|Sainte-Agnès nestled below the peak of a mountain topped by a medieval chateau.|
This little village in the far south-east corner of France is very dear to my heart.
Sainte-Agnès – the highest village In Europe which is also closest to the sea (‘le village du littoral le plus haut d’Europe’) – is listed as one of the country’s most beautiful.
It is also the ancestral village of my husband’s family on his mother’s side, with the plaque in the Chapelle de Saint-Sebastien carrying her family name, and the current Mayor of Sainte-Agnès also connected through family links.
|You can just see the Hotel Righi - that marks Sainte-Agnès - near the cloud.|
Looking up, all you can see is the glowing white Hotel Righi , very popular in the 1920s, where you can still enjoy an English afternoon tea – together with a stunning view from Italy to Monaco and across the Mediterranean as far as Corsica.
The village is believed to have been named in honour of Sainte-Agnès who protected a young Roman princess who was forced to shelter there in a grotto during a thunderstorm. Having been saved, she built a chapel, naming it after her patron saint.
|One of the ruelles in Sainte-Agnès.|
|One of the streets in the village.|
Although it is just two kilometres inland from the coast, Sainte-Agnès is 750 metres above sea level, which meant the 11km walk was quite a hike.
The village itself has narrow pedestrianised streets, known as ruelles. If you drive up, there is a big communal parking area just outside.
Many of the houses are set into the rocky outcrop at the top of this mountain with vaulted ceilings and rough stones forming their interiors.
Today the village is geared almost exclusively for tourism, but my husband remembers it just after the war, when hessian sacks were used as coverings instead of doors and windows. It was seen as a dilapidated and dying village as most of its occupants abandoned it to move to Menton.
From this already-high village a winding path leads up another 50 metres to the ruins of an old château which is slowly being restored. Inside the ramparts of this château, a beautiful medieval garden had already been replanted with olive trees, hedged flower beds and topiary trees.
Wandering the streets you experience the heady scents of lavender and lemon – and it is impossible to resist the locally-made perfumes.
|The walk up to the chateau currently under restoration.|
Just a note – you won’t see vast fields of lavender, for which Provence in renowned, around this mountain-top village. The lavender here is on a much smaller scale and not always grown at Sainte-Agnès.
There are lots of walking tracks leading from here – one of which takes you to another small hillside village called Gorbio, just two kilometres away. A good way to walk off that lunch.