The Alpes-Maritimes mountain town of Saint Etienne-de-Tinée, about 90 km north of Nice, sits low in the valley just beside the fast-flowing Tinée river. It's a large village, or small town, with shops, terrace cafés, historical buildings, and surrounded by high mountain slopes forested pine and larch (mélèze).
Much of the town is "old town" with narrow streets between high buildings. The houses vary between picturesqe-ancient, drab, and nicely renovated. The central square, actually a pair of adjoining squares, are surrounded by brightly painted buildings, including the 18th-century Saint Etienne church (yellow) and the town hall (ocre red).
A somewhat unique counterpart to the Provencal colors is the monochrome fresques on the facade of the maison Fabri [ photo-8 ].
The main church, Eglise St-Pierre, or Eglise St-Etienne, dates to the 18th century, when it was rebuilt on the ruins of whatever was there before, and it was restored in the 19th century.
We found five very nice sundials in the village, without having the time to look very hard. The faded one in this photo, on the rue longue, has the motto "spero lucem", meaning quite logically "waiting for light". A monochrome sundial that is very simple is part of the larger fresqe shown in our photo-8.
There were a number of excellent trompes l'oeils in the village, a couple related to sundials. The colorful sundial shown at the left of our photo-3 is beside a window where only the center window is real; the entire surround is a trompe l'oeil
Route de la Bonette
The Route de la Bonette is the highest road in Europe (la plus haute route d'Europe), passing over the Col de la Bonette at 2715 m altitude, just beside the 2802 m peak, Cime de la Bonette. This is the shortest route between the Côte d'Azur and the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, with a distance of 150 km between Nice and Barcelonnette.
The southern part of the route goes up the Var valley, then into the southern end of the Tinée Valley [map], passing the perched villages of La Tour, Bairols, Clans, Ilonse, Marie, Rimplas, to St Sauveur-sur-Tinée. These villages are perched up in the hills to the sides, mostly hidden from the valley below, although Marie is quite visible, and pretty.
From St Etienne-de-Tinée to the Col de la Bonette is only 26 km, but with a good number of hairpins (lacets) approaching the pass. It's another 24 km of lacets down the northern side to the Ubaye valley at Jausiers, and then a short 9 km to Barcelonnette.
First record, 1067 Castrum Sancti Stephani Tiniensis; 17th-c St Etienne-de-Tinée; 19th-c St Etienne-aux-Mons, then reverted back to St Etienne-de-Tinée.
Gallo-Roman: Daeliae Insula was the Roman name of the town.
Medieval: The village and the church were burnt in 1594 by the Count of Beuil. In recent history, a fiire in 1929 burnt a good part of the village. The town was part of Savoy until 1860, when it was attached to France.
Office de Tourisme
Tel : 04 93 02 41 96
Three local museums are located in the village. Information for the museums is available from the Office de Tourisme: 1 rue des Communes de France; Tel: 0493 024 196; Fax: 0493 024 850.
Musée de l'école (School Museum) displays ancient school type objects, and the main part of the museum is set up as an old class room. Visit: free, 45 min.
Musée des Arts Religieux (Museum of Religious Arts). Visit: 3.00 euros, 45 min.
Musée des Traditions Stephanoises. A museum of local culture and traditions of St Etienne-de-Tinée. Visit: free, 45 min.
Musée du Lait (Milk Museum). All about milking and milk, especially as it used to be done. Visit: free, 45 min.
All the typical summer mountain sports are available in Saint Etienne-de-Tinée or the adjacent Auron, inclulding mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding and poney rental. There are water sports at the river right in the village, with Kayak rentals available.
Auron is one of the best known ski stations of the Alpes-Maritimes, and there is a cable car (téléphérique de la Pinatella) directly from St Etienne-de-Tinée into the mountains.
IGN (1/25,000) #3639 OT "Haute Tinée 1, Auron"
Excellent mountain hiking around Saint Etienne-de-Tinée, starting in the town, in nearby Auron or St Dalmas-le-Selvage. This is mountainous country, so hiking trails tend to have a strong vertical element, between the 1140 m of the town in the valley, and peaks and passes around 2000 to 2500 m. A short-cut alternative possible during the summer season is to take a cable car up to a peak, then hike back to town, with more down the up in the route.
The GR5 (Grande Randonnée) goes through the town. To the south, the GR5 goes down the river valley and climbs to Auron; over the hills at the Col du Blainon (2014 m) to the village of Roya and south into the Mercantour.
The GR5 goes northwest from St Etienne-de-Tinée, over the hills via the Col d'Anelle (1739 m) to St Dalmas-de-Selvage, then northward into the upper part of the Mercantour National Park.
In the mountains of the Mercantour only 4-6 km northeast of town are several beautiful mountain lakes, and many can be reached with day hikes.