Hiking the Sentier Martel trail in the Gorge de Verdon

27 Sep

Sentier Martel starting point at Chalet de la Maline

Walking the Sentier Martel hiking trail was the main reason why we chose to visit the Gorge du Verdon region. 

General information

According to the Offices du Tourisme, the trail is about 14km long and takes approximately 6 hours to complete if no stops or detours are allowed.

For most hikers wishing to take in the beautiful scenery, enjoying a quick-lunch at one of the many great viewing spots or jumping into the icy waters of the Verdon river, it will generally take about 8 hours. 

The two starting points of the Sentier Martel hiking trail is situated at Point Sublime close to Rougon and at Chalet De La Maline near the small village of La Palud sur-Verdon respectively. The route from La Palud is considered to be less strenuous and the preferred route to take when it is your first time walking the trail (which we decided to take). 

The most important thing to bear in mind besides taking enough drinking water and wearing suitable hiking shoes, is to take a flashlight so you can find your way through two tunnels (one is 100 meters long and the other 670 meters) close to Point Sublime. 

Bus ride to Chalet De La Maline 

Our adventure for the day started pretty early (around 7 am) as we needed to drive to Point Sublime and catch the bus to Chalet De La Maline. Luckily we got there early and lined up pretty quickly when the bus arrived. 

Having experienced “great” French hospitality the previous day when we were thrown out of a bakery for not understanding French, we were not surprised when the bus driver started yelling and waving to people trying to buy a bus ticket once he decided it was full. We were just glad to have made it on without any drama. 

The price for a bus ticket one way between Point Sublime and Chalet De La Maline  is EUR 6 per person. 

Passing through La Palud there was more yelling by the bus driver to eager hikers waiting for the bus at La Palud, most of which we didn’t understand. This was all soon forgotten when we started to climb towards the top of the Gorge with breathtaking views of the cliffs as far as the eye could see.

It is definitely not a drive for the fainthearted with hairpin bends leaving you murmuring soft prayers while the bus hovers on the edge of the steep cliffs. I for one was relieved when my feet touched solid ground next to Chalet De La Maline and didn’t waste any time to quickly visit the toilets and buy a cup of tea.  

The trail   

Descending into the Gorge

Entering the Gorge by way of the Sentier Martel hiking trail

For the first hour or so the trail descends quite steeply into the Gorge. The many twists and turns of the trail leed you closer and closer to the Verdon river which at the beginning is only a trickle of turquoise-green water far below.  

Where necessary steps have been carved out of the rock face with cables attached for additional safety. The path is clearly marked by a symbol of white and red stripes and even though quite a few people started with us, over time the hikers tend to spread out giving you ample time to enjoy nature without any people around. 

The cliffs ensure that you can walk in the shade for the better part of the hike but the temperature do rise steadily going down into the Gorge as the morning makes way for midday sun. After reaching the level of the river, the path once again quickly starts to ascends upwards.  

Soon we were welcomed by the Brèche Embert view-point and its 6 stairways (totaling 252 steps) descending to the river. We instantly understood why this route was the preferred route as climbing the steps upwards would turn many a leg into jelly. 

By the time we reached the riverside at what is known as the pebble beach of the Baumes-Fères stream, we were seriously contemplating whether to have a quick dip. Not wanting to waste too much time as we still wanted to go swimming and pedalboating on the Saint-Croix reservoir, we decided just to splash each other for a bit of cool relief.

With one eye on the clock we decided to put a bit of umpf into our strides as the path leveled out next to the river bed (a decision which we came to regret towards the end). 

Along the way we befriended a couple from New Zealand who was travelling through Europe for 3 months. We kept passing each other whenever one of us decided to make the most of a great photo opportunity (of which there were thousands!), having a quick rest to drink some water or eating lunch.  It didn’t take long before the conversation turned to rugby as the South-African Springboks and New Zealand All Blacks were playing a match at Soccer City in Soweto, South Africa that afternoon.   

The view down from Brèche Embert

Us at the bottom of one of the and its 6 stairways (totaling 252 steps)

Just before the tunnels we caught up with them and heard that they forgot to pack a flashlight. From the pitch black gaping holes it was clear you couldn’t cross through the tunnels without risk of injury and we were more than happy to have them join us.

With one small headlamp between the four of us we ended up laughing our way through the dark tunnels encountering puddles of water, a pair of glowing eyes of a canine and a few other hikers.

Once through the tunnels we thought we should be very close to Point Sublime as we could see a road with a line of cars in the distance. We quickly learned that there was still a steep climb to Point Sublime for another 45 minutes or so.

It is here where we started regretting using our extra energy to power through the last few kilometres as we definitely struggled to climb the last few bends to reach our car. The fact that it was now close to 35/38 degrees celsius with very little shade on the path did not help in any way. 

When we finally reached Point Sublime we made a bee-line for the kiosk selling cool drinks. Lipton ice tea has never tasted so good! We managed to complete the trail in 5 and half hours even though we took a lot of photo breaks and ate a quick-lunch. That said, we are fairly fit with a good level of endurance and would strongly recommend taking it slower and enjoying the tranquility the trail offers a little more.

We were amazed by the scenery, had great fun and can honestly say this is one of our highlights travelling through Europe.

Even thought we did see people of all ages walking and enjoying the Sentier Martel hiking trail, the trail should not be attempted if you have trouble walking up steep inclines or climbing stairs.



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