Our Weekend Road Trip
For my birthday last year, Robin and I headed off for an indulgent long weekend at the Gorges du Verdon. When in Europe eh? We had already been to the Southern parts of the Gorges du Verdon where you’ll find many turquoise lakes. (As I’m basically part-fish this resulted in me swimming in the gorgeous clear water in my undies as my British man looked on embarrassed).
The best part of living in France, other than the Provencal markets, is the fact that you can get in the car and be in a completely different landscape in a small amount of time. We have spent countless days just driving around the French countryside admiring neglected farmhouses and roadside produce stands. I had always wanted to see the Gorges du Verdon; we decided that Spring would be the best time to visit as it can be a very popular destination in the summer. Here is the itinerary for our Spring weekend in the Gorges du Verdon.
Forcalquier and around
We started out our journey early in the morning so that we could arrive at the Forcalquier market at a decent hour. I had heard good things… After visiting the market, and taking in the sun in the main square, we headed into the countryside just below Forcalquier to picnic with our freshly bought goods from the market. We sat overlooking rolling hills. I also couldn’t help myself doing a little foraging. A little rocket/arugula with your salad?
I was attracted to some odd looking rock formations that were pictured on our map of the area. We headed North and ended up driving through some beautiful garrigue landscapes. Close to Digne-les-Bains, we drove past Les Dourbes where you’ll find a stunning rock falaise that spans a few kilometers. I didn’t even bother taking a picture; I wouldn’t have been able to do it justice.
We arrived at our B&B after a quick look at Moustieres Saint Marie and another quick attempt to get to a goat farm before it closed. I booked B&B Domaine d’Angouire because it has French charm. It was there that I learned my French word of the day: surclassé. The cottages on the property had not been booked so early in the season so we were given the choice of 2 gîtes or cottages rather than a room in the main house. Yes!
I was indecisive. With anxiety, I looked from one cottage to the other as both Robin and the owner looked at me expectantly. It seems I react the same way with restaurant menus. It was decided that we do more thorough tours of the cottages, pick one, and then meet the family on the terasse of the main house for a glass of rosé. Well, that hastened the decision.
The next morning, on the dew covered windowsill, we woke to find a basket filled with fresh croissants and jam. Ah, life is good. I definitely recommend this place to stay!
We headed for the Gorges du Verdon and this was the first view:
Of course, I stood on the tiny stone wall on the edge of the road to take photos much to Robin’s distress. It was only the beginning…
We ventured onto the Route des Crêtes, which was kindly suggested by Auriane of Getaway in Provence Tours. Auriane had offered to drive us herself on this route but sadly our dates didn’t match up. We ended up regretting this as the sheer drop that was throughout most of the side of the road was quite unnerving for my man. What a time to discover one suffers from vertigo!
It was unfortunately still a little chilly to kayak down the gorges. We’ll have to do that next time.
How picturesque are these sheep wandering through the wildflowers?
We made our way to Castellane and found landscapes of rapeseed or colza flowers that are used for vegetable oil here in Europe. The flowers in this picture are actually about as tall as me! Perhaps that’s not saying much…
Armed with leftover wine, cheese, veggies and a fresh baguette, we ventured off the main road in search for a picturesque picnic spot. We thought this view over the medieval village and chateau of Trigance would suffice.
After a long day of driving, we arrived back at the gîte and explored the woodland at the perimeter of the property. It was quite refreshing to see a change from the wild garrigue landscapes of shrubs and olive trees that we get where we live in the Alpilles. Of course, I’m not complaining. I quite liked the landscape in the Gorges du Verdon as you really get a sense that you’re close to the mountains. At the same time, there’s the odd Provençal olive or almond tree on the side of the road.
That night, we ate at La Cantine in Moustieres Saint Marie which was recommended by the owner of our B&B. We managed to grab the last table in this tiny restaurant decorated with vintage signs and a bright red Smeg fridge. It was filled with locals which is always a great sign. I must admit we were a little apprehensive about Moustieres because although it is beautiful, and great if you’re interested in faience pottery, it was much more touristy than I had imagined.
The husband and wife team that run La Cantine are at once laid back and professional. At the end of our meal the wife decided she needed a cigarette and cake break. She, the chef, calmly stood outside while her husband sweated a little but was clearly not going to ask her to get back in the kitchen!
Once it was established that we’re lovers of all things local, we were treated to tasters of lavender and raspberry liquor in addition to our apéritifs of Vin de Noix (walnut wine) and a Mauresque (almond and aniseed provencal cocktail).
Ratatouille et Saucisson (with apéritif)
Tourte au Chorizo
Velouté de Carottes, spring onions
1/2 Coquelet sauce moutarde à l’ancienne, frites
Tiramisu avec Fraises et Spéculoos
Moelleux crème marrons, glace vanille
Everything was homemade!! The chorizo tart was light and flavourful, the soup was creamy and spicy. Everything was delicious. Everyone was friendly. The tables are so close together that you end up talking to your neighbours. I highly recommend this restaurant. It was a lovely birthday meal.
Other culinary highlights during our stay:
La Grignotière in Moustieres Saint Marie:
This is simple home cooked food. What it lacks in presentation, it makes up in flavour. The family that run it are also incredibly friendly. It’s fun to watch the banter between the daughter and father I must admit. I had the plat du jour which was lasagna made with slow-cooked local beef stew as the filling for lasagna. Deliciousness. Then, the highlight was the moelleux au chocolate.
I was quite full after my beefy lasagna and asked the daughter if we could share the molten chocolate pot. I was told it was impossible to share this dessert. Well, we acquiesced and ordered 2. It turns out that this molten chocolate cake dessert is served with a rather large helping of the mother’s homemade clementine jam. Well, it was a new discovery for us. The desserts didn’t last long. That night I couldn’t get to sleep because I was thinking how we could manage to get back to the restaurant just to have that dessert again!
Domaine Allemand Wine
We bought this wine at Forcalquier market. We were attracted by the rare grape variety and the story of Marc Allemand’s struggle to gain recognition for the Mollard grape that was known as the main grape in mountainous regions in France.
During the 1980s, many producers replaced the variety with internationally recognized cépages such as cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir in order to please the international market. Allemand continued to cultivate the Mollard grape in order to preserve biodiversity in the area. In 2005, he was proudly able to introduce the Mollard grape into the official French catalog of grape varieties. We bought his 100% Mollard vintage and oh my it was delicious! It’s spicy, full-bodied but at the same time quite smooth and easy to drink. This isn’t always the case with strong Provençal red wines. We also bought his Muscat, which is (or was!) perfect for an apéritif.
On our third and final day, we drove back home the slow way taking advantage of the proximity to some well-known villages such as Cotignac and Aups. In Aups, we were lucky enough to find ourselves there on market day; we were able to take home some local cheeses. That’s my kind of souvenir!
Make sure to visit this area in the Spring as it gets quite busy in the summer. Thank you to Auriane from Getaway in Provence Tours for her suggestions.
Have you been to the Gorges du Verdon? What tips do you have to share about the area?