The Most Beautiful hilltop villages in France - around Povence Nice and Italian Riviera
In the Middle Ages many villages perchèrent in eyrie or étagèrent on these slopes to the same location or ancient Celtic-Ligurian oppida. They were clinging to the rock which they mixed, built with stones from the hill, often surrounded by ramparts, usually topped by a castle or a church. They were real fortresses that allowed to resist the incursions of the invaders and looters, many arriving by sea.
We can complete this amazing program with a cultural and shopping trip to Paris.
Visit the castle and the site of Baux
Visit the museum Brayer
Continue to Maillane to reach the Light Careers, visiting the cathedral and old quarries which are now used for regular exhibitions with works projected against the walls of the quarry.
Visit an oil mill, olive oil tasting at the Moulin de Maitre Cornille in Maussane, the city of olive trees, a true Provencal village.
Road to Gordes with its myriad of narrow, cobbled streets. The castle was rebuilt in 1525 and houses an art museum exhibition which was started by the owner-artist Victor Vasarely who rented the castle for a long time. Many houses are impeccably restored with antique doors and windows, luxury shops and restaurants. A visit to the nearby village of Bories a national monument; bories are ancient stone dwellings dating back to 3000 …, discover sheep, bread ovens etc. … (optional visit)
Visit the medieval village Menerbes which has long attracted famous artists – Nicolas de Staël, Picasso stopped here with Dora Maar. The village is best known for a more recent resident, Peter Mayle, who wrote his “A Year in Provence” sharing the charms of Provence around the world.
A story goes that during the Wars of Religion the village was besieged by Catholics for five years, to their surprise the Protestant inhabitants resisted and did not give in … a secret passage allowed Ménerbes villagers to leave the village night!
Old Oppèdes, stroll through the narrow streets, admiring the old houses and architectural Provencal details (the bell, the bell tower and some parts of the original ramparts, the church of the XII th century Notre Dame d’Alidon, robust and with a hexagonal tower renovated in the XVI th century, which is part romanesque and part Gothic. Finally the beautiful coloured village of Roussillon 15 km northwest of Apt (city candied fruit) with its beautiful houses restored built there are more 300 years old with many restaurants and art galleries. The ocher mines (optional visit) below the village offer a good show, the range of colours in white-orange-red rocks is extraordinary, and rock formations give a miniature version of the Bryce Canyon National Park in the United States. Do not forget to visit the beautiful village of Lacoste which has remained intact and not too-renovated, between Ménerbes and Bonnieux , known for the castle of the Marquis de Sade that stands above the village (the writer of the XVIII th century spent several years in prison for his deviant and corrupt writings expressing sexual deviance).
Free lunch as at your discretion (restaurants recommended in a travel book)
Dinner in Avignon 3 or 4 star hotel on the chosen option
Avignon hotel accommodation in 3 or 4 stars depending on the option
Capital of Christianity in the middle Ages, Avignon has retained its history and exceptional heritage, much of which is registered in UNESCO World Heritage:
Protected by the Sainte Victoire Mountain, which rises to 1,011 m, Aix en Provence has a richly preserved countryside with authentic Provencal houses surrounded by colourful and fragrant gardens. Its name comes from the hot springs discovered in the foundation of the city in 123 BC by the Romans. The city was the capital of Provence in the XV th century, the wealthy merchants and notables of the city made the Provencal Florence that we know today (walking tour of the Mazarin district) …
The great names in literature or paintings were inspired by the charm of the city: Guigou, Stendhal, Mistral, Zola and Cézanne, go through Aix en Provence to discover the places where the painter lived.
In Marseille we suggest a detour to the little port of the Blue Coast, Carry le Rouet, a small fishing port of expensive French actor Fernandel who had his villa, where Nina Simone lived and was later buried … Estaque the small fishing port where Cézanne lived for more than a year to Bovis castle and the typical port which was immortalized by many other painters such as Dufy and Braque…
Free lunch at your discretion in Aix en Provence (restaurants recommended in a travel book)
Bouillabaisse dinner in Marseille
Accommodation in 3 or 4 star hotel in Marseille according to the option chosen
Cotignac surprises you with its cave houses and the village is nestled at the foot of a huge rock 400 meters long and 80 meters high, which houses troglodyte dwellings. The village was previously a huge waterfall on the cliff. The river was then diverted and now passes to the east of the village and flows into the Argens. The water fell to form all the crevices, and villagers settled there in cave houses. For the Church Cotignac is a unique place that recognizes that there have been two appearances of the Virgin Mary and an apparition of Saint Joseph.
Cotignac is a revival of the pilgrimage for men and women who want children in this unique place in the world where the Child Jesus, Mary and Joseph appeared.
Entrecasteaux, the village is part of the scenic sites of the Var. The Ligurians, Celts and then the Romans occupied this rocky promontory. In the middle Ages, oppidums gave way to fortified houses or « Castellos ».
Local life is animated throughout the year.
Each summer, many festivities take place including the Chamber Music Festival d’Entrecasteaux. In autumn, the village lives at the time of harvest and the olive harvest. La Cave wine cooperative « Les Caves de l’Amiral » produces AOC wines, red, white and rosé. The cellar oil cooperative, « Solidarity » virgin produces extra virgin olive oil also AOC.
Tasting of wines and olive oils
Tourtour, a medieval hilltop village known as the « village in the sky” is located between the foothills of the Alps and the Var valley amidst beautiful pine forests, with stunning views. The village is dominated by the Saint-Denis church XI th with Romanesque architecture. Discover the Municipal Museum of Fossils, old wash, oil mill … XVII.
Little story … On one of the four pillars of the old wash Tourtour are inlaid, five very bright stones whose tones range from green to orange to brown. It was discovered that these stones were polished agates from Madagascar, Brazil, Peru, Australia and South Africa. A question remains … How are these 5 stones got there?
Seillans is a small hilltop village overlooking the plain between the southern Alps and the Massif of Esterel red color, which borders the sea. The village is accessible only on foot. The winding streets, houses terraced hillside, cobbled alleys, archways and squares where sing decked fountains, its sunny climate and scenery of vineyards and olive groves make this one of the most beautiful villages in the region. The place seduced the painter Max Ernst who lived the last years of his life and which you can admire the work to the Donation Tanning-Ernst
The reputation of Grasse is second to none.
City of perfumes from the XVII th century, it is today the world’s perfume capital, Fragonard, Galimard, Molinard , the three major historical perfumers open their doors for free tours : from raw material to the perfume through distillation or enfleurage, you’ll learn all about the mysteries of manufacturing a perfume.
You will get lost with delight in the narrow streets, often with stairs and admire the way a square Saracen tower, remains of walls of the 16th century, the town hall in the former Bishop’s Palace, the medieval houses raised to the 17 and 18th centuries.
tasting options after all these visits, enjoy the « Fassoum « , a local specialty zucchini flower fritters … a marvel!
Free lunch is at your discretion (restaurants recommended in a travel book)
Dinner in the vicinity of Grasse in 3 or 4 stars depending on the selected category.
Accommodation in nearby Grasse in 3 or 4 stars depending on the selected category.
Discover the charming old town with its shops and typical restaurants.
St Paul de Vence, perched on its rocky outcrop and surrounded by its ramparts was built on the orders of François. It is certainly one of the most beautiful villages in Provence Alpes Maritimes. The beauty of the area, quality of life and exceptional light has inspired many artists, writers, poets and painters, some of whom took up residence there. St Paul de Vence is an exceptional site … and remains a small village with sea views and magnificent landscapes. There you can visit some workshops of craftsmen, museums or do some shopping in the Provencal shops.
At Nice, even in winter, the coffee terraces are pleasant and you can admire the Promenade des Anglais, always impeccably flowered, skirting the curve of the Bay of Angels .Nice is a city of arts and culture, after Paris it is the city with the most museums. The city is busy during the day and night in the summer with the Nice Jazz Festival located in the superb arenas and gardens of Cimiez and the Nice Carnival in 2016. It is when strolling through the old town, with its picturesque narrow streets that you will discover the Franco Italian blending of the historic capital of the County of Nice. It belonged to Provence before joining the Savoy States in 1388 as part of the Kingdom of Sardinia from 1720, Nice became French finally in 1860.
Located between Nice and Menton, Eze is perched atop an imposing and superb cliff extending seafront. Eze is a jewel, it is unlike any other village with a sea view, perched with narrow streets of stone, vaulted passageways, beautifully restored stone houses, shady squares, ancient fountains … it is refreshing! This village, perched like an eagle’s nest on a narrow and steep rock, offers one of the most spectacular views.
At 15 kms from Nice is Peillon which has fully retained its rustic medieval mountain, abrupt in its green little streets ,discover on foot waterfalls, stairs everywhere that wind among the flowered houses, there are also many passages vaulted. Most fortified villages appeared in the XII th and XIII th centuries when farmers living in coastal cities fled inland in the hills where they could protect themselves against pirates and armed looters. This charming village situated like a hat over green hills with medieval architecture and a breath taking view is an overview of the very sunny and eagle’s nests perched on steep rocky outcrops between sea and mountains. Visit Peille the medieval city, Coaraze and sundials, Gourdon a fortified medieval village, St Jeannet and its painters….
Free lunch is at your discretion (restaurants recommended in a travel book)
Dinner in Nice in 3 or 4 stars depending on the option chosen
Accommodation in Nice 3 or 4 stars depending on the option chosen
The Principality of Monaco, Monte Carlo city is built on a rocky spur plunging into the sea, the rocks and the natural harbour served as a refuge for primitive populations, then for navigators coming from the East. In the VI th century BC, a Ligurian tribe living in the area would have given Monaco its name. For seven centuries the Grimaldi family have presided over the Principality of Monaco. Discover Menton which offers 316 days of sunshine a year with its cool squares and narrow streets cascading toward the sea, it’s very Italian heart beats behind the ochres facades, the italian shutters with dimming light help to preserve the intimacy of the houses from the sun. The Italian Baroque art spawned a remarkable ensemble: the square of the Basilica of Saint-Michel and a few steps higher, the White Penitents chapel. The Russian church is the symbol of Russian presence in Menton. At the end of last century, the Russian colony was important on the French Riviera, in 1880, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, (daughter of Emperor Nicolas I and aunt of Tsar Nicolas II), decided to form a Russian company called « Russian Orthodox Association of St. Anastasia »
A beautiful legend attached to the origin of the city and its symbol, lemon Eve, expelled from paradise with Adam, took away a golden fruit. Adam, fearing the wrath of God, asked him to throw the fruit that was buried in the Gulf. Lemon trees grew under the mild climate … In this place was born a small paradise was born called Menton…
Apricale is an Italian town perched, exceptional, medieval and authentic 13 kms from Bordighera (near Ventimiglia). The village belongs to the category of Most beautiful Italian villages and is visited on foot. In 1573 the Grimaldi of the Principality of Monaco destroyed the castle. After the French invasion of 1794 led by Napoleon Bonaparte, the annexation of the Republic of France to the Ligure helped to explain the eagle’s nest aspect of this beautiful village.
You will discover the local wines produced by the ecological farmers of the valley and the local olive oils, while on the Route of the Olive. A true homecoming experience.
Free lunch is on the road and is at your discretion (restaurants recommended in a travel book)
Dinner in Apricale in an original and fashionable style where you will have dinner in one of the restaurants of the village of Apricale. You will sleep in a medieval house which has been fully restored in a luxury version; houses and rooms are scattered in the village ensuring absolute tranquillity and total privacy to transport you back to the medieval period and offer you a change of scenery.
Accommodation in Apricale in a deluxe room in the village italian, experience.
Saorge is the village of Mercantour suspended as astonishing and singular as its geographical position and its post-looking guard.
Once the stronghold of Saorge, deemed impregnable, was nicknamed « the lock Roya ». Built into the rock, the village emerges when one enters, an amazing feeling of privacy and security. Visits to the village can be done by the tourist train called « Train of Wonders « (optional visit and necessary to add a day to your program between June and September if you want to make the circuit)
The gorges of Saorge and Bergue are impressive and guarantee a change of scenery.
Roya is the starting point for excursions for Valleys of all Wonders. The Valley of Wonders is named after thousands of engravings dating from prehistory on slabs of coloured stones, « Ciappe » Between the Mediterranean and Italy, Valley Roya sprawls from 180 to about 3000m. Close to giant mythical Valley of Wonders, in the Mercantour Park discover the landscapes, streams and lakes, the pools which are a beautiful emerald colour and the rich and diverse fauna which is often a flora endemic and a delight for the senses.
Sospel episcopal city from the V th century, was long an important step on the main road from Nice to Turin and Italy it is also known as salt mule road and is where we can cross the Bévéra on a toll bridge. Built in the XIII th century, the “Old Bridge »still exists.
The landscapes surrounding Sospel are gorgeous. Sospel is a crossroads of hiking trails before the famous Valley of the wonders and the Mercantour National Park.
Free lunch is at your discretion (restaurants recommended in a travel book)
Dinner in Nice in a 3 or 4 star depending on the option chosen.
Nice accommodation in a 3 or 4 stars depending on the option chosen.
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