La Palud-sur-Verdon

Though several towns bill themselves as the gateway to the Gorges du Verdon, this unassuming village stands in its center, on a plateau just north of the gorge's vertiginous drop (to gain the Gorges's southern flank, enter from the elegant village of Moustiers). It's a hikers' and climbers' town, and—as the Germans and Dutch are more sportif than the French—has an international feel. You'll see more beards and Volkswagen vans here than anywhere in France, and you'll probably share a café terrace with backpackers clad in boots and fleece easing off a load of ropes, picks, and cleats.

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