The Route des Cretes is a scenic mountain road along Verdon Gorge in the South of France. Literally translated as ‘The Ridge Road’, it meanders along the northern rim of the magnificent gorge that is dubbed the Grand Canyon of France. Along the route, there are many viewing platforms where you can marvel at this wonder of nature.
Boasting heights of up to 700 meters (2,300 ft), Verdon Gorge (or Gorges du Verdon in French) is a highly popular attraction in the Alpes de Haute Provence region.
The vast majority of visitors explore the gorge by renting kayaks or pedal boats to sail along the river at the bottom of the gorge – something that I recommend that you do as well. However, the option to take a road trip along the Route des Cretes is a lot less known and is barely featured in any travel blogs. It’s really a hidden gem!
We drove the Route des Cretes Verdon at the end of July – the peak season for tourism – and encountered only a handful of other people. So if you want to escape the crowds and enjoy some breathtaking vistas in peace and quiet, you should definitely include this activity in your South of France itinerary.
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Background info about the Route des Cretes, Verdon Gorge
The Route des Cretes Verdon is a 23km-long (14 mi) loop road starting and ending at La Palud-sur-Verdon village in Verdon Natural Regional Park. There are several roads called ‘Route des Cretes’ across France so make sure you don’t end up at the wrong one!
The road was built on a former mule track by locals between 1948 and 1972 to make it more accessible for tourists. It can be done either by car (even a large car like a camper van), a motorbike or a bicycle.
If you’re coming from the direction of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, the drive up to the starting point of the Route des Cretes is already very scenic. There are several vantage points on the side of the road, where you can get a bird’s eye view of Lac de Sainte-Croix, one of the most beautiful lakes in France.
Tips for driving the Route des Cretes
The starting point of the Route des Cretes is to the south of La Palud-sur-Verdon village at road D23, next to the Auberge des Crêtes guest house. From there, it’s a straightforward route where it’s impossible to get lost.
Note that you can only drive this circuit clockwise because a large part of it is one-way. Luckily, this also means that for the majority of the drive, you don’t need to worry about oncoming cars. Although it might sound like a hair-raising experience to drive along the edge of the gorge, it is actually pretty easy and relaxing, and the road is in great condition.
Along the road, there are plenty of free parking spots so you can easily stop and enjoy the views for as long as you like. It takes 1-2 hours to complete the entire route, depending on how many stops you make.
What can you see along the road?
The Route des Cretes Verdon has 14 viewing platforms or ‘belvederes’ where you can gaze at the surrounding mountain scenery and the plunging, awe-inspiring gorge below you. Those with vertigo or a fear of heights should be careful because the viewing platforms are very high up!
Here’s a list of the belvederes along the road (I’ve also marked them on the map further below):
- Belvedere de Trescaïre
- Belvedere de la Carelle
- Belvedere de l’Escales
- Belvedere de la Dent d’Aïre
- Belvedere du Pas de la Bau
- Belvedere du Tilleul
- Belvedere de la gorge de Guegues
- Belvedere des Glacieres
- Belvedere d’Eycharme
- Belvedere de Guegues
- Belvedere des Malines
- Belvedere de Maugue
- Belvedere de l’Imbut
- Belvedere de Bau Beni
At the bottom of the gorge, 700 meters (2,300 ft) below, winds the turquoise Verdon river, where you might spot some people doing aqua-trekking (more on that below). The gorge is also popular among climbers who come here to tackle the climbing routes along the steep rock walls. Remember that you should never throw rocks into the gorge as there might be people in there.
You are also likely to spot some wild animals along Route des Cretes. Large vultures and eagles are often majestically gliding in the air currents above the gorge. We also briefly saw a beautiful ibex on the side of the road.
Roughly halfway through the route, there’s a small guesthouse called Chalet de la Maline, which has a restaurant where you can stop for lunch. NB: According to some reviews I’ve read, there have unfortunately been several car break-ins here so don’t leave anything valuable in the car.
Route des Cretes Verdon map
On this Route des Cretes map, you can see the exact driving route and the locations of each of the belvederes. Click on the icon in the top left corner of the map to see the names of the belvederes.
When to drive the Route des Cretes Verdon?
The best time of the year to explore the Route des Cretes is from April to November. Outside of this period, there’s a chance that the road is closed due to snowfall and ice.
During the summer months, you’ll have the best chance of good weather and the days are the longest. However, summer is also the most popular time to visit so you can expect to see other people along the road (though no big crowds).
The best time of the day for enjoying the views is around midday when the sun is high and lights up the deep gorge.
Other things to do around Verdon Gorge
Besides driving the Route des Cretes, Verdon Gorge and its surrounding areas offer plenty of other fun things to do:
- Visit the Lake of Sainte-Croix to swim in its alluring blue-green water. You can rent kayaks or pedal boats to cruise around the lake and also sail into Verdon Gorge if the water level is high enough. Read more about it in my post on the best lakes in France.
- Take this 2-hour aqua-trekking tour where you’ll float through Verdon Gorge along the river wearing a life jacket. It’s a family-friendly activity suitable for everyone.
- Drive around the entire gorge – a journey of about 100 km (60 mi) in total. This way, you’ll not only see the Route des Crêtes (on the northern rim) but also the Route de la Corniche Sublime (southern rim).
- Visit the medieval village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, one of the most beautiful villages in France.
- Explore the dozens of hiking trails in the Gorges du Verdon area. The most famous hikes here are the Sentier Blanc Martel, Sentier L’Imbut and Sentier du Bastidon.
- Test your rock climbing skills at one of the 1000 climbing routes in the gorge.
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