Want to feel what it’s like to live in an ancient fortified city — high up in the mountains?
Explore the cultural heritage and rich landscape of perched villages like Gorbio and Sainte Agnès, which are located in close proximity to each other, whether you come by car, or on the ancient footpaths. Spend a lovely day in the mountains; it’s a welcome change from city life. This is the essence of the Alpes Maritimes.
Gorbio is just a few miles inland from Menton and is the last city before the French-Italian border.
This medieval village is surrounded by rocky mountains, olive groves, and has a quite atmosphere. The town is charming and delightfully small. Gorbio has multiple sites and attractions. Come here for some hiking or climb to the summit of Le Baudon if you are an active climber. Whatever reason you come here for, you will find it tranquil and secluded.
This village is accessible and worth “a look around” for any medieval enthusiast like myself.
Architecturally speaking — you will find: arched doors, local stone cobbled streets, old churches, and, the usual view of the sea in the distance. The heart of the village is the main square, (Place de la République) where many celebrations and events take place.
We were not planning to have lunch here due to a late start in the day. It was 3pm, and it was a good thing because there was one café to choose from, and one restaurant.
From where we sat at Les Terrasses, sipping our espresso, we saw everyday village life; mom’s and dad’s escorting their children home from school. The restaurant Le Beau Séjour looked beautiful and we will have to come back because it has been in the family for four generations.
There are a few gites, chamber d’hôtes, and camping sites here with several hiking trails. And one of them is the famous bike trail, Col de la Madone, which is especially a big draw for any cyclists, because the infamous Lance Armstrong came to test his endurance here.
The really big hike is from La Brigue down to Roya Valley on to Menton. Already I’m thinking of the herbs and hamlets that I would see along the trails, not to mention the spectacular view. This is the route du sel, the road from Provence to Piedmont.
This sign shows the popular route of Col de Bausson. The Alpes Maritimes has endless hikes and the tourist office is a valuable source for maps.
The Chapelle des Penitents Blancs was built in 1445 and appears newly painted.
When I came upon a sign for olive oil, I had to follow the cobblestone path. While the moulin was closed, we searched for the shop and found it in the back of the owner’s home.
The owner, Albert Manguine, mills the olives from his own harvest, a family farm since 1918. Together with his wife, they make jams, and a lemon-mandarin vinegar. Albert created the “Citrolive” a vintage olive oil flavored with Menton lemons. Delicious served over fish or as a salad dressing.
Provence-Alpes-Côte symbol displayed over door which identifies this geographical region. A traditional symbol shows solidarity between cultures of Provençaux, Alpins, and Azuréens.
Parting shot: the usual sleepy stray cat in Gorbio
6 miles away is Sainte Agnès…
Sainte Agnès was ruled by the Counts of Ventimiglia and annexed to France in 1860. It sits on the edge of the Italian border. It is not an easy drive from Menton because Sainte Agnès is the highest coastal village in Europe, roughly 2,600 feet (800m) above sea level.
The road is steep and narrow. Parts of the road have just enough room for one car. Our friend and driver did an excellent job and we felt comfortable on each hairpin turn. The ride was smooth which made the difference for not getting car-sick.
Military history buffs will enjoy this village.
The French army was here to defend the Bay of Menton against Italy. They built an underground Fort and the Maginot Line. The original artillery is still on display. The Maginot (defense) Line was built along the entire length of France and it borders 4 countries. There is fascinating history here with a surreal tour of the underground fortress.
Dinner at Saint Yves restaurant with Tor and Jenny from Norway.
The medieval town of Sainte Agnès has been awarded one of the “Plus Beaux de France” and that alone tells you that it gets more action with the tourists. This award is designed to a village that has exceptional beauty, heritage, culture and history. The town has 1,200 inhabitants as of 2015. See www.les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.org
As we drove away the view of Sainte Agnès was breathtaking. I had to quickly use my phone for this drive-by shot.
If you choose walking on the trails. I suggest you take the bus from Menton to Sainte Agnès, and make your descent to Gorbio. Many hikers like the challenge on the footpath from Gorbio up to Sainte Agnès. What could be better than to walk from the mountains to the Mediterranean? Well…maybe a coastal will do just as well.
…are all beautiful and share similar history. Truly a blend of Italian influence with the French heritage in this particular area of France. If you have a limited vacation, maximize your time, come by car.
I can’t think of a better get-away from the glitz of the Côte d’Azur. I’m looking forward on returning with my hiking boots and a picnic basket!