Alpes-Maritimes (06500) Population: 944 Altitude: 750 m
This is a definitely lovely, but touristy, little village perched on the flank of a mountain, high above the Mediterranean. The one thing that saves Sainte Agnes from being overrun is that it's not easy to get to; only 4 km from the coast as the eagle flies, it's about 12 km of narrow and twisty mountain roads by car, above Menton at the eastern end of the French Riviera.
Sainte Agnes is one of the Most Beautiful Villages (Plus Beaux Villages) of France.
There are 3 Sainte-Agnès in France: "Beyond's" in the Alpes-Maritimes (06), one in Isère (38) and one in the Jura (39). This one is labeled "the highest coastal village in Europe". The little access road climbs at a rate of 100 m vertical for each km of length.
Note: The name agnes in French is pronounced without the hard "g", like anyes.
Sainte-Agnès village has narrow stone-paved streets and many arched passages, and everything is pretty well restored. Many of the village houses are 15th to 18th century.
A feature of Sainte-Agnès is the incredible view -- of the coast, the sea, the mountains and Italy.
You'll get the best view with a short climb up to the ruins of the 9th-century chateau above the town [Photo-11]. From the jagged peak you can see the incredible defensive position, and have a magnificent view of the narrow ribbon of the non-surface autoroute far below, either crossing valleys on tall viaducts or going through mountains.
According to legend, the chateau-fort was built by a Saracen Prince Haroun, who had fallen in love with a young Provençal girl. The chateau was restored in 1502, but today is in ruins. Enough of the ancient walls remain, complete with arrow slits, to give a good feeling of what it was like in medieval times. Archaeological digs at the chateau site have unearthed at least 23 skeletons along with other artifacts, indicating habitation to the Bronze Age or even to the Neolithic era.
The walk from the village up to the chateau site is steep and takes a bit of effort. The site includes a medieval garden, information panels (in French) about the medieval life, and magnificent views.
Fort Maginot de Sainte-Agnes was built in 1932 as part of the famous (or infamous) Maginot line. Solidly built and still unused (the invaders elected to go around it), the fort sits on the edge of the village overlooking the sea, serving today as a popular tourist attraction.
Fort Sainte-Agnes is open for guided visits:
Oct - May, Sat-Sun, 14h30-17h30
June - Sept, Tue-Sun (not Mon), 10h30-12h, 15h-19h
During Menton's Fete des Citrons (Feb-Mar), 14h-17h30
History of Sainte Agnes
First record, 1185: Sancta Agneta
Medieval: Sainte Agnes was ruled by the Counts of Vintimille until 1258, when it passed to the Counts of Provence.
• GPS: 43.799753, 7.461315
IGN (1/25,000) #3742 OT "Nice-Menton"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #26 "Pay d'Azur"
The GR51 (Balcony of the Cote d'Azur ) goes by the village of Sainte Agnes. The GR51 trail passes at the road junction in the saddle just below the village to the west, a 5-minute walk from the center.
To the northeast, the GR51 passes the hamlet of Monti and the village of Castellar (2 hrs), then continues on nearly to the Italian border where it joins the north-south GR52.
To the southwest, the GR51 goes to Gorbio (1 hr), then south towards the coast, where it follows the hills above the coast towards Nice and beyond.
For a 3-hour loop hike to Gorbio, take the PR trail via Col de Bausson and Cascade du Ray to Gorbio (2h15) and return on the GR51 to Sainte Agnes (1 hr).
Other loop hikes go north, to Col des Banquettes (744 m) or Mont Ours (1239 m).
Loop hikes to the south include a trail from the lookout point past the Maginot Line bunkers that goes down to the Chapelle Ste-Lucie (1 hr), where you can loop back up or continue down to Menton (another hour).
There are pleanty of cafés and reasonably-priced restaurants in Sainte Agnes, some with terraces offering fine views. Many of the terrace restaurants on on the main street up through the village, with views from the west side of the village [Photo-10].
One restaurant (Le Righi) is located out past the southern tip of the village, just past the parking area and the Magenot Line defenses [Photo-14]. Le Righi has 15-20 euro menus, and a magnificent panoramic view to the south.
- A rock garden and historical tour, at the base of the chateau ramparts.