Alpes-Maritimes (06500) Population: 638 Altitude: 363 m
The small village of Castellar is perched on a steep, narrow ridge overlooking the Mediterranean, just 6 km north of Menton. And it's really perched, with steep sloped valleys on all sides and the village streets running parallel, close together, along the top of the ridge. To the south, the view from the village is the Mediterranean, with parts of Menton visible below. To the north, high hills topped by rocky cliffs, with more mountain peaks visible beyond.
The main square is at the end of the village closest to the sea, with the Mairie (town hall) and a nice 1-star hotel restaurant. Four narrow streets run lengthwise along the ridge, with the village church, the 16th-century Saint Pierre, at the northern end. There aren't many streets - an hour or so would be enough to see them all, but we found them worth the visit. Outside of the village itself there are a few old chapels, and a nice walk out to the east for great views of the seaside.
Our first visit to Castellar was celebrated by a wedding that was just exiting the Mairie. The wedding party filled the square, with confetti and kids, and we crossed paths a few times with the lovely couple moving about the village with the photographers.
The long village streets are quite picturesque, with some ancient and some nicely renovated houses. The main square is the Place Georges Clémenceau, with a fountain, the school and the Mairie. Running north from there, the Rue de la République takes you up to the old Palais Lascaris-Vintimille, now split into two by the street. A small domed portal at the corner of the old Palais is now a the Musée des Forces Publique. In the courtyard behind is a potter.
To the left (west) of Rue de la République are Rue Général Sarrail, Rue Arson and Rue Garibaldi. At the top end of those streets is the recently renovated and colorful Eglise St Pierre, and one of the old fortified gateways of the village.
All of the four long village streets are picturesque, and well worth a stroll up and down them all. At a couple of places, rather striking lateral vaulted passages through the buildings connect the long streets.
Olive Oil Mill
We photographed an olive oil mill in the village, with the exterior nicely painted in Provencal colors. Closed, but we could see the press inside the dusky interior.
There's only one small épicerie (grocery store) in the village, on the Rue de la République, across from the communal bread oven.
Castellar has a mysterious murder in its past, with the assassination of "Pierre le berger" in August of 1991. There was a trial in 2002, and 16 years later, in April 2007, a new trial started in Nice.
June - Fete de le Saint Jean et de la musique; petanque
July - Fete de la Saint Bernard; soupe au Pistou; fete Champetre.
• GPS: 43.803147, 7.4966
The GR51 runs past/through the village. We met three English hikers in the village who were using the train and local buses while hiking parts of the GR51 between Breil, Sospel and Castellar.
At the coast, by the Menton-Garavan railway station, the GR52 goes north, following the French side of the mountains along the frontier, to Sospel, about 15 km. About 3 km north of the station, the GR51 (Balcony of the Cote d'Azur) begins. It's a couple of km from the GR52 to Castellar, and from here, the GR51 continues west, across the southeast of France to Marseille.
There's a bus between Castellar and Menton, and from there the rest of the world.
- Mon-Sat: 7h00, 8h40, 12h05, 15h10, 17h15.
- Sun: 8h40, 12h05, 15h10.
- Mon-Sat: 7h25, 9h00, 13h25, 15h40, 17h40.
- Sun: 9h00, 12h30o, 15h40.
We stayed one night, early Sept, in a nice little 1-star hotel, the Hotel des Alpes. Located at the southern end of the village, the restaurant and a couple of its eight rooms have a nice view of the sea. A true 1-star, fairly basic, with the bathroom just a few steps down the hall, but with friendly service and quite suitable for a short stay.