From the top of the cliffs, the Verdon River itself seems little more than a silver trickle, but down at gorge level it takes on a different character: it’s one of France’s best spots for white-water rafting. The canyon floors are only accessible by foot or raft, and it’s worth experiencing the gorges from both bottom and top to get a proper sense of their brain-boggling size.

Outdoor Sports

Castellane is the main water-sports base (April to September); its tourist office has lists of local operators. Most charge similar rates for rafting, canyoning, kayaking and hydrospeed expeditions: around €35 for two hours, €55 for a half-day and €75 for a full day. Safety kit is provided, but you’ll get (very) wet, so dress appropriately. Reservations are required.

Lac de Castillon’s beaches are popular for swimming and paddle boating, while St-André-les-Alpes, on the lakeshore, is France’s leading paragliding centre.

Walking & Hiking

Dozens of blazed trails traverse the wild countryside around Castellane and Moustiers. Tourist offices carry the excellent, English-language Canyon du Verdon (€4.70), detailing 28 walks, as well as maps of five principal walks (€2.40).

Note that wild camping anywhere in the gorges is illegal. Don’t cross the river, except at bridges, and always stay on marked trails, lest you get trapped when the upstream dam opens, which happens twice weekly. Check water levels and the weather forecast with local tourist offices before embarking.

Cycling & Driving

A complete circuit of the Gorges du Verdon from Moustiers Ste-Marie involves 140km of driving, not to mention a relentless series of hairpin turns. There’s a cliffside road on either side of the gorges, but passing spots are rare, roads are narrow and rockfalls are possible – so take it slow and enjoy the scenery.

Spring and autumn are ideal times to visit: the roads can be traffic-clogged in summer and icy in winter. The Route des Crêtes is snowbound from mid-November to mid-March.

The only village en route is La Palud-sur-Verdon (930m), so make sure you’ve got a full tank of petrol before setting out.