Alpes-Maritimes (06440) Population: 1,751 Altitude: 345 m
L'Escarène is a fortified medieval village sitting astride the Peillon river. This was an important staging post on the "Route du Sel" between La Provence and Le Piedmont, on the Nice-Turin road.
The road into the village from the south is a narrow canyon between the tall, ancient buildings. Into the center, the view opens out, past the lower village and the river. Past the road bridge is the final part of the village and a high, multi-arched railway bridge with a beautiful backdrop of hills. The lower village is tucked down along the bank of the Paillon river below the bridge.
The marketplace, for the biannual market, is a long "square" shaded by plane trees, with the sound of the river rushing alongside. Village markets work best when the weather is good, and the winter-spring of 1996 was often wet and even more often grey and cool. A vendor at the market in May of '96 talked about the business problems because of the months of poor weather: "Outdoor market stalls need to be closed up every time it rains, so we can't have anything on display. And people just don't come."
Route de Sel
L'Escarene was a main stop along the Route de Sel during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. During the peak, 30,000 mules a year passed through, carrying salt to Italy and returning with wheat, wine and skins for tanning.
The first 10-12 km north from Nice along the D2204 are built-up-grungy, typical of big-city edges. As you come up towards the Col de Nice, however, the road winds up along a lovely valley with thick woods and deep ravines. The switch-backs are preceded by warning signs such as "4 Lacets", indicating the number of "bootlaces", extremely tight hairpin bends. Only a dozen km from Nice and it's real Beyond country.
Nice-Col de Braus
The road between L'Escarène and the Col de Braus is a succession of "lacets" up through gorgeous valleys and beautiful gorges, including the "Clue" de Braus. The Nice-Cuneo railway takes a shortcut, passing in a long tunnel straight through the mountain.
History of L'Escarène
First record, 11th century Lescarena, Scarena
Gallo-Roman: Roman remains here include a stone altar in the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs.
Medieval: The early village was located on Mont Pifourquier, and was ruled by the Abbaye de St-Pons from the 11th to 16th centuries. In 1570, the village moved down to its current location astride the Paillon river. In 1700, l'Escarène was ruled by the Lords of Tonduti.
Aug (1st Sun) - Fête communale
Nov (End) - Foire de la Saint André
• GPS: 43.833978, 7.355145
IGN (1/25,000) #3741 ET "Vallée de la Bévéra"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #26 "Pay d'Azur"
While the GR510 and GR51 (Grande Randonnée) trails pass through the region, neither goes through l'Escarène.
• From the south village, a trail follows the ridge to the southeast, past the Cime du Castel (675 m) and la Grave de Peille, to Cantaron, where it connects with the GR51. This hike could be combined with train travel between the stations of l'Escarène, Peille, Peillon-Ste-Thècle and Drap-Canton.
• Loop hikes of short and medium length go through the mountains to the northwest of the village, passing Berre-des-Alpes (675 m) and Mont Castello (813 m) along one part, and following the Piguièra river valley along the other part. Continuations go past Coaraze, or to the Cime d'Auriéras (1173 m) and the Col St-Roch (991 m) where it joins the GR510.
• On the northeast side of the river, different trails go out past Pont Pivora (808 m), Mont Panard (1054 m) and Mont Scardélans (1055 m), to Sospel, where connections can be made with the Nice-Cuneo train. At the Baisse du Pape (1022 m, beside Mont Scardélans), several trails join. The GR510 here goes north past the Col de Braus or south to Peille.