Driving from Provence to the French Riviera

| November 6, 2011
driving map from provence to nice french riviera

Four hours of diving bliss to the French Riviera

After spending three nights in the hilltop village of Roussillon in Provence, we hopped in the car and made our way to Nice on the French Riviera. I had to return the rental car by 5:30pm in Nice so we had to plan our trek carefully. Rental return hours can be unpredictable in Europe so it’s always a good idea to make sure you know how late the return counter is open.

Google maps indicated that it would take 4 hours and 8 minutes to get from Roussillon to Nice along our preferred route so we planned for seven, accounting for stops at Moustiers Sainte Marie, Castellane and other spots along the way. We left Roussillon at 9am so, if all went well, we would get to Nice at about 4pm.

moustiers sainte marie

Our first stop – Moustiers Sainte Marie

In addition to getting to Nice for the final leg of our trip, we wanted to experience the French countryside by car and see the Grand Canyon du Verdon, which is by many accounts considered to  be the Grand Canyon of Europe. From Roussillon, it took about two hours to get Moustiers Sainte Marie, which marked the beginning of our hour-long drive through the canyon. The two hour drive from Roussillon to Moustiers took us through a small towns as well as a handful of farms blanketed with enormous lavender fields. Unfortunately, we missed the blooming of the lavender this year but the tranquility of the open fields and mesmerizing rhythm of the fast passing  rows of plantings were beautiful and very relaxing indeed.

Moustiers (shown above) is a beautiful town, but as Rick Steves mentions in his book on Provence, it gets very crowded with tourists so it is better to visit as early as possible in the day. It was quite busy when we arrived so we only stopped for lunch before heading into the canyon. Oh, and a word to the wise. Make sure you have enough gas in the car before heading into the Parc du Verdon. There are no gas stations around and it would be a rather stressful situation to run out while driving through the park. The best plan is to stop in one of the more urban towns along the way to the park and fill up.

By the way, I love how everyone in France says “Bon Appétit” when you are eating. It happened several times while we were on our trip. When eating our mozzarella and tomato sandwiches in our car in Moustiers, a car full of older French ladies pulled up beside us. I looked over and a lady in the passenger seat smiled and exclaimed, “Bon Appétit!, through her window.” How can you not love that!

lac sainte croix

The stunning Lac Sainte Croix at the Parc du Verdon

Le Grand Canyon du Verdon, which lies about two hours north of Nice, is named for its incredibly gorgeous (no pun intended) turquoise-green river that runs though the canyon. In the photo above you can see the canyon’s lake, the Lac Sainte Croix. The lake is also shown on the driving map above about half way to Nice. Seeing the lake for the first time is an, “Oh wow,” experience that is one of the many highlights of the drive. the lake is enormous and, as you can see, relatively untouched by commercial activity. The intense green color of the water results from very fine particles of rock  suspended in the water, pulverized by glaciers above.

parc du verdon

Driving through Europe’s Grand Canyon, the Parc du Verdon

The road through the canyon is is very good condition and not too scary to drive. The only unnerving spots are where you see a falling rock sign and then immediately see a few crumbs of rock actively rolling across the road. Yes, we did see that once along our drive. As you can garner from the photos, the scenery is breathtaking and we could not have asked for a better day weather wise do do it. We could have spent all day hiking in the canyon but we had to get to Nice. We did stop frequently though and take in the canyon’s stunning views and snap a few pictures.

parc du verdon canyons

Driving through the canyons at Parc du Verdon

According to Rick Steves’ book called Provence, the gorge drops 2,200 feet to the river at its deepest point. The canyon is as narrow at 26 feet wide at the bottom and spans as far as 4,600 feet across at the top. The variability of the French landscape is something to behold. I feel very fortunate to have been able to see such a broad brush of France’s beauty on a single trip!

Gorgeous views near the Parc du Verdon

As the canyon disappeared behind us, we began to see pristine meadows accompanied by dramatic mountainous backdrops. I initially drove right by the little church you see below and then said, “I have to go back!” I did a U turn and parked the car running with Donna in it on a little side street. Yep, a one lane side street. Fortunately, there weren’t many folks around, so I had time to run across the field and capture a shot of the this beautiful lone church in the hill.

parc du verdon

A lone church as we exited the Parc du Verdon

Castellane, shown below, was the “official” end to our breathtaking ride through the Canyon du Verdon. I stopped long enough in Castellane to take this photo from a bridge leading into town. We needed to get moving in order to get to Nice on time. The rest of the drive was relatively uneventful until we got to Grasse. Grasse may be the capital of perfume but driving in town stinks. We just happened to be there during rush hour. After a few go arounds on the roundabouts we made it out of the city alive and made our way to Nice. Nice is Nice and that will be the subject of my next post!

castellane france

On to Nice after a quick stop in Castellane, France

More posts about traveling to Provence, France

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Category: France, Travel

Comments (2)

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  1. AutumnLeaves says:

    Oh my! Truly a shame! (Sorry for not commenting earlier, Lee. For some reason, Blogger isn’t updating the blog roll on my blog with the latest posts until two days later!)

  2. Lol. This is another reason to stay away from old buildings. Poor Audi. Hope it was insured. 😉