As a weekend getaway, I visited the perched medieval village of Moustiers Sainte-Marie, situated in the Alpes de Haute-Provence and at the entrance to the Gorges du Verdon (one of the deepest canyons in Europe), and is a good two hours drive from Nice, on many windy roads.The quaint village is known as the “Capital of Ceramics” – famous for its porcelain, for its overhead/ suspended gold-leaf star (measuring 1.25 m), for pilgrimages to the Notre-Dame de Beauvoir 12th century chapel (262 stone steps to climb to get there), and the mountainside water cascade through the village.
The town, of about 700 residents, thrives on its ceramics industry and tourism, with its nearby lake of Sainte-Croix and the Verdon Regional Natural Park. The green/turquoise color of the lake and surroundings are due to the fluoride and micro-algae and the lake’s clay bottom.
The region is famous for its lavender fields, a source of flavorful honey, and also used to produce soaps and perfumes.
Turned out to be two rainy, low-cloud covered days – good for lingering over fabulous meals at the local restaurants:
Our first lunch was at at “Le Relais,” with its warm ambiance and welcoming staff. It was hard to decide, but I finally ordered the duck, which was served with veggie California rolls (a very unusual combination) — it was delicious! There was also a chicken with thyme dish, served with rice and ratatouille; after dinner they brought out homemade marshmallow squares (called ‘chamallow’ in French) – so a little bit ‘off the beaten menu’, so to speak, which made the lunch even more memorable!
For dinner that evening, since it was still raining and it was closer to the parking lot, we settled on a restaurant situated on the outer edge of the village — a mistake and disappointing: Le Cascade restaurant was ordinary and a little too bar-like in feel, but….we were there, and there were, indeed, dinner tables set up, so gave it a whirl. However, after we had sat down and ordered an “apero” and had decided what we were going to order from the menu, we were told that the special priced three-course menu (formule) was no longer available — uh, why? The answer given was “C’est comme ca!” (It’s just the way it is!) (Beware — this tactic can be used to get tourists (including French tourists) to order from the à la carte menu, which provides more income to the restaurant). So, to compensate, we didn’t order any wine with dinner or any dessert, which obviously annoyed the (not so pleasant) young waitress. The rabbit I ordered was good, but overall, the ambiance (or lack thereof!) dampened our spirits, as much as the rain had dampened us!
I chose to stay at a three-star B&B called, “Le Ferme Rose,” having stayed there years ago; it’s only 1 km (0.6 miles) from the village center, and so, is quiet and peaceful. The owner is an eclectic collector, so it was interesting to look at all the various, fun oddities and antique pieces that he has gathered over the years: vintage luggage, giant Hollywood film set lights, mini-train sets, a theatre stage, just to name a few. It was an amusing and serene place to sit and play cards, or chill out with a glass of Provençale rosé and a good book, as the rain continued!
The hotel’s breakfast was wonderful, with a basket of viennoiseries (pastries/breads), yogurt, orange juice, and of course, du café – all presented with attention to detail and courteous, friendly service.
Even with the misty-like rain falling, walking through the village and browsing in the shops was enjoyable; the village was active and lively, as I searched for the perfect place for our last lunch there – and boy, did I find it – the restaurant “Le Treille Muscate” in the center of the village, with its superb service, lovely atmosphere, and excellent food. To top it all off, the skies were clearing, through the low-lying cloud cover, ending the weekend on a good (and sunny) note!
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Stats source: Tourism Office