can compare it to Napoles.
Beside that, Considering its tradition and complex history that dates back to 600 BC when it was founded by Greek mariners, Marseille is a top destination for tourists from all over the world. It is the second-largest city in France and the largest one in the Mediterranean.
Check out the official site
A TASTE OF THE FRENCH RIVIERA AND THE ‘ROUTE DE NAPOLEON’
I rode along the coast to have a taste of how it is looks like the famous French riviera coast, with no stopping by. And soon felt to get back to the mountains.
Unfortunately I met a bad storm and after getting all wet I had to decide to go back to Italy by the coast.
Anyway, you REALLY do not want to miss the ROUTE DE NAPOLEON. I am talking especially to riders here !
AH ! And do not forget to watch out for speed controls here in the ‘Route de Napoleon’ ! you’ll find out hidden police men stationed for speed controls!
END OF THE TRIP _ GOING BACK HOME
Trying to get to the border by passing the mountains again was not a success, as I said. And the bad weather forced me to reach the coast again.
Sadly no enjoying turns and views, no avoiding the coast traffic on my way back home.
When I crossed into Liguria, I had to say good bay to the relaxing driving experience and focus on staying alive. Go slow and watch all the craziness people do while driving and people crossing the road without looking first because numbed by a beach day.
You certainly notice the difference between France and Italy.
Every road trip is unique , is your road trip, your experiences.
Explore and focus on the beauty, relax and feel, come back home happy and recharged!
If you don’t have much of time to see everything, choose rather than run and get stressed
…. Provence stay there, you can come back eventually!
For me…….well I very much enjoy exploring on my own.
I took this trip step by step, day by day and It was , in fact, a great source of Happiness.
An experience I will never forget.
I have been exploring Provance for about three weeks, hitting the road with my bike, a total of 3.000 km, sleeping every and each day in a tent and not missing my bed at home !
Happy and amazed every second of my road trip, and probably ever since 🙂
Even more because at the end of it I realized I could have as much adventures as I wanted and explore as much places in the world as I wanted.
STAY SAFE AND HAVE FUN!!!!!! 👋
I wish my experience inspires you!
And if you enjoyed reading the article, consider to sign up to the mailing list by filling the form below !
See you soon!