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The beginning of tourism in the Verdon

​The beginnings of tourism

Tourism in the Verdon gorges began to grow, and timidly, as in the early years of the 20th century. The resorts of the Cote d'Azur, Menton, Nice, Cannes and Hyères were frequented by tourists for several decades, but the provencal hinterland, Grasse except, much appreciated retreat, remained unknown to idle travellers. The mountains of Haute-Provence, the highest of which are hardly the 3,000 meters, no interest climbers seeking difficult races in the cliffs and glaciers of the high peaks. They went in the Swiss Alps in the Valley of Chamonix or in the Oisans mountains places already very visited by racing fans, but also by simple hikers looking for fresh air.
They began to stay in the upper Valley of the Verdon, especially to Colmars and Beauvezer in the last years of the 19th century. The editor of the Baedeker Guide of 1906 writes about Colmars: "It is recently a holiday resort of the southern," allos: 'small residence of summer of the southern', and Annot: "nice stay". This form of tourism top-Provençal interest to the inhabitants of the cities of the coast. In summer, the annuitants, traders, or those who practice liberal professions looking to escape the heat of the cities of the Mediterranean coast and come to take refuge in the high valleys of Provence, this "Switzerland du Littoral", as wrote at the time. Residents of coastal towns, wanting to avoid the summer heat, is did not otherwise than the rich tourists of the Riviera which is attended only during the winter months.
The gorges of the Verdon, in these last years of the 19th century, were become otherwise famous, but known, inventoried in the guides and geographies. But, unlike the high Valley, this was not a holiday resort, then very common words. This term was chosen upon incorporation, in 1893 to worthy of the first tourist organization in the Department, the society of the Basses-Alpes resort. The gorges du Verdon, at this time, are only a goal of excursion. Following the tour of the gorges at the point of departure of an another place to stay.
The programme of the visit was established very early, then, somehow codified, as evidenced in the pages of tourist guides who are devoted to him. Examination of successive editions of the Guide Joanne, then become the blue Guide, actually faith.

The first tourist guides of Provence

According to the Guide Joanne of 1877, to visit the gorges du Verdon, the traveller must follow the route that goes from Castellane to Gréoux. The trip is 80 kilometres by a road car (from cars to horses, of course). It takes the current road on the right bank which, de Castellane, joined Moustiers by La Palud. In a time where Elisée Reclus and Adolphe Joanne had already extensively describes the canyon du Verdon in their geographical works, the text of the guide is still very brief about it: ' at kilometer 19, at right, on the height, Rougon,-178 inhabitants (old Castle; " curious petrifications); right, the Verdon away in obscure and narrow gorges where it crosses the Artuby». This is the only sentence devoted to the canyon in the short description of the route that goes from Castellane to Moustiers, in the edition of the Guide Joanne 1877. The writer adopts yet lyrical style, borrowing of romanticism, which blossom in subsequent descriptions.
Records of the Guide of the Provence of 1877 were not written by Adolphe Joanne himself. The magnitude of the geographical coverage of the company of tourist guides required the use of many and varied collaborators. Elisée Reclus was one of them. Adolphe Joanne also ensured the contest of cultured and erudite of each region or department concerned elites. In the preface to the edition of 1877 of the Guide of Provence, Joanne says that the pages devoted to the Basses-Alpes have been designed and drafted by Antoine Olivier, physician born in Barcelonnette, speaking in in worthy, notable, former general counsel, Member of several learned societies, author of publications in history and archaeology. Living in Digne, Dr. Olivier seems better known and appreciated the Glues of Barles, neighbours of this city, that the gorges du Verdon. It gives raw description of someone who at length travelled them. For various reasons, which are not only in the very relative distance from the city of Digne, it passed next to the interest of the site of the seconds.

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New edition highlighting the gorges du Verdon

The next edition of the Guide of Provence, in 1888, gives much more prominence to the gorges du Verdon. The same route from Castellane to Moustiers by La Palud, one-third of page in the 1877 edition, is now two full pages. Description starts with practical information that was not included in the edition of 1877: "road to cars (a car in two horses costs 15 francs per days approximately) allowing to admire the wild grandeur of the gorges of the Verdon.» An experienced driver and a secure coupling are essential. These two soundbites we are measuring reputation have won the gorges in the space of a few years. The purpose of the route, still poorly defined ten years earlier, is now clear: it is the visit of the gorges. It justified the trip, even if it costs the tourist fifteen francs for car hire, even if the road bumpy, narrow, steep and vertiginous, is not without danger, requiring precautions of a material nature.
Detailed description of the Gorge, following the presentation of these tips, in the edition of 1888, retain here the Terminal part of the grand canyon: "high Rocky slopes, speckled thickets, plunge into the Verdon, which route is separated by a Rocky Ridge. Now the landscape affect an indescribable nature wildness and grandeur. Left, fall of the walls yellowish, while in front a huge desolate rock Ridge bar almost entirely the Valley, leaving only a crack for passage to the Verdon, who beyond changes direction to flee to SO quickly. "The accuracy of geographic logs, in this passage and in other pages devoted to gorges, farmhouse-style, make think, without that we can say it, that the author of these lines is Élisée Reclus.

The journey of a provencal high

In car hire, how many tourists visited the circuit of the gorges du Verdon in the years around 1890? It is impossible to know. They should be few in number. Foreign or french travellers coming from Paris and other cities, assiduously attending the Côte d'Azur did stayed there that winter season not conducive to venture on mountain roads that lead to the Gorge. Rare visitors who went to see the gorges during the summer season were rather bourgeois living cities of coastal Provence, going on tour in the hinterland to discover its curiosities and at the same time find the freshness of the villages of altitude. The evidence we have of their passage in the gorges of the Verdon are rare.
Some visitors came even closer sites. A pharmacist from Sisteron, in the North of the Department of Basses-Alpes, Gustave Tardieu, literate and curious man both of telegraphy, geology, Botany, and mountaineering, published the relation du voyage he did in 1892 in the "clues" of the Var and Verdon. The account of this excursion first was the subject of a conference within the framework of the Athenaeum (Forcalquier, the learned society. this other town of the Department Our traveller speaks to his compatriots, men and women in the same workplace as him, "picturesque and unexpected lovers. As in the Guide Joanne of 1888, the question practical routes and means of communication is also discussed. 'Beautiful next season, will take the train from Saint-André in Digne. Once there, rent a good car, because it is excellent for all tastes, and get successively lead to Annot, the gorges of the Var and the Verdon Glues. "Certainly, the roads in the area have well improved at the end of the 19th century,"each portion of road is an esplanade compared travelled goat trails"thirty years earlier.But "in these regions tormented by the torrents and the rocks' should be, to ensure the contest of"skilled drivers, horses strong and as adapted to the perilous ground they scour daily. And pharmacist speaker adds: "we did, one day, my friend Mr. Plauchud [another pharmacist, but in Forcalquier, his usual traveling companion] and me, against our will, doubt not, the experience of a foreign country horse. '' Few took this experience came at the expense of our two lives. »

Description of the Gorge

After these practical considerations, Gustave Tardieu offers its listeners a lengthy description of the gorges of the Verdon. "Everywhere rocks drop, just tapped to support the road to mid-coast; above the rock threatening that overlooks; below, the awful precipice. To the bottom, dark and narrow corridor of entry, with a ray of sunshine on the threshold. There, deeply incised, waters of the Verdon no reflection light, still dark and thundering. It is a grandiose effect.
After La Palud, this grandiose becomes inexpressible; It knows nothing similar, nothing if it doesn't I know famous guns (sic) of the Rio Colorado, in America... The Verdon, new Styx, short in this hellish passage. "Gustave Tardieu is thus revealed a true pioneer of the gorges du Verdon, both by the quality of the relationship he gives, well before the edge of the 20th century, but also by this comparison with the grand canyon of the Colorado, that will make that repeat Édouard-Alfred Martel after his first exploration, nearly fifteen years later. The mythological image of the infernal River, the river Styx, yet an invention of Gustave Tardieu, will also resume his account by Édouard-Alfred Martel.
A few pages by Tardieu, from 1892 onwards to the gorges du Verdon, thin plate printed from a lecture given to a local audience, which testify to a high acuity and a keen sensibility with respect to the site, probably had only a very limited distribution. Gustave Tardieu will have to wait 20 years to offer a much wider audience measurement of curiosity, passion for the natural beauties of his country. In 1912, when tourism will be developed in Haute-Provence, it will publish an excellent guide shown on the Alps of Provence.

The novelty in the guide of Provence

A new edition of the Guide Joanne of Provence was published in 1896. In the preface, the editorial said it was "of a book entirely new, written with great care, after many excursions. in the region... ». But he added this note: "a society studying a project for the construction of huge dams in gorges, under Rougon, to capture the driving force. These works, if they happen, will result in access gorges down, unaffordable so far, and by boat. "Development of tourism through dam reservoirs, this theme, which will often subsequently, is here exposed for the first time. Mere coincidence, ignored by the drafters of this guide, in this same year 1896, Armand Janet, an engineer of the Navy at Toulon, loving mountaineering, made an unsuccessful attempt to boat down the torrent in the canyon. Visit the Gorge by the bottom or even admire them from the top of the cliffs, this dilemma will be often asked in the early years of the 20th century.
In the series of his trips to France, Ardouin-Dumazet was published in 1897 the volume devoted to Provence. He spends no more than one page to the gorges du Verdon. But his formula: "gorges sublime and tragic", will be fly, kinda like the sentence of Élisée Reclus twenty years earlier: "it is hardly more remarkable example onshore hack practiced by the waters. As Élisée Reclus, it will be printed on postcards of the gorges of the beginning of the 20th century. Ardouin-Dumazet installation, likewise, the issue of the crossing by the bottom of the canyon all: "parts, the deeper are unable to access. The current is too fast to enter by boat in this canyon comparable to the gorges du Tarn. At the same time, it also, the link between the tourist boom and hydraulic works. He continues his reflection: "if never on running the project to block gorges and thus making it a reservoir for irrigation water, the gigantic Gorge will become navigable and can visit easily one of the most curious and most grandiose Alpine Provencal. '' Would the dream, already cherished in the 16th century, to make the waterway Verdon to domesticate its wild waters, on behalf of the progress and the benefit finally realize?

The local organization of tourism

The reading of the Guide Joanne of Provence from 1903 reveals several change orders. Some concern the drafting of the notice of visit of the gorges du Verdon. The new version was completed by Armand Janet, engineer of the Navy at Toulon which, despite its unfortunate attempt descent of the gorges by boat, the summer of 1896, is always interested in the canyon.If it does nothing to the text of the description of the Gorge which was already included in the two previous editions of 1888 and 1896, he adds, interspersed in several places, notations accurate and practical to invite tourists to deepen their visit. He suggested they leave the road, particularly when she moved away of the canyon, to approach the torrent, or even win his bed. If the schedule of the passenger is such that his car hitch should be stop in Rougon, at the time of the lunch, there any interest to descend to the Tusset Bridge to consume at the edge of the Verdon provisions which he took care to bring. Besides the site even Tusset is very picturesque with its large rocks at the foot of which swirls the torrent, there, there, without too much difficulty, to recognize the large entrance: this is pretty much essential to get an accurate picture of their true scale. »
Further, to the tune of La Palud, Janet also advises to the visitor that there will be spent the night to devote his morning to a hiking excursion towards the Middle large gorges. The purpose of the walk is, by winning the farms of Tosks and La Maline, admire, this time from the top of the cliffs, the confluence of the Verdon and the Artuby the Masri.

Cyclists and motorists

Last detail practice, Janet, about "the endless and fast descent in zigzag" which leads to Moustiers, wishes to clarify that this descent is dangerous for cyclists and motorists. The warning is more addressed to travelers renting cars to one or two horses, their drivers familiar with the dangers of the road, but to this new category of tourists, often tempted by the l'ivresse de la vitesse, cyclists and motorists. Cycling has well developed before appears the use of the automobile. It was already relatively widespread prior to 1890 in the bourgeoisie in the cities. For the toiling masses, the purchase price of a bicycle, being too high for them. When, in 1890, was founded the Touring Club de France, the bike was a great place in its field of activities.First the new club bulletins were published in the magazine the cyclist.
In the last years of the 19th century, a Provençal nobleman, Adrien de Baroncelli, marquis of Javon, itself passionate about cycling, had published a series of books, the Baroncelli Guides, 'road regional guides to the use of cyclists and motorists. They are mainly intended for the first, as evidenced by their small format ("wanting make the highly portable book"), and also an indication of the time required to perform on a bicycle each excursion, taking into account the length of the sides. Baroncelli said: "we will adopt to measure walking time needed to cross these passages walk. '' Addressing here little trained tourists, although "lots of lightly loaded cyclists can climb machine several ramps so mentioned.
The Baroncelli Guide of Provence, the eleventh in the series, appeared around 1900. He wears in subtitle: stations winter and beaches of the Mediterranean, the Var Valley and gorges du Verdon. The circuit described for visiting gorges is, as in the Guides Joanne, who follows the road from Castellane to Moustiers, the only one that exists then, 'magnificent journey through the gorges du Verdon, which are wonders", but at the price of"both sides difficult beyond the village of La Palud. The description of the various aspects of the canyon, admired by the roadsides, borrows the usual vocabulary of the time: "striking perspectives, extraordinary views of the spectacular site, great Gorge". On the other hand, remarks on the cultivated countryside are imbued with a bucolic, quasi-rousseauiste note: "delicious landscapes of hills planted with Apple trees, walnut trees, alternating with grasslands.
In those same years, the car is reserved for very wealthy privileged. The Automobile Club de France, founded in 1895, brings to debut a handful of aristocrats. Yet in the early years of the twentieth century, the automotive traction goes, relatively, democratize through public transport. The Guide Joanne of Provence from 1903 reported their appearance: "already cars alpins services connect, summer, Barcelonnette with Allos, Colmars and Beauvezer resorts resort treatment of the upper Valley of the Verdon.

Trade unions of initiative

These tourism organizations will quickly gather their efforts to publicize the gorges du Verdon. The then thriving, local press will contribute to disseminating them. The journal of Castellane published the relationship "a magnificent trip the capital piece was the visit of the gorges du Verdon», organised on 1 and 2 June 1905 by the fledgling Syndicat d'initiative of Draguignan.The trip had been given an advertisement which exceeded the framework of Provence. We had invited a member of the Parisian branch of the Touring Club, Mr. Boland, "the distinguished delegate of the travel service», which was seem by the Chronicles, in the monthly magazine of the TCF, reporting his visits across the France. He followed the tour which brought together forty participants. "Among them, a number of brave and graceful ladies gave the meeting a special charm. As it was customary at that time in these group trips, and it is even often still today, "a long lunch, seasoned by many bouncy and gaiety brought together all hikers under the beautiful abalone from the square of Rougon.
Group travel to the gorges du Verdon organized by the Syndicat d'initiative of Draguignan was not the first in date. The previous year, article by the Journal de Castellane, in fact the relationship tells us, had already taken place "the visit of many tourists in our region led by delegates of the Alpine Club". This tour of the 1904 Whitsun had organized by Armand Janet in collaboration with the Chief Engineer of the Ponts et chaussées des Basses Alpes Philippe Zürcher. All two Toulonnais, they had know each other for a long time. The scientific competence of the latter, especially geology, was great and the scope of his curiosity extended. He admirably knew the region of the gorges du Verdon, in having prepared the geological map. Amateur of racing in the mountains, he was president of the section of the Provencal Alpes Alpine Club. In the years that followed, his contribution to the tourist development of the gorges, by tastes and the duties he performed, will be very active. The Inspector of waters and forests of worthy also lent support to this tour.
Six weeks after the trip organized by the Syndicat d'initiative of Draguignan, summer 1905, it is the turn of the Syndicat d'initiative of the upper Valley of the Verdon meet Provencal tourists for the visit of the gorges. The proximity in time of the two travel is mere coincidence, or reflects the rivalry of two tourism organisations? Draguignan, then prefecture of the département of the Var, serviced urban centre by train and closer to winter resorts of the French Riviera, (but furthest from the Verdon), made great efforts to win supremacy as a starting point for visiting the gorges. Castellane, small a subprefecture of the Department of Basses-Alpes, still very rural, much more modest hotel resources, was not served by railway. The nearest station on the line to narrow gauge from Digne to Nice, the train des Pignes was that of Saint-André, provisional Terminal coming from Digne. The junction between St-André and Annot, which will link Nice and Digne, tunneled the flower, will be conducted only in 1911.

The accessibility of the gorges du Verdon

The criterion of tourist sites by train service was crucial in these early years of the 20th century, then that automobile travel were still the exception. A general counsel, originally from Saint-André, Léon Honnorat, confessed to Castellane, delegate of the Touring Club, supported the proposed construction of a line of railway between Castellane and Draguignan. It was never released. Perhaps to give publicity to this project, the Journal of Castellane, at the conclusion of his relationship of the excursion to the Gorge of June 1905, wrote: "tourists are a reflection, always the same. It's really very beautiful, more handsome perhaps than the gorges du Tarn. It is a shame that this is as far from the railways.
The trip organized by the Syndicat d'initiative of Haut Verdon took more important, both spatial and temporal dimensions that the excursion performed six weeks earlier under the auspices of Draguignan. The program spanned four days in the mood festive and Republican from July 14, Thursday 13 to Sunday, July 16: one seizes the chance to a July 14 falling Friday providing a bridge for four days. Taking into account the slowness of travel at the time, these four days were needed to convey the bulk of the troupe of tourists who had come to visit the Gorge. It was made by a caravan of excursionists Marseille player who had joined Moustiers by Baden, Montmeyan-Fontaine - l ' Evêque'. The thriving company of excursionists Marseillais brought walkers of the city Marseille, "air drinkers" as they called themselves, eager to flee, at resorts in common days, noise and pollution of the big city. «Air drinkers» OM to walkers, the tour took a more sporting ride. Friday, July 11 programme announced a "departure from Moustiers at 4 o'clock in the morning by car to La Palud; detailed tour of the gorges in six hours of walking; lunch at La Palud... ». There was more content to contemplate, from the "Point of view", as Rougon, the panorama of the entrance to the Gorge, or the parade of Saint-Maurin from the edge of the road. We were going to admire from the top of the cliffs, departing from La Palud, the great cut at the confluence of the Mescla. Perhaps risked by the goat trail which starts from the farm of Maline to the riverbed.

Tourist trade unions of initiative efforts

There were also banquets. The official purpose of the trip was the inauguration of the service of cars of the gorges du Verdon, put in place by the Syndicat d'initiative of the upper Valley.The banquet took place on the evening of July 15 to the town of Castellane Hotel. He was followed by several speeches and a public lecture by Mr Paul Ruai, president enclosed excursionists Marseillais, promoter of tourism and félibre, Director of the Revue de Provence. He spoke "on the work of the trade unions of initiative in general and the Valley of the Verdon in particular. This conference was followed by a series of light projections related to the oddest sites of the Basses-Alpes. "Wonderful positives" were due to Mr. Bardonnaut, "the clever amateur of Digne. This lover of photography was other than water and forestry engineer who had already taken part in the excursion of the Alpine Club in the gorges. The next day, and last day of the trip, put cars in place by the Syndicat d'initiative led visitors to Saint-André. After a lunch at the hotel Trotabas, the Group took the train to Digne, regaining Basse Provence in this way diverted, but railway.
Coming after those that had been organized by the Club Alpin, followed by du Syndicat d'initiative of Draguignan, the tour under the auspices of the Union of the upper Valley of the Verdon provided the contribution most important to the knowledge of the site of the Gorge by populations, still Provencal, but farther from the high mountain valleys. As wrote a journalist of Pela Marseillais "du Syndicat d'initiative of the upper Valley of the Verdon, which was formed two years ago in Beauvezer, is transforming the area so little known of the Basses-Alpes and animate a considerable amount of tourists who are happy to visit natural curiosities".
This was the meaning of the efforts made by regional tourism organizations who came to see the day. They will be quickly fired, or rather relayed by Parisian, national bodies mainly Touring Club. But we can measure the path already accomplished in the meantime of these first five years of the 20th century. It went from the discovery of a site by isolated individuals, bourgeois informed using their voice and their pen to share the enthusiasm they felt before the beauties of their native country, collective action which is put in place to attract visitors more and more distant. The impetus was given by local elites, idle bourgeois, engineers, members of the liberal professions, electoral mandate-holders. Quickly, traders, hoteliers, valet, and mechanics, cycles and cars, have understood the economic interest that could be drawn from the expected influx of tourists.
Less than a month after the trip of the Marseillais excursionists, EdouardAlfred Martel succeeds, from 11 to 14 August 1905, the descent full through the bottom of the twenty-one miles of the grand canyon. For many reasons, appropriate detail, this event was crucial.

Saint-Pancrace - Digne
Bléone Valley - Digne

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