Having made our decision to make our way back to France, Chris speeds up the process via the autostrada. Along the way, we see ingenious greenhouses, terraced into the mountains.
We cross out of Italy into France mid morning, stopping only for a half hearted police check to make sure we don’t have any hidden passengers. Interestingly, it occurrs after the border crossing. There, if you looked suspicious, a team of police pulled you aside, one armed with an assault rifle almost as big as he was.
Back in France, our Beaux Plus Villages book beckons. Now you’d think that it might have been a small clue, for a man who claims he’s had his fill of mountain driving for the moment, that Sainte-Agnes is the highest coastal village in Europe, perched 2,600 feet in the air, but that fact seems to have slipped through on initial review.
I have to laugh (afterwards mind, at the time I was glued to my chair in terror) when we both think we’re gracefully gliding from one village to another, but instead find ourselves on an immediate vertical climb in the wet, one hairpin drive after the other on a road wide enough for only us in most places.
“I wasn’t expecting this” Himself says. Meanwhile I offer small squeaks of terror, too scared to chant my usual “we’re all going to die” litany. Eventually, we get to the top, and by some tourism miracle, there’s even a place to park. “Give us a drink”, he says, “my mouth’s kind of dry”. Yes, folks. I think Fearless finally managed to scare himself.
It’s raining, of course. Despite being on top of the mountain, we’re still not quite there. There’s a steep climb, then seemingly endless steps up to the village, leaving little pockets of tourists gasping for breath along the way.
Sainte-Agnes is another strategic site, originally a Roman fortified camp, that’s been fought over for centuries.
The Roman camp gave way to a 12th century castle and in its most recent defence incarnation, it was the most southerly post on the Maginot Line built between 1932 to 1938 to defend the Franco Italian border – the bunkers are still here.
The village is also famous for the glorious views over the Cote d’Azur. Unfortunately with the poor weather, the view is limited but it’s still pretty spectacular.
Calories expended walking to the cliff top need to be replenished with lunch. Fearless redeems himself by trying the wild boar stew, a gloriously rich concoction cooked for 5 hours, until it acheived a melt in the mouth texture.
I have a much more basic goat’s cheese salad, this one featuring bitter leaves and new season’s walnuts.
Post lunch we explore a little further, walking back up to the 16th century church, Eglise Notre Dame des Neiges, unfortunately not open,
and through the rest of the village.
Neither of us has the inclination to climb the further steps up to the very peak where the ruins of the old castle and a mediaeval garden lay. That’s definitely a pre lunch task if there ever was one and my ankle is not best pleased with all the steps so far.
I make some nice catty friends on the way down – these two must know English as they happily accept pats.
The day’s drizzle turns to rain and guess what… the only road out is the road we came in on. Fortunately, going down is a little easier than coming up – gravity being on our side.
In the interests of distance we continue our journey west until late afternoon when the rain escalates and sets in for the night.