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Haut-Var, France: Plunge into Provence

The Gorges du Verdon offer a remote and spectacular respite from the region’s tawdry tourist fare, says Charles Starmer-Smith.

The peak summer period sees much of Provence become a Peter Mayle-inspired theme park, but the hilltop villages of the Haut-Var still offer the kind of life that people craved long before the writer left his mark on the region.

So forget the tourist-heavy towns of Aix, Avignon and Arles and the fleshpot beaches of Porquerolles. Head instead for the hills to the east, to the lesser known villages of Tourtour, Moustiers, Sillans-la-Cascade, Aups, Bargemon and beyond.

Here, with Britons and Americans turning their backs on the Continent because of the expensive euro, tourists remain a sideshow. Boules tournaments, truffle-hunting and Le Tour are still the talk of the town. Rather than the worst tourist tat, the bustling markets are filled with the best local produce – rough-cut cheeses, misshapen sausages, aromatic herbs and lavender soap, as well as freshly baked baguettes, honey and crisp rosé wine.

Old men can still sup pastis in the local cafés in relative peace before retiring to the shade of the tree-lined squares.

The forested hills may not boast the classic Monet scenes of dilapidated farmhouses and fields of poppies that you find around Aix, but by the time you have followed the hairpin roads to the top of the glacier-blue Gorges du Verdon, and peered down into Europe’s answer to the Grand Canyon, you really won’t care.

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Tourists remain a sideshow in the villages of Tourtour, Moustiers (pictured), Sillans-la-Cascade, Aups and Bargemon Photo: GETTY

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