We debated whether to spend another water-focused day at the delightful Camping les Pêcheurs but, lovely as it was, the idea of exploration won out. As joyous and flowing with colour as our pitch was, draped with pink flowers and overhanging trees, we struggled for ten minutes to get out without destroying the foliage, reversing around low-hanging trees and through a narrow hedge opening that snagged mirrors and tickled Benny’s sides. We headed north, to Parc naturel régional du Verdon. Our route naturally took us to Sillans-la-Cascade, an area of cascading waterfalls and milky-green forest pools. In a small car-park (43.566907, 6.182703), we found a Benny sized spot and paid €4 for 2.5 hours (half-hour free, €0.50/15 minutes). We decided an exploratory run would be best to find some suitable swim spots.
We began our run in the direction everyone else was walking, following the easy rocky trail mostly downhill. We arrived at a belvédère of the main pool and waterfall; an impressive and arresting sight that made us want to jump in immediately. But due to a rockfall a few years ago we found out that access to the water here was now interdit, scuppering our plans. Undeterred, we ran around several other promising nearby paths before realising that none of the river upstream of the falls was accessible. We returned back through the car-park and beyond, crossing a bridge into Sillans-la-Cascade village and followed other footpaths on the south bank of the river. This is where it became interesting, as we soon reached long stretches of beautiful, luminous green pools wrapped in gnarled tree roots.
Huge grins broke out on our faces as we took in each pool in turn, any one being worthy of a debut swim. The cool water trickled down from one to the next, like the Fairy Pools on Skye. There were deep plunge holes, natural weirs and shallow pools, and all shone as if lit from underneath. We kept our focus and continued to the end of the path, and were duly rewarded by our arrival at another waterfall pool. Not quite as large a pool or tall a waterfall as the main cascade seen from the belvedere, but this one was accessible for swimming and there were no overlooking crowds. We found a place where we could access the water and quickly changed. The clear green water was biting cold, much more so than any so far on this trip. But this made it all the more refreshing after our sticky-hot run.
We swam near to the waterfall, feeling the chill spray on our faces. Occasionally we climbed up and stood onto near-surface rocks to let the sun return some heat to our chilled limbs, but were soon back in the water again, floating happily in the deep milky blue-green water. Tangles of tree root and branches semi-blocked channels within the pool, but we could swim under and around them as we explored. When we felt our limbs become numb we reluctantly climbed out of the water and sunned ourselves on the rocks, our warmth soon returning. We ate snacks and sucked in every aspect we could of the wonderful pool, before tracking back the same path. We stopped again at several other pools and dipped again to delay our leaving. Our final run back to Benny left us hot and sticky again.
Our swim-lust satisfied, at least for now, we moved on to the free aire (43.777123, 6.214216) near to Les Salles-sur-Verdon on the banks of Lac de Sainte-Croix. It was spacious, with 12 vans already parked but space for the same again. We walked to the nearest beach on the banks of the lake and were unable to resist another swim. We spent the rest of the day sedentary on the beach, sapped of energy but in a satisfying way. We were in this area for a hilly 10km trail run and were glad to take it easy for the few days before. We passed a second day here, with a leisurely walk into Les Salles-sur-Verdon via the lake shore, then finding a shady place on the beach to relax. It was a windier day, the sea choppier and we watched many kayakers and Suppers struggle valiantly to return upwind on the lake.
Our pre-organised 10km race was on Sunday in nearby Aiguines. It was a hilly jaunt with 680m of ascent over the distance. There were others running various distances, the longest a 60km race beginning at 4am that had over 4km of ascent. That sounded like a very refined, exquisite kind of self-torture, and we were glad to have only entered the shorter event. We arrived at our campsite, Camping de l’Aigle, only nine miles from our free aire. Set on top of an expansive hill, with a gorgeous terrace overlooking Lac de Sainte-Croix, this was a fantastic place to be situated for a few days. We knew we should be resting our legs, but we climbed steeply up through the campsite to a table d’orientation to take in a cloudy red sunset above the deep blue waters of the lake. It was worth the extra walk.
Our race was the following morning, where we had an easy 10am start. It was very hot, and we worried about how we’d manage in the heat. The race proved to be more ‘falling down steep stony slopes’ and ‘walking up steep earthy slopes’, with only short stretches of running in between. Our legs and lungs burned and our faces dripped hot, blinding sweat as we pushed on, the stubborn kilometres slow to disappear. It was a tough course, yet we found the legs to sprint the final downhill kilometre into town, feeling fresher than at most other parts of the race. We still only just broke 1hr 30mins, which beforehand would have seemed laughably slow for a 10k race. But we were at the front of the field, with Nicky picking up a prize for second lady home. I finished alongside her, as 18th male finisher.
We sat around, recovering and eating back all the burned calories, and more. We were informed prize-giving would be at 3pm, so we retreated to our campsite for lunch and showers, and returned around 2.30pm for the awards. In the time we were away, due to the late finishers in several other race distances, the 10km presentations had been rearranged. It had already passed, and with it Nicky’s opportunity to stand on the podium – disappointing. A later solo presentation was of little compensation. After a few hours back at camp, we walked back into town for celebratory pizza. It was 7pm and there were some runners still finishing the brutal 60k race, 14 hours later. As we ate our pizza we were visited by a thirsty, curious boar and a beautiful smudged red-sunset. Later we slipped into a satisfied sleep.