Lost in striking and still wild natural surroundings at the northern end of the Gorges of the Verdon in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Castellane is a lively and historic town at the crossroads of the Route Napoléon and the Upper Verdon.
Although situated at 724 metres altitude, Castellane nestles in a ravine in the Grand Canyon of Europe. At first, as you approach, you will see just its 184-metre high rocky peak with a chapel on top.
The town, set on the banks of the emerald waters of the Verdon, only begins to appear when you get to the Pont du Roc bridge, built in the 15th century to replace an older one from the 9th and used by Napoleon in 1815 on his return from Elba.
The historic city centre is partly surrounded by its old fortifications and you enter through one of the stone porch ways, such as the Porte de l'Horloge gate, with a belfry topped by a wrought-iron campanile, or the Porte de l'Annonciade, named after an old convent and situated between two square towers. The centre is arranged around the Place Marcel Sauvaire and its small streets, some good for shopping others more secret, are mostly pedestrian. Strolling through the town, you will see the 12th century Saint Victor Church that presents elements of both Romanesque and Gothic architecture. The vaulted ceiling over its Romanesque side aisle was rebuilt in the 17th century and there are features dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, such as the altar from 1725. The base of its bell tower dates from 1445, but the top was rebuilt in the 18th century. More recent but no less interesting is the town hall in a neo-classical style.
View over the town of Castellane
The church on the Rock of Castellane
View of Castellane from the Rock
Rock of Castellane and Verdon river
Castellane in the Alpes de Haute Provence
In summer, the historic centre is very lively and restaurants are not lacking – what might lack is a free table on one of their terraces!
If you feel up to, grab a bottle of water and set off on foot along the ruins of the town's defensive walls dating from the 14th century. You will pass by the very elegant 13th century Pentagonal Tower, one of the 14 towers that made up the fortifications, before reaching the Notre-Dame-du-Roc Chapel at the top of its cliff (count on an approximately 30 minute walk). A wall and the south façade date from its 12th century origins, when the population took refuge there from all the invasions. Partially destroyed, it was restored in the 16th century, only to fall into ruins and be rebuilt 200 years later.
From its terrace you have the best views of the town and the confirmation that Castellane is located in what is truly the most magnificent part of the Gorges of the Verdon.
Castellane is the ideal spot from which to explore the gorges and enjoy all the activities they have to offer: canoeing-kayaking, rafting, swimming, canyoning, rock-climbing, bungee jumping as well as a plethora of hiking trails.
For family outings, the Castillon and Chaudanne Lakes, 10 minutes from Castellane, are two reservoirs offering beautiful beaches with lifeguards and other facilities.
Not far from the banks of those lakes, you can visit the pretty villages of Saint Julien du Verdon and Saint André les Alpes.
Office de Tourisme de Castellane - Rue Nationale - 04120 Castellane
+33(0) 4 92 83 61 14http://www.castellane-verdontourisme.com/