Alpes-Maritimes (06440) Population: 1,026
Lucéram is a wonderful village, medieval-ancient, with old streets and old buildings. It's not a flat village: The main road cuts through the center along the valley. On the west side, village streets wind between old houses to the Place Honoré Barralis and the Chapelle St Pierre and the village school. On the east side, narrower village streets wind between older houses and vaulted passages up to the main church (église St Marguerite) at the top, with the medieval ramparts and tower at the northern corner.
Many of the narrow streets are cobblestone, and there are long, low vaulted passages. Beyond found many very ancient stone doorways of varying styles on the western side of the village. Some of the houses are topped with open-air attic rooms, called "greniers à vent". One like this high on the eastern side, near the tower, is said to be a fig-drying place (séchoir à figues). There are a few old lavoirs here and there in the village.
It's a pretty big place, but there's only the typical small-village commerce. Two mountain streams flow through (and beneath) the village, joining with the Paillon at the lower side of the village. The Paillon continues south, eventually flowing beneath Nice to get to the Mediterranean.
On the main street between the two halves of the village is the post office, a few small shops and cafés. The main square here, Place Adrien Barralis [photo-5] has the Mairie, with a Roman-numerals sundial (cadran solaire) at the top. Beside this square, where the street starts up through an arched gateway, is the Maison de Pays that serves as the Office de Tourisme.
Open-Throat Defensive Tower
The 15th-century medieval tower standing above the crenelated ramparts at the northern corner of the village is the only one we know of in this "open-throat" (ouverte à la gorge) style. The tower is open for its full 10-meter height on the side facing the village, so if it were captured, the invaders couldn't shoot down into the village. This also allows the defenders to be more easily replenished with munitions and supplies during a battle.
Creches - Mangers
Every winter, since 1998, Lucéram has filled the village with crèches (Christmas manager scenes) in what is now billed as Lucéram's "Circuit des Crèches". In 2005, the village had over 400 crèches, ranging in size from tiny (a micro manger in half of a walnut shell) to huge (a 10-meter long model of Lucéram), and from simple (a few plastic toy images placed together) to sophisticated (detailed, life-sized statues in a realistic setting).
The manger scenes are everywhere in the village. They fill nooks in street corners, sit in air vents in stone walls, on ledges above doorways, in flower boxes, in fountains (including submerged), and even inside a real manger along with the live sheep and newborn lambs. Some large collections of manger scenes and santons can be seen together in a Chapelle St. Pierre, the Office de Tourisme (Maison de Pays) and in the Musée de la crèche.
As pretty as medieval mountain villages are, the gray stone houses, stone streets and stone walls can look pretty grim on winter days when the sun doesn't peak in very long. Lucéram in the winter, though, is decorated for its "Circuit des Crèches" and for the holiday season in general. Evergreen branches line walls, doorways, windows, balconies and arches, and bright red bows are high and low across the village.
We normally like to do our Beyond touristing midweek to avoid crowds. Here, though, we visited Lucéram on a December Saturday to get a feel of the festive atmosphere. The Lucéram crèches were presented on France's TF1 television channel the first year (1998), and have been given publicity every year since then, so the place can get pretty crowded on weekends.
Crowds of this sort and pleasant and friendly. Strangers tend to talk to each other and share their excitement. We found the Lucéram townspeople also extremely open and friendly. We were stopped often by local people wanting to explain their creations to us, or to describe some detail of the village or the history of the event.
History of Lucéram
First record, 1057 Luceram
Gallo-Roman: Lucéram is located on the site of a Roman castrum, on a Roman road linking La Turbie (above Eze and Monaco) with the Vésubie valley. Artifacts of the Roman occupation, including pottery, coins and inscriptions, were found in the old cemetery. Signs of a Roman camp and a stele were found 1.5 km southeast of Peira-Cava, 4 km
Medieval: Medieval Lucéram was a fortified town at a strategic location on the Route de Sel. The town was owned by the Count of Provence until 1272, when it was given its independence.
• GPS: 43.882691, 7.359132
IGN (1/25,000) #3741 ET "Vallée de la Bévéra"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #26 "Pay d'Azur"
The GR510 (Grande Randonnée) hiking trail crosses the main street in the center of Lucéram.
To the west, the GR510 follows the village streets up the hillside, then heads northwest, over the Col St-Roch (991 m), continuing northwest into the Vésubie valley.
To the east, the GR150 goes up towards the top of the village, then south and east to the Col de Braus and evenually on to Sospel.
There are some good (but steep) loop hikes from Lucéram out to the east, one passing near the peak of Mont l'Ablé (1260 m) to the Col de l'Ablé (1148 m).
The Maison de Pays (Office de Tourisme) has information on several hikes in the area, most of which are displayed on a large panel just below the Maison de Pays, on the Place Adrien Barralis. There's one nice little Beyond walk out through the northeastern corner of the village, over a small stone bridge, with a view across the gardens back at the village and tower.
Dining possibilities in Lucéram are fairly limited, but enough to get you fed. On our first trip here, we had a picnic lunch on the road towards Coaraze, overlooking Lucéram; really inexpensive and a great view. More recently, we were crowded into a tiny table for a "second seating" amidst the Saturday crowds for the Circuit des crèches. The other lunchtime diners were friendly and talkative, and the food was simple and delicious.
The hamlet of Peïra-Cava, 12 km north, is a very popular winter-sports site.
The main summer sport here is hiking, with great possiblities directly from Lucéram and many other spots up and down the valley.