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-Sainte-Marie is one of the Most Beautiful Villages (Plus Beaux Villages) of France. Market day Fri.
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.