Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France - Part 1

Scattered around France there are 155 villages that have the honor of being labeled as "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France."  Translated, this is "the most beautiful villages of France."  Yes, there is an organization that actually bestows this title to small, picturesque villages with strong French heritage, and during our week in southern France, we visited two of these lovely places, and my, my, my, this designation as one of "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France" was well earned by both.  Today, I share our visit to the first - Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, a seemingly perfect little village snuggled up against the base of a huge rocky and steep hill at the western entrance to the impressive Gorges du Verdon.   

It was a two hour drive from our little apartment in Robion, but we didn't mind as much of it was through endless rolling fields of now dormant lavender which France is so famous for...

Not at all colorful in the middle of autumn, but it isn’t hard to imagine how amazing this drive must be in mid summer when the fields are covered in purple and the air is filled with the delicate fragrance of lavender.  Ahhhh... maybe we’ll just have to come back for a visit then. 

As we drove the last winding mile towards the little village, my excitement to walk it’s narrow, cobblestone streets grew and grew.   

Even before we entered it's narrow streets, this place just seemed enchanted.  As we drove along the tree-lined street that passes along the edge of town searching for a place to park, we caught glimpses of shops filled with handbags, clothing, knickknacks, and the faience ceramics that this tiny little village is known for.  Just the type of place the girls and I like to explore.  But what we discovered when we finally parked the car and entered the pedestrian only part of the village, which is mostly the entire village, was one of the most charming places I have ever set eyes upon.  

The stone buildings all huddled together with flowers and greenery decorating their already lovely facades...

The little cafes tucked here and there, with only enough room out front for a handful of tables...

A waterfall cascading down the gap in the huge rock face that towers over the village, it’s waters splashing under stone bridges and dividing the village in two.   

And as if that wasn’t enough, high above on a cliff on one side of that gap sits a church that blends in with the rocky terrain surrounding it - the Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel.

To reach this chapel in the sky you must climb 262 steps on a precarious stone staircase that starts in the back of village and seems to climb to heaven and offers amazing views out over the little village and into the gorgeous valley beyond.  

If only it were Sunday because I would love to witness the pilgrimage of villagers climbing this staircase to worship inside the stone walls of this amazing little church. 

Once we reached the church, we were the only people there.   

The stillness, the absolute silence, and the dramatic setting made us whisper when we spoke for fear of disturbing the sanctity of this site. 

As we entered the church, we were enveloped in darkness, as the steep rocky hills surrounding this beautiful structure just don’t allow much light to enter.  It was peaceful and serene, quite a setting for a small but still magnificent chapel.   

After descending the grand yet precarious staircase back down to the beautiful little village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, we did a bit of shopping and then headed out of town, but not without taking a few glimpses back towards this captivating little town on the side of a cliff with the perfect little church watching over it from high above.  

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