The largest town in Haute Provence is embedded in the Luberon Regional Park between steep pine-decked hills.
Manosque and its surroundings will live up to your image of Provence, in a region of pine scrub, olive groves, tall ochre-painted houses and river gorges.
L’Occitane, the Provençal beauty brand is based here and entertains guests on tours, and the town has an array of minor but interesting sights around the town to keep you fascinated for a day or more.
And with award-winning gardens, lavender fields, perched towns and the fresh waters of the Durance River, there’s so much within striking distance of Manosque you’ll hardly know where to begin.
Lets explore the best things to do in Manosque:
1. L’Occitane Visit
This personal care brand is known far beyond France, but its headquarters are set right in Manosque.
You can drop by and see how L’Occitane makes its fragrances, soaps, essential oils and skincare products on an hour-long tour.
There’s also a museum on the site charting L’Occitane’s 40 years of progress with cases of vintage packaging and old copper stills.
And you can step out into the fragrant Mediterranean garden, planted with all of the species, both native and exotic, that are used in the brand’s beauty range.
In all you could pass half a day delving into the world of one of France’s favourite beauty exports.
2. Porte de la Saunerie
Mansoque’s historic core is enclosed by a ring of boulevards in the shape of a pear.
These roads are where the city’s ramparts used to stand and were laid to help Manosque grow into its suburbs.
But there are two remaining city gates, and both are impressive in different ways.
Guarding the southern entrance to the old town is the romantic Porte de la Saunerie, which was built in 1382. The name comes from the Provençal for “slaughterhouse”, as the smellier trades like slaughter and tanning were moved to the edge of old towns.
High on either side of the portal are turrets with machicolations for dumping oil and rocks onto would-be invaders.
3. Porte du Soubeyran
A little less is known about the city’s north gate, but it was most likely built a few decades earlier than its southern partner, around the end of the 13th century.
The base and portal is almost identical to the Porte de la Saunerie, but instead of turrets this gate is crowned with a balustrade, clock and wrought iron campanile, all added in 1830. As you pass underneath you’ll get a good look at the arrow loop over the archway and the murder holes above a weathered rendition of Manosque’s crest.
4. Tour du Mont d’Or
In half an hour or so you can hike from the centre of Manosque up to the crest of a steep hill just east of the city.
You’ll be glad you made the climb when you take in the view of the entire city, as well as the Durance River flowing past on its way to the Rhône.
Another motive for coming is to see the tower up here.
It looks quite modest now, but there was a whole walled town up here in the middle ages, with a castle, houses, chapels and workshops.
What’s left is a 17-metre chunk of the old keep.
5. Église Saint-Sauveur
The loveliest of Manosque’s churches was built in the 1100s, but altered 300 years later and so matches Romanesque with Gothic architecture.
Outside, take a step back to take in the campanile which has some of Provence’s loveliest ironwork, crafted in 1725 by a blacksmith from Valensole.
The interior is opulently furnished, and has carved wooden stalls and paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries.
But if there’s one reason to be here it’s for the gallery where there’s an organ from 1625 in the most sublime gilded wooden case.
6. Old Town
The streets in the raised pedestrian centre of the city have a plan that goes back to medieval times, even if the architecture is a mishmash of new and old.
At its best, like on Rue des Martels and Rue Guilhempierre, you’ll know you’re in a true Provence old town, with tall houses that rise four storeys, painted wooden shutters and walls in shades of ochre.
The prettiest square could be Place Marcel-Pagnol, with a sweet old fountains, restaurant terraces, and iron gaslights beneath the shade of plane trees.
7. Église Notre-Dame-de-Romigier
The other church built within Manosque’s old walls is a bit more recent, having been started in the 1200s but rebuilt extensively in the 17th and 19th centuries.
Like Saint-Saveur, this church is classed as a French historic monument and also has a handful of curios that will pique your interest.
One is the sculpted Renaissance portal, while inside you have to take a look at the altar.
This is actually an adapted early-Christian sarcophagus from the 4th or 5th century, representing the 12 apostles and hewn from Carrara marble.
Also check out the “Black Madonna”, a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary and Child dated to the 1000s.
8. Maison de la Biodiversité
Couched in the hills north of Manosque, the Maison de la Biodiversité is a wonderful attraction run by the Luberon Regional Park.
Here the entire region’s wild or cultivated plant life is condensed into eight terraced gardens and an indoor exhibition in an idyllic Provençal farmhouse.
Outside there’s a palm plantation, orchards, rose garden, flowery meadow and vegetable garden with all the produce grown in Provence.
At the galleries inside you’ll learn how the countryside has been shaped by humans across millennia.
9. Fondation Carzou
In 1991 the beloved French-Armenian artist Jean Carzou was commissioned to paint a fresco of the Apocalypse in the Convent of the Presentation.
The building is in the Neoclassical style, completed in 1848, and the paintings that adorn the apse and the choir are the centrepiece of the museum.
Carzou’s paintings are raw and harrowing, depicting various atrocities like the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, which means it might not be to everyone’s taste.
The foundation is also a space for temporary exhibitions, so take a look at what’s on when you’re in Manosque.
10. Plateau de Valensole
Manosque is just east of a region of heart-rending natural beauty, with scenes that are as Provençal as they come.
This is the Valensole Plateau, which has an average elevation of 500 metres and conditions that are just right for growing lavender.
The time to catch the countryside at its most vibrant and fragrant is July, when the lavender is in flower and contrasts with neighbouring wheat fields or almond orchards.
And July is also when Fête de la Lavande takes place in the town of Valensole, with live music, a workshop for distillation and market stalls selling lavender honey and scents.
In medieval times this town just up from Manosque was the capital of the entire Haute-Provence region.
The Counts of Forcalquier wielded serious power from their lofty citadel in a town that prospered for its location on the trade route between Spain and Italy.
This stronghold was destroyed in the 17th century but it’s still worth wandering up to the Chapel of Notre-Dame, built on the site in 1875 and blessed with awesome vistas.
You can visit a distillery making traditional Provence liqueurs and aperitifs, take part in a perfume-making workshop or just sip a coffee on Place Saint-Michel in the historic centre.
12. Château de Sauvan
A couple of kilometres down from Forcalquier, in Mane, is a sensational mansion that welcomes you to tour its garden and opulent interiors in the summer.
The Palladian architecture is from 1720 and if you know Versailles you might note its similarity to Louis XIV’s Grand Trianon: This property has occasionally been tagged the “Petit Trianon de Provence”. The grounds have the coveted “Jardin Remarquable” listing and have pine-flanked avenues, topiaries, sculpted fountains, numerous peacocks and dreamy views of the valley behind.
13. Outdoor Activities
Since you’re in the Luberon Regional Park it pays to strike out and see these craggy landscapes under your own steam.
Check in with Manosque’s tourism office for details of walks and bike rides.
Or head for family attractions like Canyon Park and Verdon Aventure where kids and adults can test themselves on treetop assaults courses, with zip lines, rope bridges and monkey bars up to 20 metres off the forest floor.
The Durance flows a few kilometres east of Manosque and there are a few companies, like Ducky Kayak in Villeneuve, organising guided kayak trips down the river’s smooth waters.
Manosque also has a golf course, the highly-rated Golf du Luberon.
It’s a serene way of soaking up the Provence countryside, on a tricky course adapted to the steep and rugged terrain.
14. Plan d’Eau des Vannades
July and August days can be sweltering in Manosque, with highs in the 30s for most of the summer.
With the coast a good hour away you’ll see the advantage of a cool lake like this one five kilometres east of the old centre.
If you’re in the mood for a dip, Manobus Line 3 will even drop you off for free at the height of summer.
The bathing areas here are monitored daily in July and August, and you have volleyball and pétanque courts, as well as a snack bar for drinks and ice creams.
The rest of the year people visit for quiet jogs around the perimeter or to bring little ones to the playground.
15. Local Cuisine
We’ve talked about the sights and scents of Provence, but your taste buds will also be treated in Manosque.
Tomato, aubergine and courgettes, the main ingredient of ratatouille, show up in a lot of typical preparations here.
Provençal tomatoes are halved and crusted with breadcrumbs, parsley and garlic, while a tian de courgettes is tomato, courgettes and herbs baked slowly.
An appetiser at local restaurants is Caviar d’Aubergine, in which aubergine is baked in its skin and then pureed and served with crusty bread.
One for the adventurous carnivores is pieds paquets, packages of sheep’s feet and tripe stewed in a wine and tomato sauce.