Alpes-Maritimes (06540) Population: 2,058 Altitude: 310 m
Breil-sur-Roya, at the bottom end of the Haute Vallée de la Roya, has the feeling of a real mountain town of the 17th or 18th century. The town forms a compact crescent around a narrow rocky spur, nestled in the deep Roya valley. The steep mountain hillsides around the town are half covered by terraced olive groves.
A hydro-electric dam forms a lovely little lake right at the edge of the town. (Our photo was taken while approaching town on the D2204 from the Col de Brouis; on the near side of the river you can see the tracks of the Nice-Cuneo rail line.) The Roya valley here is heavily forested, but a closer look might surprise you: the steep mountain hillsides are half covered by terraced olive groves. "Centre ville" is along the main road up the valley, with the widened river-lake on one side and the small squares, shops and the huge ancient churches on the other. There are usually fishermen along the riverside right in the center [photo-2], and this is one of the few places we've actually seen someone catch a nice trout.
The streets are narrow and many of the old houses are nicely restored or truly ancient. On the main square you'll find many buildings painted with trompe-l'oeil scenes. The heart of the town is the narrow old streets parallel to the river, lined with high buildings, and the even narrower connecting streets (ruelles) that pass as tunnels through the buildings.
There are two imposing old churches in Breil. One, a bit run down, is on one side of the Place Biancheri, with the Office de Tourisme beside. On the other side of the place is the 17th-century Eglise Sancta Maria-in-albis [photo-5], with its massive backside facing the center bridge over the river. Both churches have identical slender bell towers with rounded top of brightly-colored overlapping tiles [photo-6]. The bigger Sancta Maria also has a tall clock-bell tower with its pyramidal top of brightly colored tiles. Attached to the Sancta Maria is the 18th-century Chapelle de la Miséricorde, now split by huge cracks.
At the northern end of the central area, the main road crosses the top bridge to the west bank of the river. Just past that bridge is a great little playground and the tennis courts. There's another part of the town here, with streets along the river, lovely old houses, and the local camp ground and swimming pool.
Some interesting defensive sites nearby include the ruins of four 19th-century forts at l'Authion, 10 km over the mountains to the northwest.
Walking Around Breil-sur-Roya
For a nice walk out of the center, cross the river at the middle bridge, go up under the tracks, then follow the road north, come back down across the tracks above the station, then follow the main road back down past the station to town. Just after you go under the tracks you have a clear view up the valley to the west, with the tiny Notre Dame du Mont chapel on the slopes [photo-7]. Nearer at hand there's an interesting little house that seems to grow up out of a rocky projection.
Between Breil and the Col de Tende pass the road is good and well-traveled, and distances seem short (unlike the twisty roads over the Cols de Braus and Brouis).
The valley itself is narrow and steepsided and beautiful, with occassional waterfalls coming down the mountains between the trees.
We were in town once during the Foire de Printemps, and found a stand with lovely porcelain dolls (Poupées Porcelaine) [photo-9]. They stood about 30 cm tall and were priced about 50-90 F, with larger animated musical ones at 140 F.
History of Breil-sur-Roya
First record, 1157 Brehl
Breil belonged to the Lascaris-Vintimille in the 13th century. In 1388 it went to the Savoy, along with the Comté de Nice [History]. The hamlets of Libre and Piène (4 km to the south) were in Italy until 1947, when they were attached to Breil (and France) by a referendum.
Recent: Breil was heavily damaged by bombardment during the last war.
Apr (3rd Mon) - Foire - Spring Fair
Aug (End) - Fête de la Maglia
Aug (End) - Fête de la Maglia
Nov - Foire (1st Mon after Toussaint)
• GPS: 43.938018, 7.463739
IGN (1/25,000) #3841 OT "Vallée de la Roya"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #26 "Pay d'Azur"
This is excellent hiking country, if you're not afraid of hills. The more detailed "Top 25" map #3841 OT is a good choice for the whole Roya valley; hiking trails and the numbered balises are clearly shown.
• The GR52 and GR510 (Grande Randonnée) trails pass through town.
• The GR52A goes west up the valley to the Col de Brouis, then south to Sospel. To the north, the GR52A goes up the mountains east of the valley, circling out east of Saorge and north to la Brigue, then dropping down to pass through Tende and then up to the border at the Col de Tende.
There are several restaurants and cafés in town, and at least one 2-star hotel (the Roya) on the Place Biancheri. There's also a buffet restaurant at the train station just north of the center.
A specialty of Breil-sur-Roya is Boursotous, a small deep-fried pastry stuffed with epinards, poireau, riz, fromage and creme d'anchois (that's spinach, leek, rice, cheese and anchovy paste). We also tried a Feuillete Pommes de Terre et Girolles, a specialty of one of the little bakeries; this was like a little pastry pie, with potato and delicious peach-colored mushrooms.
EcoMuseum of the Haut Pays and Transports - EcoMusée du Haut Pays et Transports
Opened in 1989 in the old locomotive depot in the village of Breil-sur-Roya. A museum of the local region and especially the railway line that runs up over the Col de Tende.
Open: May - Sept: 7 days, 14h-18h30