Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04300) Population: 3,993
The village of Forcalquier is built around the slopes of a steep conical hill, dominated by an octagonal chapel in the trees where the 10th-c citadel once stood [photo-9]. Forcalquier is located in the southwest corner of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, 30 km south of Sisteron and about 10 km west of the Durance river, and was the capital of the Haute-Provence in the Middle Ages. Market day Mon.
The surrounding region is called the Pays de Forcalquier; the hills are covered with pubescent oak, their year-round leaves brown through the winter, making the hillsides brown and barren looking until spring.
There's actually no citadel remaining on the citadel hill, just a few vestiges of the ancient stone defensive walls and stone-vaulted underground rooms on the hillside on the way up. The citadel was first built in the 10th century, and destroyed in 1601.
At the peak of the hill is the 19th-c octagonal Notre-Dame-de-Provence chapel [photo-1], with beautiful carved-stone figures and stone tiled domed roof. There is of course a fabulous view in all directions; the Touring Club de France has provided an observation table, built on a lovely stone pedestal with an iron railing.
At the top you'll also find a carillon of 16 bells, with carved plaques for each of the notes and the person dedicated to the bell. During the summer you can listen to the carillon playing late morning every sunday.
Although it's pretty and picturesque, Forcalquier is an active, living village. Walking through the steep narrow streets, you'll see old, care-worn buildings interspersed with others refurbished in bright new stone, and there will be people and activity everywhere. The most faded looking part is actually the Place St Michel in the heart of the old town. The carved-stone Renaissance fountain [photo-3], built in 1511, is surrounded by delapidated old buildings.
Many of the doorways are ancient, some dating to the 12th to 16th centuries. And we like the may wroght-iron balconies in the old town.
In the center of town, where the main road passes by the Place du Bourguet, is the impressive 12th-c Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption "concathedral". This huge white-stone building has 13th-c gothic parts, 17th-c bell towers and a 17th-c organ - with organ concerts every Sunday during the summer. The two bell towers are impressive, and the sound is just as impressive: sitting at a terrace café in the evening, sipping a "ballon de rouge" and snacking on fromage de Banon, conversation stops for a few minutes when they chime.
The Cordeliers Convent was built in the 13th century by an order of Franciscans, named "cordeliers" because of their rope belts. This convent was one of the first Franciscan sites built in Provence, and was occupied by the monks continuously until the end of the 18th century. The port de cordeliers [photo-5] is all that remains of the town's fortified walls.
There are many bories in the region. There's a nice one just beside the road (on the right) on the D950 a couple of km to the west, just before the bend where the road goes alongside the lake. We found others along the GR6 going north out of town, including a couple in people's yards in that corner of town. On the hiking maps, the bories are called "cabanons pointus" or just "cabanon".
Forcalquier has an outstanding marché on Monday mornings, and an even bigger one on the first Monday of the month. The normal Monday market has just about everything you could imagine, including agricultural plants and equipment. The market fills the main Place du Bourguet and overflows down the adjoining streets. It spreads across the main road to fill the Place in front of the church and Rue de Bereluc-Perussis, goes up through the small streets and crowds into the Place St Michel with its fine old fountain.
The Forcalquier market has a much larger selection of organic (biologique) foods than is found in most of the markets of Beyond. On a typical Monday, you'll see at least a dozen different stands offering organic vegetables, breads, drinks and other home-grown foods. Evelyne and Christian Robert-Traeger are there every week with their delicious varieties of Pain à l'Ancienne.
Shopping. Forcalquier isn't a place for clothes shopping, but there are plenty of low-cost clothes stands during the Monday market.
Prehistoric and Gallon-Roman archeology. Glass works. Faïence pottery from Mane, Apt and Moustiers-Ste-Marie.
Location: 2 Place du Bourguet (beside the Mairie)
Tel: (33) 492 75 00 14; Fax: (33) 492 75 05 20 (Mairie)
Open: all year; visits Wed, 15h
History of Forcalquier
First record, Furnus calcarius was the Latin name, from the lime (chaux) ovens used in Roman times. The name was transformed into the Provencal Fourcauquié.
This was a strategic site throughout Antiquity, and grew to a proper town in the 7th century, with chateau-fort citadel being built in the 9th and 10th centuries. At the end of the 11th century, a family of the Counts of Provence created the Comté de Forcalquier that remained an independent state through the 12th century.
During this time, the town of Forcalquier was the capital of Haute Provence along the Durance, which included the towns of Manosque, Sisteron, Gap and Embrun. Forcalquier made it's own money, and its church was given the title "concathedral".
In 1065, unable to unseat the bishop of Sisteron, Forcalquier divided the region into two, ending up with the unique situation of a bishopric without a bishop. The Counts of Forcalquier grew to a power that could defy the Counts of Provence. Rivalry ended in 1195 when Gersende de Sabran, the Comtesse de Forcalquier, married Alphonse II, the Count of Provence. Their son, Raimond Bérenger V inherited the two counties. Raimond's four daughters all became queens.
• GPS: 43.959785, 5.780948
IGN (1/25,000) #3342 OT "Manosque, Forcalquier"
IGN (1/25,000) #3341 ouest "Forcalquier"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #28 "Montagne de Lure, Val de Durance"
The GR6 Hiking Trail passes through Forcalquier. To the north, the trail climbs up to 900 m in 5 km, and goes on another 10 km to St Etienne-les-Orgues, and then up over the Montagne de Lure. For an early-morning "walk", 1 hour out and 1 hour back, from town, the GR6 north goes along a gorge with bories in the fields and past an area of interesting rock formations [photo-8].
To the south, the GR6 goes past the perched village of Mane, and then west to the Observatoire de Haute Provence and on towards the Vaucluse.
Excellent dining in the town and nearby, such as the Lapin Tant Pis, Bas Chalut, Bello Visto (Lurs), La Lavande (Lardiers). Cooking and flavoring with olive oil is common in Provence. In the Pays de Forcalquier we discovered 3-bottle olive-oil sets [photo-7]
Cycling The Luberon en Vélo cycling path runs 100 km between Cavaillon, Apt and Forcalquier.
Municipal swimming pool
Tel: (33) 492 75 00 14
Avignon - Apt - La Brillane Bus
- Bus line 22A (Avignon - La Brillane - Digne) has two parts:
(1) Avignon, Cavaillon, Apt, Forcalquier, La Brillanne;
(2) La Brillanne, Chateau-Arnoux, Digne-les-Bains.
On the LER-PACA webpage, click on the Lignes & horaires for a list of the bus-line schedules.
Click on Ligne 22 : Avignon - La Brillanne - Digne-les-Bains for the PDF schedule.
The complete route for part-1 is: Avignon, Caumont, Cavaillon, Robion, Coustellet, Lumières, Apt, St Martin-de-Castillon, Cereste, Reillanne, Les Granons, St Michel l'Observatoire, Mane, Forcalquier, Niozelles La Brillanne, Oraison.
Department 04, Alpes-de-Haute Provence Buses
- See Beyond's Alpes-de-Haute Provence (04) Bus Schedules for downloading Alpes-de-Haute Provence bus-lines map and bus-line schedules [pdf for each line] (link for PDF files).
Hotels in the Forcalquier area are mostly outside of town or in other nearby towns. The only hotel in Forcalquier is the Le Grande Hotel, a receding 2-star hotel in the center.
The Office de Tourisme told us Forcalquier isn't a town of hotels - people who like nature and the beautiful countryside prefer to stay in gites and other multi-week lodgings. We don't follow that logic, but then we're just hotel people.