Deep in the heart of the natural park of Verdon, lies the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie in Provence. Perched on a steep hillside, this tiny village near the Gorges du Verdon has been labeled one of the “plus beaux village de France” (most beautiful villages in France).
And if you are visiting the area, you can certainly see why. It has a population is around 700 people, with thousands more coming during the summer tourist season. The popular Gorges du Verdon, combined with several nearby hiking trails have made this area a major tourist attraction for sports and nature lovers.
History: Why Moustiers is famous
The Moustiers-Sainte-Marie village is famous for being founded by a group of monks in the 5th century, who built a church there on the edge of a precipitous ravine.
The monks from the island of Lérins around 433AD took shelter in caves nearby and founded a monastery Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, high on the cliffside.
The church still stands on the hillside, although it has since undergone several renovations to preserve its stability.
A few 100 meters below the church, the provençale hillside town of Moustiers slowly grew in size, becoming a small regional capital. Today, it is a popular tourist town, even though its location is a bit secluded.
Where is Moustiers-Sainte-Marie?
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is located in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southeastern France. It is about 2 hours from Marseille and Avignon, and about 2h15 from the city of Nice.
How to get there?
The village of Moustiers is only accessible by car. The largest high-speed TGV train station nearby is in Marseille, from where you have to take a local TER train to La Brillanne Oraison, and drive over from there.
The alternative is to arrive on foot, as this is a very popular forest area for hikers. There are several hiking trails in the area, so it is not usual to see visitors hiking up with a backpack.
Where to park?
There is one small parking lot near low end of the village near the church, however there is a much larger parking lot above the village.
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie has a lot of narrow streets around it which get quite busy with cars in the busy summer months. The central part of Moustiers is a pedestrian zone. Both parking lots get quite busy quickly, so arrive early to grab a good spot.
Things to do in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
1. The Village
The village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is fully pedestrianized, with only one street for car traffic running in one direction. After parking your car in the car park above the village, wander through the streets and visit the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption church.
There are many small shops selling local artisanal products as well as a couple of small art galleries you can wander through.
Pro tip: If you are planning to stay in Moustiers for dinner, book your restaurant now, because reservations go fast! (In the off-season not all restaurants are open, so it is even more important to make dinner reservations.)
2. Notre-Dame de Beauvoir Chapel
Near the car park you will see a series of stairs going up to a chapel above Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. This chapel called Notre-Dame de Beauvoir, was built in the 12th century and the climb marks the 14 stations of the cross.
The hike takes about 15 minutes but is slippery, especially on the way down. Wear good shoes to climb, and enjoy the stunning views from the top.
3. Gorges du Verdon
After you are done hiking to the top of Notre-Dame de Beauvoir, get in your car and drive 10-15 minutes to the lake right before the Pont du Galetas bridge on the Gorges du Verdon.
From here you can rent kayaks and pedal boats that you can rent for a couple of hours to go through the Gorges Du Verdon. You can read more about the Gorges du Verdon here.
4. Faience Pottery
Moustiers is famous for its faience pottery, with its trademark blue markings.
Several ateliers (workshops) nearby produce these quintessential dishes and potteries with a creamy white background and cobalt blue (called “de moustiers” blue).
5. Look for the star
When you are in Moustiers, you can look for a small star that was strung between two rock ledges overlooking the village. (It is very tiny, and nearly impossible to take a picture of without a very good camera.)
Legend has it that the star is dedicated to Saint Mary, and put there by a knight after he came back alive from the Crusades, to pay tribute to the Virgin. There have been several versions of the star over the years, and it remains an emblem of the village.
Eating and Drinking
After a long day of hiking, swimming and kayaking, enjoy a long dinner à la française, and finish it off with a local digestif called the liqueur de Farigoule.
It has a rich smooth taste with a hint of thyme, and is absolutely wonderful. You can read more about local foods and drinks to try in Provence here.
Alain Ducasse’s Bastide de Moustiers restaurant
And if you are looking for a gastronomical experience, why not head over to renowned French chef Alain Ducasse‘s Bastide de Moustiers restaurant that is in the village? Attached to the hotel, the restaurant offers menus of entrées-plat-dessert starting around €80 per person.
There is a weekly market in Moustiers-Saint-Marie held every Friday in the center of the village
The farmers’ and producers’ marché is held between 8am and 1pm, selling everything from provencal souvenirs to wine and lavender. It does get crowded in the summer time, so head there early.
In the summer, Moustier also hosts the Marché Paysan Du Verdon which is a farmers’ market. It is held between June to September every Sunday from 4pm to 8pm.
Where should you stay?
In Moustiers, you can either stay at one of the small hotels directly in town, or one of the larger hotels just outside of town. If you do decide to stay outside of town, the one thing to note is that after dinner it is a rather dark 5-10 minute walk back to your hotel.
- €€€ – La Fabrique
- €€€ – La Bastide du Paradou
- €€€€ – La Maison de Moustiers
Outskirts of town:
What surrounding towns are there to explore nearby?
Along with the Gorges du Verdun natural park, some beautiful towns to visit near the Moustiers-Sainte-Marie village are Gréoux-les-Bains, Valensole, Allemagne-en-Provence, Manosque and Cotignac.
How easy is it getting around?
Moutiers is perched on the side of a rock escarpment, it is not the easiest to navigate for strollers and wheelchairs. There are a lot of stairs, along with cobblestone streets.
The center of town is pedestrianized, with parking lots on the town outskirts so expect to wear comfortable shoes to walk around.
How many days should you spend here?
If you plan on visiting the Gorges du Verdon nearby and go hiking in the area, you should plan to spend at least a couple of nights at Moustiers which has a lot of charming restaurants and activities at nighttime.
The area gets quite busy in July and August, so be prepared and book your accommodation in advance. And after all that hiking and kayaking, if you want to relax a bit, head over to nearby Gréoux-les-Bains and its famous spa resorts. Enjoy your trip and à bientôt!