The Holy Trinity of Haute Provence: Lavender, Lac Sainte Croix and Languid Medieval Villages

The Holy Trinity of Haute Provence: Lavender, Lac Sainte Croix and Languid Medieval Villages

Photos and text by Emily Benson-Scott
Gorge du Verdon
“The emerald giant is more than far away, it’s another world..” (Jean Giono)

Last week I wrote about the lavender fields and village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, but that was only two of the three delights of the Alpes-de-Hautes-Provence region of France. The third wonder of the region is Gorge du Verdon, where the Verdon River has forged a path through the high limestone plateau of Haute Provence. Because Gorge du Verdon is the largest canyon in Europe and second largest in the world, it is often compared to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Americans can be rather pompous when it comes to the Grand Canyon, and, admittedly, trying to compare anything to this geological monstrosity is just, well, silly. Having been to the actual Grand Canyon several times, where I’m utterly dwarfed and humbled by the booming red silence, the endless fractal repetitions of rock, and the eons witnessed by the canyon, Gorge du Verdon doesn’t quite impress on any remotely comparable scale. But if you consider the unusual emerald turquoise hue of the Verdon river and lovely Lac Sainte-Croix, it becomes a jewel in its own right. Miles inland from the coast, Provence can feel dry and dusty in the summer, and one soon goes in search of a source of water. There’s no more perfect oasis than Lac Sainte-Croix in Gorge du Verdon. In the summer, the lake comes alive with festivity, as locals, day trippers and international tourists rent paddle boats to tour the Gorge.
Lac Sainte Croix

The first time we set out for a swim in Lac Sainte Croix, it was after a long rain and the lake was frigidly cold. Andrea and Rob bravely went for a dip while my mother and I had a contest about who could keep their ankles in the longest.

Andrea at Gorge du Verdon

Fortunately, the next time Rob and I went for a swim, we encountered the pleasantly warm waters we remembered from the previous year. Having rented a boat the year before, we wanted a little more intimacy with the landscape and scrambled down the side of a cliff to lay on some not very comfortable rocks before plunging into the fresh emerald lake.
The lake was surrounded by pine trees, and as I swam, the water seemed so clean and refreshing, it felt as if the essence of the trees had bled into the water.
Rob, as usual, had bigger aquatic ambitions, and paddled with his arms on a tiny raft an intimidating distance to the waterfall where he was intercepted by the gorge police and told he needed at the very least, paddles, if not an actual legitimate craft. But he still got to go under the waterfall, still got to spend hours soaking up the refreshing emerald waters, while I finished my day reading and sunbathing in a chair-like crevasse Rob had found for me in the rocks.
Our last night in our apartment in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, we ate fresh artichokes, eggplant tian, and bruschetta made with Proven├žal tomatoes from the local farmer’s market, along with a regional rose.

It was difficult to say goodbye to the gorge, and on our last day we took selfies as an excuse to linger longer on the bridge. We left reluctantly but still reeling from a quaisi religious experience, knowing we’d just experienced the secular holy trinity–turquoise lakes, fields of purple lavender, and our cherished medieval village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.

This year, the region was even exponentially more special since we were able to share it with loved ones.

My mother, Andrea, Rob and me on the bridge at Gorge du Verdon

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