Water park closed as France’s spectacular Gorges du Verdon hit by drought

Officials at one of France’s most spectacular summer tourist attractions the Gorges du Verdon are set to ban rafting and swimming as water levels in the canyon run low, wiping out the entire summer season for the first time ever.

Water park closed as France's spectacular Gorges du Verdon hit by drought
The Gorges du Verdon should look like this (Photo: Michel Gangne / AFP)

The Gorges du Verdon – the largest canyon in Europe, and a draw for water sports enthusiasts in the summer – has been hit by drought following a winter with little rain and snow on the Val d’Allos, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. 

And the lack of water has led to a “historic” hydrological situation and prompted local authorities in the area to ban certain water-based activities, and prevent a water park from opening this summer.

The area, which welcomes up to 1 million visitors a year, has closed to rafting and swimming in previous summers, but this year’s shutdown is unusually early – it’s the first time an entire summer season has been wiped out. 

READ ALSO France faces very hot summer with risk of droughts and wildfires

Meanwhile, the water at Lac de Sainte-Croix, one of the largest lakes in France, is already at a late summer levels. Water sports are permitted for now, but questions remain over whether it will be able to remain open throughout July and August.

Electricity supplier EDF has maintained a minimum flow in the Verdon to preserve wildlife, but will not release water into the gorge, in order to ensure the supply of drinking water to towns and cities in the south including Marseille and for agricultural irrigation. It has also stopped hydroelectric production for six months to protect supplies.

“It is necessary that the inhabitants as well as the tourists are aware of this exceptional situation”, insists the prefect of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Violaine Démaret. The authorities want, for their part, to promote the beaches that are still accessible to prevent tourists from flocking to the forbidden and dangerous bathing areas.

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Water levels are less than 40cm in Lac de Castillon, hemmed in between the Alpine mountains some 900m above sea level, down some 5m from normal levels, the mayor of Saint-André-les-Alpes told Le Figaro.

“We’re not even going to make a quarter of our turnover. Tourists are already upset and when there will be many people, what will we be able to offer them?” Ines Flores, who runs water sports base Bike Beach, told the paper. 

“In a few decades, we have gone from one drought every five years to three droughts every five years,” Claude Roustan, president of the département’s fishing federation, added.

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‘Drunks, drug-dealers and pickpockets’ – French police crackdown at Paris Gare du Nord

Police in the capital are planning a massive operation to clean up Paris' chaotic and grotty Gare du Nord station - described by the local police commander as "full of drunks, crack dealers and pickpockets".

'Drunks, drug-dealers and pickpockets' - French police crackdown at Paris Gare du Nord

Gare du Nord serves not only as one of the major rail hubs for the capital, but also the arrival point for the Eurostar and shuttles from Paris’ two main airports – meaning that it is often the first part of the city that tourists see.

And it doesn’t give a good impression – the station is dark, confusingly laid out and its infrastructure is crumbling, so it’s far from uncommon to see buckets placed to catch water from the leaking rook.

But it’s the security aspect that worries the police – as the station has also become a hotspot for pickpockets, unlicensed taxi drivers, illegal street vendors and drug dealers, as well as a hangout for homeless people, many of whom have mental health problems.

Although the biggest security problem is undoubtedly pickpocketing – especially of confused, newly arrived tourists – there are occasionally more serious incidents, such as the attack on January 11th when a man randomly assaulted seven members of the public with a sharpened chisel.

A year previously, another knife-wielding man, later revealed to be homeless and with mental health problems who frequented the station, was shot by police.

Police presence in the station has now been massively stepped up, with dozens of officers patrolling at all hours of the day and night, in addition to the soldiers from Operation Sentinelle who make regular patrols of Gare du Nord (and other sites that have the potential to be terror attack targets).

The commander of the unit based at Gare du Nord told Le Parisien: “Unlicensed cigarette sellers, crack cocaine dealers, pickpocketing, drunk people – these are all problems that characterise Gare du Nord.

However, she added that things have improved in recent years, saying: “There is no longer a war between rival gangs, who used to come here regularly to fight in front of the [now-defunct] Foot Locker store. Many new stores have moved in. The light is soothing. It’s not an anxiety-provoking place at all.”

The station – through which 700,000 people pass every day – has long been a sore point for city authorities, who are well aware of the poor impression it gives to new arrivals.

However in 2021, an ambitious plan to completely redevelop it and add a huge new shopping mall was rejected. Instead, it was decided to simply give the existing station a revamp in time for the 2024 Olympics.