High up on the Vaucluse mountain plateau and some two hours from Menerbes is the tiny village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.

The road trip takes you through Apt, Manonsque, Greoux-les-Bains (a big holiday destination for the locals), kilometres of wheat and lavendar fields, rocky outcrops, and hundreds of grazing sheep.

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is built in the shape of an amphitheatre 634 metres above sea level and is famous for two reasons – its majolica (type of pottery) and its five-pointed star hanging from a 227 metre long chain stretched between the high rocks towering over the village. The Adou stream runs through the middle of the village, fast running water cascading from the rocks.

Moustiers was founded in 432AD but there is proof of habitation stretching back 15,000 years. Originally a monastery, the monks waged almost continuous war against the Saracens between the 8th and 10th Centuries.

These wars and subsequent inter-French quarrels only saw Moustieres regaining its former glory in the 18th Century when the Clerissy family started the majolica period – fine pottery and crafts which remain to this day.

 

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Although only 630 people live in the village, there are 16 workshops and some 30 majolica shops making Moustiers a hub of provencal industry. In contrast to the more classical bright colours, ochres and bold painted designs popular in the rest of Provence, majolica is predominantly white with fine handpainted designs of flowers and ancient fables. The custom is that the paint brush may pass over the glaze only once – no mistakes allowed. The prices reflect their individuality! E200 for a plate is the norm.

 

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The 227 metre chain with the five-pointed star is stuff of legend. The Duke of Blacas said that if he returned from Saracen captivity during the Crusades he would hang a star over the Notre Dame church in the village.

 

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[excuse the pic quality – scanned from the brochure due to the light not being good enough to capture the star in all its glory]

Frederic Mistral, the famous French poet and philosopher, invented this legend and wrote the words inscribed on the original cross:

 

 

 

 

“At your feet, Virgin Mary

I will hang my chain

If I ever return

To Moustiers my homeland”

The star was removed in 1793 during the French Revolution and then hung back in place during the Restoration period. It has fallen to the ground several times and the present one dates from 1957 with some minor repairs in 1995.

The Sainte-Marie in the village name harks back to the ‘three Saint Marys’ who were forced to flee Palestine at the time of the Crusades and settled in the Camargue region: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Jacob and Mary Salome. Some articles reputed to be of Mary Magdalene’s clothing are kept in the tiny chapel a mere 5,000 stairs up the mountainside.

Moustiers. A must see. Leaving the village, we spotted the French way of picking up leaves – a major vacuum cleaner!

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We travelled back via a southerly route along the Verdun and Durance rivers. The so-called ‘Waters of Provence’ which is a network of canals stretching hundreds of kilometres and providing life-giving water to the agricultural industry.

The route is also called the ‘Route of the Chateaus of the Southern Luberon’ and we paused at one magnificent specimen being renovated:

The 14th-18th Century chateau in the village of Allemagne-en-Provence

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River bridge over the Durance – the old and the new living happily side by side

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Comments

One Response to “Following in the Footsteps of the Clerissy family”

  1. dropbox out of space shared folder on October 4th, 2014 8:22 am

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