In 2011 my sister and I spent the summer in France that included 5 glorious days in the South. We split out time between the Côte d’Azur and Provence with 3 nights in Nice with 2 in Aix en Provence (Read: Indulge in the quiet side of the Côte d”Azur).
We rented a car in Nice from Budget, which turned out to be the most harrowing car rental procedure ever thanks to the lady they had manning the desk that day. Rude and a tad scary with her pencil outlined eyebrows, she was by far the most unprofessional person we had encountered on our trip. She asked us to see her at noon, then made us wait for 2 hours while she had lunch only to ask us to return the next day to pick the car up! Needless to say, our day was wasted waiting and we had to swap itineraries around.
Anyway, we woke up bright and early the next morning and drove to Aix en Provence, which we used as a base for the next 2 days to drive to the Gorges du Verdon and Avignon.
Day 1: Aix en Provence → Gréoux les Bains → Gorges du Verdon → Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Aix en Provence
Sun drenched, laid back and rustic, home to Paul Cézanne and frequented by the likes of Émile Zola, Albert Camus and Ernest Hemingway, Aix en Provence epitomises rich Provence.
Often referred to as the city of a thousand fountains, the lovely tree lined Cours Mirabeau is punctuated with them. Most notable is the La Rotonde, a large fountain that makes up a roundabout at one end of the Cours Mirabeau.
[We stayed at Hotel Cezzane which was trenty and very cute although we felt a little over-priced http://cezanne.hotelaix.com]
Gréoux les Bains
We took the scenic route to get to Gréoux les Bains, driving in the general direction of Aps and Manosque using a combination of the D7N, D543, D943 and finally catching the D114 all the way through.
Gréoux les Bains is an ancient Roman village located beside the Verdon River, known for its hot springs. We arrived a little after noon to a bustling street market where we stayed for lunch and a cold beer.
Gorges du Verdon
We proceeded in the direction of the Canyon de Verdon, using a combination of the D952 and D71 with the idea of driving around the National Park before heading to the village of Moustiers-Ste-Marie. And, what a visual treat; the sights were absolutely breathtaking!
The Gorges du Verdon or Grand Canyon du Verdon is a river canyon considered to be the most spectacular in Europe. It is formed by the Verdon River, which runs through the canyon in all its distinguishing turquoise-green glory. The river finally flows into the artificial lake of Lac de Sainte-Croix at the end of the canyon.
It was a truly wonderful journey, one you could get completely lost in, and one we would return to repeat two summers later.
We finally drove to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie using the D23 and D957 to get there just in time for sunset and dinner. Not the best time, unfortunately, to visit this quaint village that appears to be literally hanging over the canyons, because we really couldn’t see much.
The village, believed to be one of the most beautiful in France, was built on platform terraces approximately a hundred metres up the side of a limestone cliff. The Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel sits high above the village and dates back to the 8th century (subsequently restored in the 12th and 16th centuries). Sadly for us, it was too dark to negotiate the steep steps up to the chapel.
However, we did make it back to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie two summers later, to spend the day in the village and climb up to the chapel after.