As the Corniche roads from Nice descend towards Menton, it approaches the Mediterranean resort of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The luxuriant vegetation of the Cap Martin peninsula is overlooked by the perched village of Roquebrune. From there, breathtaking views command the coastline of the French Riviera, from the mountains above Menton and Italy to the dazzling Principality of Monaco.
Situation of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin
Situated in an enviable position 2 kms from Monaco and Menton, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is a commune of the département of Alpes Maritimes.
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is made up of two main districts: the historic perched village and the more recent town (including Cap Martin), which are separated by the D6007 road and the Nice-Menton railway line.
There are approximately 12,450 inhabitants in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin called “Roquebrunois” and “Roquebrunoises”. Famous architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) died in Roquebrune and is buried in the village’s cemetery.
The name ‘Roquebrune’ was named after the brown stones used to build the old houses in the village.
Formerly called “Roquebrune”, the town changed its name to “Roquebrune-Cap-Martin” in order to avoid confusion with Roquebrune-sur-Argens in the département of Var.
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin: a bit of History
During the Roman times, the site of Roquebrune was crossed by the Via Julia Augusta which run from Pisa, Italy to Arelates (Arles, France) through Ventimiglia and La Turbie where a monument (Trophy of Augustus) was built to celebrate emperor Augustus’ victory over the Ligurian tribes.
The positions of Roquebrune and Menton between the Republic of Genoa and the County of Provence were highly coveted during the Middle-Ages. Roquebrune was ruled in the 13th century by the lords of Ventimiglia.
In 1346, the town was acquired by Charles Grimaldi of Monaco and remained under the possession of the Grimaldis for the next five centuries until 1848. That year, Roquebrune and the neighbouring town of Menton seceded from Monaco in response to a litigation involving taxes on lemon exports. The two towns self-proclaimed a ‘Free City’ and placed themselves under the protection of the King of Sardinia. Roquebrune was then ruled by the House of Savoy until 1861 when the town voted massively for its annexation to France by referendum. Nice and its county had taken a similar decision a year before and Roquebrune was added to the département of Alpes-Maritimes. In February 1861, Napoleon III paid to the prince of Monaco 4 million francs to compensate for the renouncement of the lord’s rights in perpetuity.
Roquebrune had become French for a limited time during the French Revolution and the First Empire and was included in the newly created département des Alpes Maritimes. During a few years, the town was part of the Sanremo arrondissement, now in Italy.
In the second half of the 19th century, Roquebrune went through a deep change following the publication of a treatise by James Henry Bennett: Winter and Spring on the Shores of the Mediterranean (1861) praising the mild climate of Menton to tuberculosis sufferers. By his writings, the doctor contributed to popularise Menton and its neighbouring Roquebrune as upper-class winter holiday destinations. Aristocrats from European countries edified many opulent villas on the Cap Martin peninsula.
The hilltop village and Cap Martin are the two main attractions of Roquebrune.
The perched village
Perched above the peninsula of Cap Martin, the old village overlooks the French Riviera’s coastline. Roquebrune is a typical Provençal hilltop village with narrow streets, arched passages, intimate shady little squares and ancient fountains.
The medieval houses are dominated by the ruins of the castle. The Roquebrune castle, also named Grimaldi castle was built in the 10th by Conrad 1st, Count of Ventimiglia to prevent an invasion of Saracens. Reaching 26 m high, the keep is believed to be France’s oldest. The fortress was restored in the 13th and 15th centuries.
The colourful Sainte-Marguerite church was built in the 12th century and restored on several occasions and particularly in the 19th century. It has a rich interior in Baroque style.
The Lumone Mausoleum
Situated on the ancient Via Julia Augusta, the Lumone Mausoleum is a Roman funerary monument that was probably built in the 1st century AD.
The millennial olive tree
A bit further away to the east of the village lies a remarkable tree known as Olivier millénaire (millennial olive tree), considered as one of the world’s oldest olive trees. According to some sources, it would be 2,000, possibly 2,800 years old.
To the south-east of the perched village is the wooded peninsula of Cap Martin, covered with opulent Belle Époque villas. The coastal path Le Corbusier gets round the headland with stunning views to Monaco, Menton and the Italian Riviera. The path is 7 kms long and runs through secluded beaches, banks of mimosa and wind-bent pines.
(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs
- beach = plage (f)
- border = frontière (f)
- cape = cap (m)
- castle = château (m)
- French Riviera = Côte d’Azur (f)
- Genoa = Gênes
- House of Savoy = Maison de Savoie (f)
- Italy = Italie (f)
- keep = donjon (m)
- Mediterranean Sea = Mer Méditerranée (f)
- olive tree = olivier (m)
- peninsula = péninsule (f)
- perched village = village perché (m)
- railway = chemin de fer (m)
- seafront = bord de mer (m)
- sun = soleil (m)
- Ventimiglia = Vintimille