With our hilly trail race in Aiguines complete, we headed out of our campsite with two baguettes under our arms to follow a scenic road east. We stopped frequently to quickly view the gorge from different perspectives; the day was already mid 30s by 9.30am, and everything was an effort. We parked up near Auberge Cavaliers in a public car-park and, with lunch packed, walked downhill for 30 minutes on a steep path with long patches of welcome shade to reach the shores of the river Verdon far below. We were following the Imbut trail, where another 40 minutes took us past beautiful chalky green pools and we struggled to resist the opportunity to dip. Our legs were still suffering from our recent race, but we had the perfect remedy waiting for us at the end of this hot and sticky forest trail hike.
That was a channel named Le Styx, a spot we had long coveted from photos in our Wild Swimming France book, and we were delighted to have it all to ourselves this fine morning. With little delay we changed and dropped carefully into the cool, moving water. We were cautious of the flow until we were sure it could easily be swam against, but once mastered we proceeded up river, easily fighting the current, through the overhanging rock formations and narrow curved features. We found rocks just below the surface where we climbed out and spent time enjoying the dancing patterns of light on the water. We had arrived just before noon, when the sun best penetrates the narrow chasm, and the walls and green water were lit up with a shining luminosity that raised the experience another notch.
We enjoyed a few lengths in this special stretch of river, before climbing out on nearby rocks to overlook the water, watching the light fall in bright patches on the surface. As we watched, a group of nine wet-suited canyoners, adorned in bright red and yellow helmets and life-jackets, suddenly drifted into view through the souk-like passage, breaking our silence and commandeering our view. They floated down and climbed out right beside our restful spot and took turns jumping back in from a tall, overhanging rock perched about 6m above the water’s surface. It was a wild, uncontrollable splash of colour and noise on our tranquil canvas, but within minutes they were off again, sliding down frothing rapids feet first with arms tightly crossed on chests, leaving us again to enjoy the calm serenity.
Satisfied, we walked back along the same path and picked out a peaceful shallow pool away from the path where we ate our prepared lunch. No one else was around so Nicky insisted on having another few cooling dips, this time sans costume. The climb back was reminiscent of our trail run the previous day, and our legs were sorely in agreement. We sweated our way back to Benny on the top of the gorge, glad for some shade from the glaring sun. We continued our drive around the gorge-top road, loving the expansive views, before turning off to stop in at the historic village of Trigance. We nabbed the final available spot in their free aire, opened all our windows and doors and ate ice lollies and drunk pints of water until we felt ourselves again. We really need to slow down when the sun is so strong.
We walked a short loop of the village of Trigance but beautiful as it was, we had no heart for any of it, and all we could think off was a return to shade and rest. We slowly dragged our feet through the streets for an acceptable time, before returning and agreeing that the race, and our walk this morning, had taken more out of us than we had first thought. It was time for respite. Tomorrow we had planned to walk the Verdon Gorge classic route, Le Sentier Blanc Martel, a difficult 7-hour traverse hike, but we were now reconsidering our plans. We spent the evening looking at options, and discounted hiking the full trail. The buses were not yet running so we would need a pre-booked taxi to begin or return from the linear walk, and we felt that we had experienced much of the gorge already.
After a sticky night we gave up all plans of walking the entire route, but thought we’d have a look at part of it, so drove to Point Sublime, near Rougon, one end of the trail. The car-park was full to bursting with day-trippers, so we parked Benny in the bus lay-by, hoping this would be okay. We walked to a viewpoint, but found its positioning wanting as the river was barely visible, and decided to drop down the valley for a swim. But with several false starts down incorrect trails and with lines of sweat already dripping down our backs, we gave up and retreated back to Benny. With only the tiniest twang of guilt, we rushed off up the road to the nearest campsite with leafy shade and a pool. This heatwave was not here to play, and we simply could not compete. We were soon cocooned on a large shaded pitch within 50m of a beautiful stretch of river and a great pool. It was time to cool off and rest our legs.
We wasted no time in getting to the river where we found a deep, cold pool and we swam and played until we finally felt that unfamiliar coldness in our core. We could have braved the long trek and been sweating up a dusty slope right at this time with hours still to go, but we were now convinced we’d made the very best decision for us. €19 for our pitch, free wifi, access to the river and the spacious 25m pool (where we lay happily for several hours later in the afternoon) and several icy showers each to regain our cool; what were we thinking trying to walk trails when the thermometer was pushing 40°? Our guilt made us look for alternative activities and we found the perfect option. We booked in for a canyoning adventure the following day, in a shady chasm running with chilly water – a perfect way to stay cool.
A& N x