I’ve been everywhere, man!
19.05.2011 - 19.05.2011 12 °C
Temperatures today ranged from 30 deg down to 10 deg, started out sunny & turned very wet, black & thundery, when the rain stopped later it was still fairly cool.
I left Barbentane just before 11am, thinking I would head straight for Villecroze in 1 ½ hrs, then do a tiki-tour once I had checked in. However… when I looked, I found I couldn’t check in till 6pm (!), so thought I’d do the tiki tour on the way there. Perhaps I should have found out more about the roads I would be driving on first. Just in case you would like to check out my route on a map, these are some of the places I “visited” (i.e. drove through/past or stopped for a few minutes at) in my 7 ½ hours of driving – some on purpose, some by accident:
Senas (left the autoroute there – first mistake)
Merindol (this is where the countryside started to change into more rugged territory)
Pertuis (one of the exits from the roundabout was closed so the GPS took me into someone’s vineyard!)
Mirabeau (here’s where it all went terribly wrong – more later)
St Paul les Durance (the start of real gorge country)
Vinon-sur-Verdon (fairly dreary town, but it was raining so maybe not that bad usually)
Greoux-les-Bains, and on up, and up, and up, and down, and down to -
Digne Les Bains (the capital of lavender country)
View from the top of the road from Digne les Bains to Villecroze
Then, there were still 2 ½ hours till check in time so I decided to check out Castellane, which took an hour or so to drive. I figured from there it would take more than an hour to get to my hotel, so input the details into the GPS (which said it would take only half an hour) & off I went. Friend GPS took me the “short” route, through:
Trigance, Comps-sur-Artuby, Montferrat, Chateaudouble, Ampur and Tourtour before arriving in Villecroze at about 6:45 – more than 6 times longer than the GPS reckoned.
If you’re sick of the GPS saga, I suggest you don’t read this paragraph. You have been warned… After the vineyard debacle mentioned above, I thought that would be it, but no, she wasn’t done with me yet. At Mirabeau, the street it indicated I should go down was closed, so it gave me an alternative. I thought the forestry road was bad, but this took the cake. You can see the start of the track in the photo.
Looks nice, doesn’t it? Sure, it’s a metal road, but how bad could it be? Well, calling this steep hillside thoroughfare a track is giving it a status it doesn’t deserve. It got worse and worse, partially washed away in places & nowhere to turn around. By the time it got to that stage, I wasn’t keen on reversing out either, as the corners were tight, and it was steep in places and so narrow the brush either side was scratching along the side of the car. I truly didn’t think it was going to end well, and expected it to peter out into nothing & have to call in a chopper. But after 4.5km (yes, you read that right!), it ended at a main highway. What a great little car I’ve got! Later, while trying to get to Villecroze from Castellane, I found out why it said it was only 30 mins to Villecroze. It wanted me to drive directly down what was essentially a cliff [whisper: I think it’s trying to kill me]. It does seem to like the shortest routes, especially where there’s no autoroute. Well, it won’t get me tomorrow, I’m taking the autoroute to Nice! Then I get rid of the damned thing – I have named her Christine. Methinks the guy who inputs the data has a good laugh entering the “paper roads” as if they’re real.
All that said, it was a stunning drive through the Gorges du Verdon. I had wanted to see it, and ended up driving all around it. I missed out on the best views of the Verdon River (Google “Gorges du Verdon”, and you will see what I mean), but I did get up close & almost personal with the walls of the gorge.
It makes Karangahake Gorge (in my native NZ) look like a tiny crack in the dirt – it’s essentially in the foothills (if that’s the foot, I’d hate to drive the body!) of the Provence Alps.
I uploaded a photo showing a tributary of the Verdon River where it’s small & narrow, which shows some of the lovely green colour it’s named for. Stunning though it was, at times I wondered when I’d get out, the road just seemed to go on & on, up, around & down again – lots of really tight hairpin bends & fairly narrow in places. Hilariously, the speed limit is 90kph, but much of the time I couldn’t even do half that. In one place, the road runs through a hole in the rock – just like the one in the Bay of Islands, but with road under it instead of water! It’s not a tunnel, just a hole in a narrow promontory, and unfortunately nowhere to stop for a pic. All through the gorge, you can see the grain of the rock which was thrust up at an angle when the mountains were formed, and the road just seems to slice through it. Amazing.
On the way to Digne-les-Bains I was disappointed that it’s too early in the season for the lavender, so the fields were just green, but the air smelled nice! There were some fields of those lovely orange poppies, so I was happy to settle for some photos of those.
When you’re driving yourself, you often miss things, but on occasion you’ll see something out of the corner of your eye that will catch your attention. Castellane had the biggest surprise for me as I hadn’t read much about the place, not intending to visit. High above the town, on a gigantic rock, is a church – Our Lady of the Rock (surprising name!) & I did a double take as I drove along the gorge road towards Castellane & saw it across the gap. It looked so beautiful in that rugged terrain, I had to stop for a photo, and also took several of it from the town itself – check it out.
Look hard & you'll see the church across the valley
The very pretty Notre Dame du Roc
My hotel is a bit more basic than some of the others, but it’s pretty cool & there’s a pool & a spa which I’d use if I wasn’t so tired. The restaurant food is really good, I’m happy to say.
Apparently it only takes an hour & a half to Nice, but I’ll play it safe in the morning, as I have to get the car there by 11:30 or I get charged for another full day. Will be glad to let the train driver do the driving to Venice on Saturday.