Castellane and Colmars

Man taking a break on a busy street in Castellane. His T-shirt says “Prudence on the river banks”. Quite a contrast!

Castellane and Colmars
Prudence! Castellane, Alpes de Haute-Provence, France, Leica M (Typ 240), Summilux-M 50mm, f1.4 ASPH, 1/500 sec., f5.6, ISO 200

What's Castellane anyways?

We've been thinking about our next destination for a few days now. The more we visit the region the harder it gets when it's time to find something different, yet interesting from a photography perspective.I agree that beauty can be found everywhere, but the urge to discover something new makes it a bit less evident. For now a 90 minutes drive from home appears to be reasonable for a day trip. We've quite a few and it's a good recipe. After thinking of many options, Castellane was our final choice just a day before leaving. Ok, it feels like last minute traveling, but who cares after all? Better get used to it because choosing a destination will harder and harder as weeks and months go by.

But why Castellane and what's so special abut it, you would ask. The short answer is simply because it's located in an area we did not visit yet. But there is so much more to it. After a little research I found out a big lake was just outside Castellane. EDF (France's Electricity Producer) built a huge dam which deep flooded a whole village called . The water is of a pure turquoise colour, which offers a nice panorama.

The village is also located between mountains and near Gorges du Verdun. Photographic opportunities are infinite.

Final destination isn't everything

While we were heading to Castellane as our final destination, as usual there are lots of photo opportunities on the way. We could stop on many occasion, discovering things as they appeared. If the light is good, chances are it will turn into something interesting. I always keep in mind that a good photograph can be created anywhere and of anything. A good subject, the right angle and some good light are all it takes. I remember we stopped for something that seemed unusual and interesting, but the background was horrible and the light too harsh. You know it when you see some good light. The opposite is also true. Sometimes it's better to keep going and look for something else than waste your time trying to make something that's unworthy.

But there's always a an excuse for a very good espresso coffee, which makes it easier to find a place to stop and finalise planning for the day, based of the weather. Incredible how weather forecast always have it wrong, hum.. ? We got a bit of everything and had to deal with it to make the most of our time. The Leica M (Typ 240) and Summilux-M 50mm, f1.4 ASPH had their first experience in light rain. Nothing to report, everything worked perfectly if not the drops on the glass.

My appreciation of Castellane

I was quite surprised when I reached the village. It's bigger than I though and lots of people around as well, but I wouldn't say too crowdy, it reminded me of many villages I had been in the past. There are narrow streets with cafes, restaurants and boutiques selling local specialties, food and arts. But I was amazed at how many stores were actually for rafting excursion. I stopped counting after ten.. I realized that the Verdon river is in the area and it's well known for it white water activities. If you'd like to experiment rafting, than Castellane is certainly a good location.

After just a few minutes in the village I went to the church which is really in the center. I always visit churches because their usually beautiful and tell you a lot about the identity of a place. Soon after I noticed a sign about the reconstruction of the terraces (all made of stones). It lead me to a trail that is apparently going up the hill. From there I understood I was on my way to Notre-Dame du Roc on top of the big rock dominating the village. It's seem to be a big attraction, so why not. The walk is about 45 minutes and is really worth the time. The view on Castellane is beautiful, and ruins can be found on the left just before reaching the top (look for panels). Opportunities like that truly remind me of how much easier my life is with the Leica. It's light and small, unobtrusive and just perfect for walks like that. Most of the time I have the Summilux-M 50mm, f1.4 ASPH on the camera, and always keep the Sony RX100 for those occasions when the 50mm is a bit too narrow. Unless I have a wider lens in my bag, which is not frequent.

DAMn It!

After a few hours in the village, we left on road D952 looking for Lac Castillon. Wrong direction for 25 minutes. Intuition proved to be right, the road to the lake is accessed straight from the village, the D4085. After a short drive we saw the turquoise water and stopped just before a small concrete "bridge". The vista is beautiful and very quiet actually. This part of the lake cannot be navigated because it is a restricted area own by Marine Nationale.

Looking at the "bridge" is a bit strange. It's just a few meters above water on the lake side and there is nothing on the other side. It's only when you walk there and look down that you realize how big this dam is. I've been to the Hoover Dam in Nevada in 2008, so I know the feeling. While the dam on Lac Castillon is smaller, you still feel very tiny beside or on top of it. So if the construction of this dam flooded the area, looking down the hole makes you realize how deep the Castillon village is now. The lake was named after the flooded village, of course. You have to see this if you visit the region.


If you cross the dam by car you keep going along the shores of Lac Castillon and it's pretty big. We drove for a little while until we saw some fortifications and decided to stop and look around. That's how we got to Colmars. I could write a lot about this place in terms of history. But for now I'll simply say that I enjoyed the place and produced photographs that really please me. I love doors, stones, fountains and I was served. Time goes fast and it was already getting late so we had to leave and head back home. I stayed on my appetite after leaving because I would spend more time on the site. Also, we were very near Col d'Allos and it's an area I often heard of but never visited. I'm attracted by mountains, high mountains. From the distance, Col d'Allos looked a little bit like Col de la Bonette, my favorite spot! Definitely have to return to Colmars and push a little further.

What's in the bag?

  • Leica M (Typ 240) + spare batteries x 2
  • Summilux-M 50mm, f1.4 ASPH
  • Summicron-M 75mm, f1.2 ASPH (The 28mm or 35mm would have been of better use on some occasions)
  • Sony RX100 + spare batteries x2
  • Steiner binoculars 8×24
  • 64GB Sandisk Extreme Pro SD cards x 3
  • Lens cloth & brush
  • Glasses
  • Apple iPhone 5
  • Water bottle (500ml)

The picture I'm sharing with you was taken in Castellane and shows a guy taking break from his job at the rafting expedition store. I found it was funny and a big contrast with all the cars passing by on the street. Nothing to do with rafts and river, but still requires prudence as the T-shirt says.

Good Light!


© Normand Primeau