The countryside as a whole around the Verdon is beautiful, but the most remarkable spot is of course the spectacular Verdon Canyon or Gorges du Verdon which most people like to visit at least once. The entrance to the Canyon is about 45 minutes’ drive from us, near the picturesque little town of Moustiers Sainte Marie, worth a visit not just for its famous porcelain but for its pretty streets and chapel perched in the crags above the village.
Esparron-de-Verdon is situated to the south of the Valensole plateau, the largest plateau in Europe, and famous for its lavender fields. From the plateau on clear days you can see over the purple of the lavender fields as far as the Sainte Victoire mountain by Aix and the Mont Ventoux and Montagne de Lure mountains to the west.
To the south of Esparron, Quinson is an especially pretty and well-preserved village, as well as being home to the fascinating Musée de la préhistoire, good for a (happily rare) day of bad weather, though too interesting to save for a rainy day! Once over the bridge which crosses the Verdon to the south of Quinson you find yourself in the Haut Var; again there are many picturesque villages worth visiting such as Fox-Amphoux, Cotignac and Sillans-la-Cascade to name but a few.
There are many picturesque little towns and villages on or around the plateau, one of the most interesting being Riez, 25 minutes’ drive from Esparron. This little known market town boasts a Roman heritage at least as important as that of Vaison la Romaine, and archaeologists are constantly making new discoveries, some of which are on view to the public. The town is also home to some remarkable crumbling renaissance buildings tucked away in the maze of old streets, though one, the exceptional Hotel de Mazan, housing extraordinary plasterwork, or gypserie, has been impeccably restored and will open as a museum.
A great attraction in Riez is the Wednesday and Saturday morning market selling delicious local produce, soaps, fabrics, lavender products and so on, ideal for buying provisions for a picnic or simply sitting in a café and watching the world go by. You can taste creamy goat’s cheese from the Mistral farm, succulent strawberries from Allemagne-en-Provence, and Rafaela’s special jam from Albiosc and stock up with reasonably priced wine from Jardivin on the road towards Puimoisson. To the north-east of Puimoisson the tiny village of St Jurs (provençal for Georges) nestled in the hills overlooking the plateau is our favourite place for picnics and has views for miles over the whole plateau.
45 minutes away to the west is the largest local town, Manosque. Also known as the birthplace of writer Jean Giono, the town centre is pretty once you get past the multitude of supermarkets and DIY shops, and the Jean Giono Centre celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2012. The scenery beyond Manosque is lovely, too, with villages such as St Michel l’Observatoire and Banon, and if you continue westwards you will find yourself in the gently rolling countryside of the Luberon.
Beautiful Aix-en-Provence is only a good hour’s drive away, so it is quite possible to take a day trip there from Esparron, and we love to visit vibrant Marseille, slightly further afield at an hour and a half’s drive.
The village of Esparron de Verdon itself with pretty, winding streets and fountains is worth exploring, and the Ecomusée museum houses a fascinating collection of old tools, clothes and household implements.