Sisteron, the Pearl of Upper Provence, is situated on the historical 325 km route Emperor Napoleon took on his return from exile from the island of Elba. The pre- Roman town sits on the confluence of the Buech and Durance rivers, with Baume Rock on the east and a rocky cliff with an imposing citadel at the top, towards the west.
Sisteron is a very popular and active town, unlike other Provencal towns that go to sleep at sundown. This handy guide, which covers the town and the surrounding hotspots will make your trip to this medieval village a breeze.
The Old Town area of Sisteron is quite impressive, with narrow winding alleys, ancient dwellings and a plethora of historical sights among a fine selection of boutiques, crafts shops, cafes and restaurants scattered everywhere. The fortified Vauban Cathedral occupies centre space, and is a must-visit attraction.
A little rubber-wheeled train, which runs and ends at the tourist office, is a handy way to avoid the steps and inclines and see the landmarks in a comfortable way. The high buildings and vaulted passages clearly depict the prehistoric past here, against the more modern areas in the city center.
The Notre Dame and St Thyrse
This 12th-century Romanesque cathedral is open from April to October. Built in true Provencal style, with black and white blocks, indicating the Lombardian influences, it is one of the largest religious edifices of its kind in Provence. The St Thyrse Church, a baptistry and a cloister set aside for the canons, form a part of this magnificent complex.
The Citadel de Sisteron
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Perched high up on a rocky crag, the 11th-century Citadel of Sisteron, has for long served as a defense bastion due to the strategic location it enjoys. Overlooking the crossing point between the Alps and the Mediterranean, one can easily keep an eye over 150 km of the surroundings below. The fortress, which today looks over Sisteron, is actually a group of different structures, mostly rebuilt with some being renovated. This ancient fort springs to life every year, between July and August, during the Citadel Festival, when International artists take the stage.
The Citadel of Sisteron is open to visitors from March to November, with actual dates updated from time to time. The entry is through the north end of the town, over Rue des Poteries, followed by a ten minutes walk up Rue du Rempart. You can also drive up and park near the entrance. One can also travel by a toy train which goes till the gate of the citadel. A fair number of steps, with rest areas, lead to the top. A small museum, showcasing the history of Sisteron, is inside the citadel.
Plan D’eau Des Marres
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(11am to 7pm)
Enjoying a splendid location, right next to the Durance river, the Plan D’eau Des Marres is a very popular open-air entertainment venue. The park remains open to the public between, middle of June till August and houses a 5000 sq m beautifully landscaped artificial lake, which is open for swimming.
Musee Terre et Temps
Located inside a former 17th-century chapel, this earth and time museum showcases some unique exhibits that were used to measure time. Some of the unusual objects include a water clock, sundials, pendulums, calendars among others.
Rocher de la Baume
This impressive rock face is made up of vertical folds of limestone and occupies a vantage position over Sisteron. A hike to the top, through a cave, is rewarded with incredible views of the Citadel and the flowing Durance river below.
The towers of Sisteron
Classified as historical monuments, the five fortification towers dating back to 1370 hold a special place in the defense of the Old Town from the invaders.
There are innumerable places of interest which can be covered by hikes from Sisteron. The trails are easy, across rolling fields and prairies leading to the charming villages of Authon and Saint- Geniez. If you love cycling there are hidden gems like the Les Bruyeres Trail and A Pas de la Graille.
If you intend to visit Sisteron, keep ample time to explore the rich heritage of the town and its surrounding places. Summer is the right time to see the oldest festival of France, ‘Citadelle Nights’ against the picturesque backdrop of the bastion itself.