Nestled up in the mountainous area of the National Park of Verdon in France sits a little village – Moustiers Sainte Marie. From the village you can see down and across the valley to the Lac Saint Croix, the gateway to Verdon canyon – or the Gorge du Verdon. We spent a day in this charming area and loved how peaceful and idyllic it felt.
It took about two hours to drive to Moustiers Sainte Marie from Aix-en-Provence on a mix of highways and windy, country roads. Along the way, we enjoyed some really beautiful mountain views, and we passed many fields that were growing lavender. While they were pretty in spring, when they are in bloom in the summer they will be gorgeous.
Things to Do in Moustiers Sainte Marie
We had three main things we wanted to do in Moustiers Sainte Marie: Wander leisurely around town, find and explore cute spots, and visit the church.
We found so many adorable little corners and streets. The town is small and an hour or two is plenty of time to wander around and will give you a pretty good taste of Moustiers Sainte Marie.
One spot that is hard to miss is this spot in the middle of the city: a little stream cutting through the center of town. How adorable is that?
We did some hiking on the west side of town to see a waterfall (or “cascade” in French). Unfortunately, it was early enough in spring that there wasn’t a lot of snow-melt and it hadn’t rained recently, so the cascade wasn’t really flowing. But, no regrets as the hike offered great views of the canyon and out over the town and valley.
We returned to town and wandered into several shops – we looked at some great, handcrafted pottery bowls for my mom for a while. There were several restaurants open and a market as we came in, but overall the town had a very sleepy feel to it. Case in point, after a bit, we decided to stop by a boulangerie for lunch, but the one village boulangerie closed for two hours in the middle of the day!
Notre Dame de Beauvoir
Having gotten our fill of the town proper, we decided to hike up to the old church, Notre Dame de Beauvoir, which is perched on the mountain above the city. To access it, you have to climb a decently steep path. This path winds around and takes you in front of another waterfall (this one was flowing) as you ascend to the church.
While the path is definitely steep, I really liked the “pilgrimage” up to the church – you get a beautiful view of the town and valley from above, you get to pass by the waterfall, and the church, while small, is still grand (how do these tiny towns have such such relatively grand churches?!?)
Lac Sainte Croix and Le Gorge du Verdon
Spending time on the lake is one of the best things to do in Moustiers Sainte Marie. On the north end of the Lac Sainte Croix is a little rental center. We rented a paddle boat that was 20 euro for two hours, which was honestly the perfect amount of time. We got in the paddle boat and headed across the lake to the canyon river. There are a few places along the shore that rent paddleboats, motor boats, canoes and kayaks.
By the time we were on the water the day we visited, the sky had turned pretty cloudy, so the water was a lot grayer. The photos I had seen online showed really turquoise water in the gorge. We saw much more turquoise water in the lake, but it definitely was grayer in the gorge. I think this was just due to the fact that it was cloudy the afternoon we were there.
Paddling was a really quiet, peaceful experience – the canyon walls were high and there were some spots with waterfalls or interesting rock formations.
I won’t lie though – paddle boating can be tiring! You are allowed to go a couple miles up the gorge and then there are buoys marking that you cannot go further. At that point, we turned around, paddled back out, and paddled around the lake for a while. As you are gauging time, be aware that you will go nearly twice as fast during the downstream travel compared to up.
We were here in spring and the afternoon was a bit chilly. While we still had a great time and thought it was beautiful, I think the Lac Sainte Croix and Gorge du Verdon would be particularly lovely in summertime when it’s warm and sunny. I could definitely imagine a picnic by the lake and doing a bit of swimming.
Where to Stay
Moustiers Sainte Marie is located up in the Alps mountains. It is about a 1.5 hour drive from Aix-en-Provence, and about 2 hours from both Marseille and Nice. We visited Moustiers as a day trip when we were staying in Aix-en-Provence, which worked out really well!
In Aix-en-Provence, I would highly recommend this adorable hotel with old French architectural details. It’s centrally located – just a few blocks away from the Cours Mirabeau. It’s the perfect spot for exploring Aix and immersing yourself in old French charm.
If you decide to visit from Nice, I would recommend staying at this perfectly located hotel. It’s just a minute to the Promenade des Anglais, the Jardin Albert 1, and Old Town. Plus, it has a boulangerie AND fromagerie (cheese shop) just around the corner! Thankfully, there is a mini-fridge in the room (you don’t always get that in France) for storing your stash of cheese!
While you can access most places in southern France via trains and buses, getting to Moustiers Sainte Marie and the Gorge du Verdon really require renting a car. Thankfully, driving in France is fairly straightforward, road conditions are good, and traffic on the freeways isn’t bad at all.
Most cars in France are manual transmission, so if that’s going to be a problem you’ll want to make your car reservation for an automatic transmission car as early as possible (limited number of automatic cars) and be prepared to spend a little more.
Once you are in the village though, you can park on the outskirts and walk around – the village is small and very walkable.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for any international trip – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. (If covid has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what could happen!)
I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.
If you have ever daydreamed about Belle’s provincial life and want a taste of French country living, Moustiers Sainte Marie is a great place to come. And the Lac Sainte-Croix is a beautiful off-the-beaten-path spot to experience in the French mountains!
Read More Southern France Articles:
- A Definitive Guide to Hiking the Calanques of Cassis
- 15 Favorite Things to Do in Nice, France
- Visiting Aix-en-Provence: The City of Fountains
- The Best Things to Eat in Aix-en-Provence
- Hiking the Sentier du Littoral in Antibes
- Is Marseilles Worth Visiting? Our Mixed Review