ACTIVE 4X4 ADVENTURES
Provence 4X4 Tour: delightful off-roading in the land of lavender, sunflowers and olives!
A fabulous new 5-day fully catered 4X4 adventure holiday tour, located in the heart of Provence adjoining the magnificent Gorge du Verdon and the enticing Lac du Sainte-Croix, two outstanding natural wonders of the area. Featuring plentiful spectacular off-road driving experiences through diverse and varied terrain, the warm and wonderful Mediterranean countryside blanketed with sunflower and lavender fields, together with numerous opportunities for swimming in the rivers and rock pools, this new gem of a tour really will appeal to the whole family, young and old alike. It’s all about enjoying the splendour of the natural environment, with short driving days and ample time spent out of the cars, immersed in the most beautiful region of the south of France.
If you enjoy exploring the beauty of unspoiled nature in your 4X4, and you want to do more than just drive all day every day, then this tour with its multitude of activity options will be perfect for you and your family. Suitable for all standard 4X4 vehicles, fully catered as always and also including exciting outdoor adventure activities; this tour is ideal for kids of all ages!
Day 1: We meet at a lovely campsite located in the Gorge du Verdon with its own beach on the river. A veritable paradise, not far from the fascinating town of Castellane, located a few miles up-river. Setting off on quiet narrow roads, heading up the mountain, we soon reach the start of excellent gravel tracks, leading through fragrant Pine forests and offering splendid views of the Provence mountains and valleys. An outstanding first day culminates with an authentic rural campsite, located on the river Asse, which provides fabulous playing conditions for kids young and old, and features its own swimming pool, itself something to behold – au naturale and more akin to a lake than a pool.
Day 2: Plenty more outstanding gravel tracks, some through the beautifully scented Pine forests, others luring us across more open land, with seemingly endless fields of the quintessential lavender either side, itself lending an almost intoxicating fragrance, quite literally perfuming the air. If you don’t mind a little dust in your car, you would be missing out not to have the windows open. We pass sprawling commercial fruit growing operations towards the end of the day – who would have thought that Provence is home to some of Europe’s largest apple orchards? We finish at another lovely rustic campsite, this one’s pool area even includes a massive waterslide to enjoy.
Day 3: We pass through Sisteron, beautifully sited on the bank of the river Durance (France’s longest), the ‘gateway to Provence’, so named because of its position in a narrow gap between two mountain ridges. The day sees us enjoying yet more fabulous driving conditions, including tracking a lengthy river gorge, which reminded me of those in the Anti Atlas of Morocco. Olives, sunflowers and lavender are prominent throughout, as are the multitudes of bee hives, their occupants busily producing copious quantities of the delicious, sweet Provencal lavender honey, available at the numerous road-side farm stalls. Some moderately challenging, steep mountain tracks conclude the day, and deliver us to another perfect campsite, this time a peaceful little natural wilderness, tucked away in a secluded valley amongst ancient European hardwoods, providing welcome shade from the blazing sun. For those who treasure nature, you won’t find a better appointed campsite than this.
Day 4: Unsurprisingly, yet more great off-road driving, up hill and down dale, through the balmy, heat-hazed countryside. My notes mention some slightly challenging stony sections of mountain track, which I seem to remember required low range, but probably quite manageable for a less heavily laden vehicle in first gear high range. In fact, this tour is 100% suitable for all standard 4X4 vehicles, provided they are not loaded to the gunnels with unnecessary paraphernalia. Weight is a killer! Moving on; following a day of blissful exploration, we relax and unwind at another select campsite. Choosing the right campsites is paramount, considering how much time is actually spent at camp.
Day 5: Takes us through mostly agricultural terrain, generously sprinkled with the ubiquitous lavender and sunflowers, and provides an interesting insight into the agronomy of the region, not least the clearly significant investment in irrigation infrastructure. The availability of water is visibly not a problem, with the profusion of rivers, lakes, dams and the like, but it is the transportation and distribution of the water which is so impressive, overcoming the many challenges of the arid conditions, as it does so well. Shortly after lunch we reach the tempting azure waters of the Lac du Sainte-Croix, where this tour’s adventure activity comes in the form of kayaking (or pedalo for those who prefer) on the lake, and up-river into the Gorge du Verdon, for a mind-blowing experience of unparalleled splendour. To view the canyon from above is awe-inspiring, to experience it from the river below is just phenomenal. What a way to finish the tour! As if the driving wasn’t already first class, this is the cherry on top! Come and enjoy an exhilarating 5-day 4X4 family adventure holiday!
Those with time available after the tour should consider the two outstanding road drives either side of the Gorge du Verdon; the Route des Gorges (D952) on the northern side, with its circuitous Route des Crêtes (D23), and the Route de la Corniche Sublime (D71) on the southern side. Both provide absolutely breathtaking views of Europe’s limestone ‘Grand Canyon’ from above, each as spectacular as the other. Some sections do feature on the off-road tour, and some will be driven getting to the campsite which is our start point, but they are worth doing in their entirety if possible.
On the north side of the Gorge du Verdon, the Route des Gorges snakes westward from the vibrant and bustling town of Castellane, via the aptly named Point Sublime lookout at the entrance to the canyon, through the charming Provencal village of La Palud sur Verdon (where one should turn south onto the D71, to include the well-worthwhile Route des Crêtes circuit via Chalet de la Maline) as far as Moustiers Sainte-Marie, bypassing and overlooking the top end of the turquoise Lac du Sainte-Croix on its winding way. Incidentally, the adventure activity provided as part of this tour, is kayaking on the Lac du Sainte-Croix up into the Gorge du Verdon, offering an exceptionally special experience.
The equally impressive Route de la Corniche Sublime on the south side of the gorge can be reached from the Route des Gorges by turning south off the D952 onto the D957, a few kilometres before Moustiers Sainte-Marie. Crossing the Pont de Galetas bridge over the Verdon river en route, one turns east onto the D71 at the town of Aiguines (base of the annual Var Verdon Canyon Challenge, a brilliant 60km adventure race, through some of the most demanding terrain imaginable). Proceeding eastward along the Route de la Corniche Sublime, one is rewarded with wonderful lookout points at Col d’Illoire, Roc du Maillet, Margès Vaumale and Belvedere des Bauchers, before passing through the imposing Tunnels du Fayet approaching the Canyon de l’Artuby. The bridge over the Artuby river, the Pont de l’Artuby, the highest in Europe at 182m, and hosts an adrenaline-inducing bungee jump, for those with a big heart and an even bigger wallet.