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Wild and without the French Riviera: Hitching to Verdon and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

We can’t wait to leave the Ibis hotel this morning. Yesterday was not a good day. Overnight we’ve scrapped our plans to visit the French Riviera and instead decided to head a little bit further north again and spend some days in the Verdon area which seems to be stunningly beautiful. That is, if we manage to get a ride there today. After the disastrous journey yesterday we’re not exactly hopeful anymore.

We walk back to the toll booth where Marie dropped us off yesterday, through the industrial estate in soaring heat, and begin to hold our sign up. Neither of us mentions it but we both believe we’re doomed and will probably be stuck here forever. I’m on the phone googling bus and train timetables and BlaBlaCar rides – just in case. I don’t even notice that a car has stopped! Hooray! But is he actually going where we want to go?

Check out more hitchhiking stories from Austria and Switzerland here!

Hitchhiking adventures

Vintage boat house at Drei Weieren in St. Gallen
Switzerland

St. Gallen: Sneaky shots and vintage vibes

Wahoo, we have crossed our first border as hitchhikers! It’s been an eventful journey to St. Gallen that started early in our beloved Innsbruck. We love Innsbruck so much, we wrote not one but two posts about it! We splurged on a room there last night. When I say splurged, I mean a room without […]

April 17, 2019
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Train on the Glacier Express route above Urseren valley
Switzerland

A hitchhiker’s dream: Road tripping through Switzerland

It’s early morning, fog is hanging over the forests and frost covers the ground beneath us. Once again, we’re standing by the side of a road, waiting for some kindhearted person to take us to, well, pretty much anywhere this time! We’re in Filisur, a tiny village on the Glacier Express line in the south-east […]

May 7, 2019
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Mountain views with a cute wooden gate with towering mountains behind
Austria

Wild and without a destination

We’ve been out in the cold long enough now so we’ve decided to take a break from the tent and sleep indoors. Caroline has found a room in our budget somewhere between Kaprun and Innsbruck on a mountain named Gerlosberg. We’re really excited because it looks mega cute and cosy. There is no public transport […]

February 5, 2019
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Lucky ride to the burger bar

It seems so! The nice businessman is driving to Aix-en-Provence, where we’re already pretty familiar with the motorway ramps by now… Let’s go! The driver has a sweet car and is a lovely man, about as old as our dads, who upon hearing that Aydin doesn’t speak French even tries to strike up a conversation in limited English. The ride only takes a few minutes and we’re already at our good old hitch spot in Aix again. Nature is calling though and so we set off in search of a toilet.

Completely unexpectedly we come across a hipster burger joint next to a university building. We’re not the type of people to say no to a burger ever, and the vegetarian one here is a godsend: After we were craving Rösti every day during our time in Switzerland but only managed to find them once, Ze Kitchen does a Rösti burger! This day might be a good one!

After we’ve eaten, rested and had some delicious coffee, we walk down to the trusty motorway ramp again. This time, we don’t even wait five minutes until the tiniest car we’ve ever laid eyes on screeches to a halt and the dude frantically waves us to get in. He’s stopping all the traffic wanting to go on the motorway so we run towards the car. I don’t know how exactly I manage to jump onto the backseat over the front seats with my rucksack but I’ve barely landed when he sets off again.

Tiny car, big heart

Frédéric is a young, chatty kid who drives fast and seems to have a big heart. His family is from the area and while he’s not going where we want to go, he takes us a bit along the way and drops us off at a bus station at the entrance of the Verdon nature park. He assures us that he as a local is certain we will be picked up here. And if not, at least there’ll be a bus. Off he zooms again to help his father with the gardening as we get our sign out again and wait in the heat.

We’ve melted into a little puddle already, watching cars passing by, when a massive caravan appears. It looks like the Dubai of caravans and we already turn our heads towards cars behind it. We know from experience that caravans never stop for us. WRONG. Once again we learn that there is no particular demographic when it comes to picking up hitchhikers. A middle-aged French couple opens their doors. Yes, they’re going past Manosque. And so we find ourselves in the most luxurious caravan that brings our houses at home to shame.

Luxury cruise to Manosque

Caroline and Aydin in the caravan on the way to Manosque
Happy selfie in the luxurious caravan

The couple is from Northern France and so lovely that they even ask if we want to stop at a supermarket to stock up on food, and then go on a detour to drop us off right at our campsite which is a bit of a walk out of town. We’re so thankful that we didn’t have to carry our stuff all this way in the heat that we don’t even notice how shitty the campsite is at first. Reality hits us soon when we can’t get the tent pegs into the ground, not even with a hammer. It’s rock hard soil. The toilets and showers don’t have proper doors and there’s loads of bugs crawling around. No common room, no swimming pool as advertised. The joys of off-season camping.

We don’t plan on staying here for long so we ignore the circumstances and walk into town for a well deserved beer. Manosque is a historical town but the center is tiny and absolutely dead at night. We can’t find a single bar so we have two beers in the only cafe that’s open where we are the only guests and then head back to the campsite. We have ambitious plans tomorrow: Visit the famous Verdon gorges and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, a magical pilgrimage town, supposedly the most beautiful in all of France.

It’s about 50KM to the town, and another 15 to Lac de Sainte-Croix where we want to rent a boat and head into the gorge for as long as we’ll have time to, before the sun sets and we have to hitch back. There’s not a big chance of this happening. The roads are usually empty, most traffic only goes from village to village and apparently the French aren’t exactly known to pick up hitchhikers.

The way to Verdon is long

Still, we want to give it a shot. For this, we first walk half an hour into Manosque. A very excited local picks us up, speaking in such a strong dialect that I barely understand a word, and drops us off outside of Manosque in the direction of Verdon. There, the road splits. First we try on the road going right for a bit since it looks bigger on Google maps. After an unsuccessful half an hour and observing the other road, we move there and get a ride within minutes. It’s the nicest couple, about the age of our parents.

They say they’ll take us to Valensole where they live but on the way there they take such a liking to us that they decide to drop the wife at the house and take us all the way to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. The husband runs a campsite there so he has to go anyway, he says. On the way they stop the car, the husband jumps out and comes back with a big smile on his face and pains au chocolat for us. My weakness! I’m almost melting amidst all the kindness we experience. This day is ace so far!

Hitchhiking pilgrimage in Verdon

Standing in front of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, we gaze at it in awe. It’s perched on a limestone cliff side, with high rock walls towering behind the old stone houses. It’s considered one of the most beautiful villages in France and we can certainly see why! We start walking uphill. The sun is burning but we don’t even care anymore, we need to see more!

We’re navigating the narrow alleys in town. It’s a bit cooler in here in the shade and we’re overwhelmed with a sense of wonder. This place is so incredibly beautiful. The sand-coloured houses, all the same colour and yet all of them different, the cobbled streets and trees and plants everywhere. In the center we stumble across a big waterfall and later learn that it even created water power for its inhabitants. So cool!

More gorgeous old towns

Sunset over Bern
Switzerland

Feel the Bern

Our first experience of Bern is sitting on a roof top bar over the city watching the sun burning in to the night. The snow capped Alps in an infinite line across the horizon. We drink a beer with our new Couchsurfing host Sandro. Bern is already beautiful and we are happy to be here, […]

June 19, 2019
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Looking over Lucerne castle in the morning
Switzerland

Wild and without worries in Lucerne

Lucerne is our end destination after a day of epic hitch-hiking-road-tripping through Switzerland. We’re exhausted, hungry and tired but also immensely grateful for the experience and soon doze off. Feeling refreshed the next morning, we get ourselves ready for a day in Lucerne. This takes a while. After all, we’re in a city now and […]

May 15, 2019
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Thun with wide expansive river in the foreground
Switzerland

Fun in Thun: A pit stop on the way to Bern

So yesterday we did a mammoth hike of 25 kilometres around Kleine Scheidegg. Ideally we should rest today but that’s not happening because we have travel plans. We have plans to head towards Bern via Thun. We have been frantically sending out Couchsurfing requests and if you’ve ever done it before you will know how […]

June 12, 2019
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After enjoying an ice cream on the main square in front of the impressive Notre-Dame de l’Assomption church, we set off to go higher. After what feels like 1000 steps, we reach our destination above town: the place of monks in rocks and at the same time an excellent viewpoint over Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Monks came to Moustiers in the 5th century. First they stayed in the caves, then they founded the monastery and built Notre-Dame de Beauvoir church which is still towering above the village today. The church’s bell tower is still from the Roman period, and the door from the Renaissance!

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie’s monks and knights

I love hermitages and keep on running around trying to find more caves – there’s loads of them! My expert eye spots the most important feature: the monk prison! We’ve first learnt about these when we visited Meteora in Greece. Monks that were misbehaving were imprisoned in a cave, super high up on a rock. Then the ladder was taken away and, well, they stayed there. Until they were released. Or not.

We spot another peculiar sight: a golden star that is hung on a chain in the middle of the ravine. According to folktales, a crusader knight who had been imprisoned here in the 7th century vowed to hang it up if he was freed. Looks like he was, although the star is not the original one anymore of course. This one is 50 years old and had to be replaced when the chain snapped.

Notre-Dame de Beauvoir church nestled in gorge

After peeking into the beautiful Notre-Dame de Beauvoir church (which really deserves its name), we decide to go even higher. Off to where there is no cobbled path anymore! We can see a path on maps.me but realise soon that “path” is a euphemism. It’s more a scrambling-up-big-and-small-rocks-affair. The sun has reached its peak now, and finally so do we. We fall into a patch of grass on top of the hill. The view isn’t that great here but we can’t be bothered to soldier on – too hot. Instead we climb back down again and get some delicious chips from the town centre. And then it’s time to get a move on again!

The view from above the church

Exploring Verdon Gorge

The day is advancing fast and we haven’t even made it to the Verdon gorge yet. Originally we had dreamt about hitching a ride that would take us all the way along the cliff sides of the gorge but we quickly realised that this would never work out in a day. So we put Lac de Sainte Croix on our sign and hope for a quick ride to the lake. Only after a few minutes, a BMW stops. We hop in. The elderly couple is from Belgium and the dude speaks about 10 languages. He’s a jeweler but unfortunately doesn’t gift us any pretties, “just” a ride to the lake in a fancy car.

Once there, we quickly descend to the lake shore and rent a paddle boat. As usual, Aydin wants to get a speed boat but our budget is just not fat enough. We paddle instead! At first, we’re well excited. We’ve seen such beautiful photos and videos of Verdon Gorge and the water colour is just amazing. Mind-blowing like the Kaprun dams in Austria. As we get closer to the gorge though, we notice that the striking blue water is… grey? What?

Verdon Gorge

Verdon water works

We move into the gorge but the water doesn’t get any nicer. We paddle for an hour and while the scenery is absolutely stunning, the water stays grey and sort of filthy. We’re trying to stay positive and focus on other surroundings such as goats (!) in the gorge and rock climbers dangling high up, but on the inside we’re pretty disappointed. Later we find out that there were some water works going on around Verdon gorge and that’s why the water looked this way. Hmpf.

We return our trusty paddle boat and go for a real and real quick paddle in the lake which luckily still looks very nice in the sunset. Then we move back to road and start holding our sign up. It’s pretty late now and hitchhiking in the dark usually doesn’t work so well. And we’ve got a long way to go!

Lake of Sainte-Croix in the sunset

Crazy rides through Verdon park

After a while, when we’re already becoming quite worried, a lady of about the same age as our mums again stops. She’s a local artist, speaks fluent English and drops us off outside Riez where she tells us she doesn’t have much hope for us getting a ride. Then she waves at us happily as she drives off. Thanks?

As the the sun sinks further, fewer cars are passing, we’re slowly losing hope. Just then, a car pulls up. It’s a Swiss family of four. They’re not going to Manosque but to Allemagne-en-Provence which is a slightly longer route but at this point we’ll take anything. I’m going in the middle between the two kids. Aydin goes in the boot. Off we go!

By the time we reach Allemagne-en-Provence, it’s pitch black and still 30km to Manosque. A white van (creepiest car type ever if you ask me) sneaks around us. It goes up a slope, then comes back again, drives past us, then comes back and finally stops. The driver is a kid of estimated 14 years. He speaks the fasted French I’ve ever heard in my life, turns Bob Marley up to the max and drives off over the dark country roads, faster than Niki Lauda. I fear for my life but at the same time it’s hilarious.

Manosque isn’t cracking

When he drops us off in the next village, which is only five minutes later, because of the speed he’s going at it’s really, really late. Longest five minutes of my life though . Luckily, the next car that comes our way picks us up. This time it’s a nuclear science PhD student who is super nice and super clever. Finally in Manosque, we go for a well deserved beer in the only cafe that is still open – and it closes right after we leave. It’s definitely not a party town here.

We walk back the longest half an hour to our crappy campsite and are so exhausted that we instantly fall asleep. Tomorrow we’re going to the seaside so we’ll need all our energy! Well, I mean, hopefully we’ll get there…

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

It’s easiest to get anywhere in this area by car. If you don’t want to rent one, car shares work well in France, like BlaBlaCar or Covoiturage04.fr. Buses go from the area of Alpes de Haute Provence, you can check the schedules here. Trains go from Paris, Nice and Marseille. The closest airports are Marseille, Nice, Toulon and Avignon. The Alpes de Haute Provence website has an informative overview of all your options.

Things to do in Verdon Natural Regional Park

  • Verdon Gorge: Drive alongside it or rent a boat to explore it from inside
  • Moustiers-Sainte-Marie: Its architecture, religious history and ceramics
  • Lake of Sainte Croix: Swim and chill!
  • Lavender fields at Plateau de Valensole
  • Hiking of course!
  • And pretty much any kind of outdoor activity, from water sports to cycling, horse riding and climbing.
  • The citadel of Sisteron: We only saw it while driving past it but it looked gorgeous!
  • Take the Route Napoléon and learn about its history!

Accommodation

We wouldn’t want to recommend our campsite in Manosque. Looking back, it would have been a much better choice to stay at one of them around Moustiers-Sainte-Marie or on Lac de Sainte-Croix. There’s loads of them on Google Maps.

If you are not up to camping then check below for a few deals on hotels!

Booking.com

Pro Tips

Do check beforehand how the water colour is during your visit. I guess works don’t happen frequently but you don’t want to plan a whole day around something that isn’t all that great.

Because of its preserved status, Manosque old town’s restaurants and bars close early. Don’t expect to go on a night out.

If we would have had more time (and were fitter), we would have loved to cycle along Verdon Gorge! You can read more about this challenge here and here. You could rent an eBike to make it more doable!

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