•Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04360) • Population: 580 • Altitude: 631 m
Moustiers-Ste-Marie sits below a narrow notch at the base of rocky cliffs. Above the village, the Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel sits high in the notch, behind the ruins of the ancient defensive walls, and hidden in the shadows for most of the day. Moustiers-Ste-Marie is one of the Most Beautiful Villages (Plus Beaux Villages) of France.
Moustiers-Ste-Marie is a lovely village, in a gorgeous setting. It's there for tourists, though, so don't expect a "natural" Provencal village. A small "train" provides guided tours of the village and surrounding points of interest.
The main theme of Moustiers is to sell the, admittedly beautiful, "faïence" ceramics (see also Faience Pottery), and the village is packed full of Faïenceries shops. There are very few normal shops, but there are some terrace cafés for relaxing and a fair number of restaurants. Our first fairly critical view of Moustiers has improved with repeated visits, and a Reader's Comment (below) adds another positive touch.
The village sits astride a rushing mountain stream that divides the two halves with a narrow rocky canyon. The view of this mini-gorge, with small waterfalls down inside and medieval houses above, is beautiful. The sound of the river, and the running fountains all over the village, give Moustiers the feeling of an Alpine village. The village has narrow medieval streets and vaulted passages, and becomes more "natural" when you get up above the ceramics shops.
The center piece of the village is the 12th-century Notre-Dame church, beautifully restored in 1928. It's topped by a four-level Lombard Romanesque (Italianate) bell tower, carved from golden-brown tuff.
The "crown" of the village is the star, suspended high across the Rioul valley by a forged-iron chain. The golden star hangs above the Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel, with the chain fastened into solid rock on each side of the gorge. The chain and star project was done as a promise by Sir Blacas, a knight who returned from a long captivity during the crusades.
The Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel, sitting high in the notch above the village, dates back to the time of Charlemagne in 8th century, and was restored in the 12th and 16th centuries. The chapel is actually built on the site of an even older one from the 5th century. The steep walk up to the chapel follows a wide paved path, passing through defensive doorways similar to the citadel path at Entrevaux. The path, lined with 12 stations of the cross, has been used for pilgrimages to the chapel since the year 470.
A walk up to the Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel will give you a fantastic view, from the red-tiled roofs of the village to the expanse of the Maire valley, the far hills and the Lac de Ste Croix. A walk up the hill south of the village to the cemetery gives another excellent view, of the village, the Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel, the surrounding hills and the Lac de Ste Croix.
Most of the shops make their own faïence pottery, in ateliers that are outside of the village, and most advertise "unique" items. The shops are well organized and professionally run, and the value (and prices) of the faïence is well established. We have examples of the Moustiers faïence on a separate Faïence Pottery page.
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History of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
An abbey was founded here in the year 434 by Saint Maxime, the bishop of Riez, who came here from the Abbey de Lérins with a few monks. In the beginning they occupied a few caves in the rocky gap. Around the 10th century, they fortified a permanent village (castrum) at the site of the current village.
Medieval: The town was ruled by the Lords of the Moustiers family until the 12th century. It became an independent "consulat" until the 13th century, when it was united with the Count of Provence. At the end of the 14th century, Moustiers was destroyed and the occupants massacred during the succession of Reine Jeanne. During the Wars of Religion, Moustiers sided with King Henry IV and avoided the depredations so common during those times.
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie was flooded in 1685 and again in 1702. The town had a thriving paper industry and the famous faïence industry that made the town wealthy during the 17th and 18th centuries (and is having a comeback now).
Tel : 04 92 74 67 84; Fax: 04 92 74 60 65
Market day: Fri.
June - Fete, Feux de la St Jean
Musée de la Faïence
- Location: on the west side of the village, beside the Mairie
- Open, Winter: Sat-Sun, 11h-12h, 14h-17h
- Open, Summer: daily and weekends.
Faïence Museum - Faïence de Moustiers Le Musée de La Faïence de Moustiers
- This museum takes 5 rooms in an old building in the village, and displays over 400 pieces of Faïence dating back to the 18th century.
- Open: Apr-Oct: 10h-12h30, 14h-18h, daily except Tue. July-Aug: 10h-12h30, 14h-19h, 7 days; Tue entry free Nov-Dec, Feb-Mar: 14h-17, weekends and holidays except Tue.
- Closed: Autumn 2013 closed for renovation; open again Spring 2014
- Tel: 0492 746 164
- Web: www.moustiers.eu/?Le-musee
• GPS: 43.846684, 6.221848
IGN (1/25,000) #3442 OT "Gorges su Verdon, Moustiers-Ste-Marie"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #19 "Haute Provence Verdon"
The hills around Moustiers-Sainte-Marie are steep, but mostly forested, and the hiking is excellent.
The GR4 hiking trail passes 1 km south of the village. To the west, the GR4 climbs the wooded hillside (from 537 m to 819 m) and crosses the high plains, with lavender fields, to Riez and points west. To the east, the GR4 goes through the hills above the Grand Canyon du Verdon to La Palaud-sur-Verdon, then down into the bottom of the canyon to the far end, climbing out past Rougon and on to Castellane.
There's a maze of hiking trails in the mountains north of the village. Go to the end of the highest road in the village, up to the north (left of the high chapel) by the waterfall. The trail going up to the west circles around to the north into the mountains. You can continue on forever, or circle around to the right and loop back to the village from the east.
At the cemetery, south of the village, the hiking trail past the Ste-Anne chapel follows a Roman road to the east, climbing to a peak of 939 m. Here, too, you can loop around to the left and back to the village, find other loop hikes in the nearby mountains, continue on northeast (the astronomique observatory Le Chiran is at 1905 m) or continue on to the southeast to the Gorges du Verdon.
Contributed by Lynn, Ceret; April 2007
Hallo Beyond France -
My husband and I (British) live in southern France near Perpignan.
We recently had a great trip touring part of Provence - ending with a night at La Bastide de Moustiers.
I found your site interesting and informative before our trip but I would just like to correct one thing. We counted 11 places to have a meal or snack in Moustiers. Yes, of course there are a lot of pottery shops but there are also at least three places with outside terraces for a pause-cafe.
The village probably does seem a lot more 'natural' out of season.
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie Transportation is listed on a separate page.