Roquebrune-Cap-Martin: A Discovery Guide

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As the Corniche roads from Nice descend towards Menton, it approaches the Mediterranean resort of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The perched village of Roquebrune overlooks the luxuriant vegetation of the Cap Martin peninsula. From the medieval castle, breathtaking views command the coastline of the French Riviera, from the mountains above Menton and Italy to the dazzling Principality of Monaco.

Plan your trip to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin + region!

Rocquebrune-Cap-Martin © XtoF - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Rocquebrune-Cap-Martin © XtoF – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons


Situation of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin

Situated in an enviable position 2 km from Monaco and Menton, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is a commune of the Alpes Maritimes département.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin (often abbreviated as RCM) is made up of two main districts:

  • the historic perched village and
  • the more modern town (including the Cap Martin peninsula).

Between the hilltop village and the town lie the numerous residences along the departmental roads 6007 and the Nice-Menton railway line.

Roquebrune is crossed by the three corniche roads of the Riviera and the A8 motorway.

Roquebrune Situation Map

The population of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is about 12,450 (Roquebrunois and Roquebrunoises).

Famous people of Roquebrune

There are a number of personalities linked to Roquebrune:

  • Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898), aka Sissi, stayed in Cap Martin from 1896 to 1897.
  • Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia lived in Roquebrune and died in his villa in 1933.
  • Singer Jacques Brel owned a little house in Cabbé from 1960 to 1970.
  • Famous architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) died in Roquebrune and is buried in the village’s cemetery.
  • Winston Churchill spent roughly a third of each year in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin at La Pausa from 1956 to 1958. There the former British Prime Minister wrote and edited part of his History of the English Speaking Peoples.

Roquebrune Cap Martin Square Sissi © Sergemc - licence [CC BY 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Square Sissi © Sergemc – licence [CC BY 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Why Roquebrune?

Roquebrune means “Roche Brune” or “Brown Rock“, in reference to the brown colour of the rocks that can be seen in the old perched village.

Formerly called “Roquebrune”, the town changed its name to “Roquebrune-Cap-Martin” in order to avoid confusion with Roquebrune-sur-Argens in the Var département.

Roquebrune Cap Martin © Florian Pépellin - licence [CC BY-SA 2.5] from Wikimedia Commons

Welcome to Roquebrune Cap Martin © Florian Pépellin – licence [CC BY-SA 2.5] from Wikimedia Commons


Roquebrune-Cap-Martin: a bit of History

Roquebrune from D6098 © Guy Lebègue - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

View of the perched village of Roquebrune from the D6098 road © Guy Lebègue – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The Roman times

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. The lords of Ventimiglia ruled Roquebrune in the 13th century.

The Grimaldi era and the French annexation

Charles Grimaldi of Monaco acquired the town in 1346 which 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 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.

Consequently, the House of Savoy ruled Roquebrune 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.

Then, 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 by Xilow (Public Domain)

Roquebrune by Xilow (Public Domain)

Interestingly, Roquebrune had become French for a limited time during the French Revolution and the First Empire and was included in the newly created Alpes Maritimes département. During a few years, the town was part of the Sanremo arrondissement, in present-day Italy.

A trendy resort on the French Riviera

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).

Cap Martin circa 1887

Cap Martin circa 1887

His writings praised the mild climate of Menton to tuberculosis sufferers. In fact, the doctor contributed to popularising Menton and neighbouring Roquebrune as upper-class winter holiday destinations. Aristocrats from European countries built many opulent villas on the Cap Martin peninsula.

Cap Martin Hotel


The perched village of Roquebrune

The hilltop village and Cap Martin are the two main attractions of Roquebrune.

The picturesque hilltop village

Rue de la fontaine © Unknown author - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Rue de la fontaine © Unknown author – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Perched above the peninsula of Cap Martin at an altitude of 300 metres above sea level, 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.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

In the old village @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

The narrow streets of the village

The Place des Deux Frères marks the entrance to the medieval village with a great view of the castle.

Take the streets of Rue Grimaldi, Rue Moncollet, Rue de la Fontaine and Rue du Château to get an idea of the picturesque site.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin old village @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin old village @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

These narrow streets, full of character, have the typical aspects of a medieval village. They are often covered, steeply sloping or stepped. Some are lined with local shops, especially art galleries, craft workshops and souvenir shops.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

Stepped street @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

For example, the Rue Moncollet is very curious and picturesque with its long, narrow, vaulted passages cut by stairs. The street is cut into the rock and the medieval houses along it have barred windows. They were the residences of the guests of the lordly court.

A relaxing place in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

A relaxing place in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

Roquebrune old street © Guerinf - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Roquebrune old street © Guerinf – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Roquebrune old street © Guerinf - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

A very old street © Guerinf – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Place William Ingram © Elena Tartaglione - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Place William Ingram near the castle’s entrance © Elena Tartaglione – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The Grimaldi castle

The first mention of the Grimaldi castle dates from 1157.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin - Place des Deux Frères and Castle © Unknown Author - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Place des Deux Frères and Castle © Unknown Author – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

However, Conrad I, Count of Ventimiglia, is said to have built the medieval fortress at the end of the 10th century to prevent the Saracens from re-establishing themselves in the region.

Thus, the keep is believed to be the oldest in France… or at least one of the oldest!

The current castle only retains a few elements from the 13th century when it was only a tower.

The Grimaldi Castle in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin © Leon petrosyan - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The Grimaldi Castle © Leon petrosyan – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The Grimaldis, masters of the castle

It passed into the hands of the Counts of Provence and then the Republic of Genoa. From 1395, it belonged to the Grimaldis for several centuries.

The Grimaldis made important additions, including the construction of a loggia around 1490… and introduced artillery into the defence.

Then, under Augustin Grimaldi, the castle of Roquebrune became a comfortable residence (circa 1528).

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin Castle © Guerinf - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

A room with a view! © Guerinf – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

In the 18th century, Honoré III increased the number of fire hydrants and raised the building by one floor.

From 1732 to 1787, further detailed improvements were made.

Then, William Ingram bought the fortress in 1911 and disfigured it to such an extent that the population demanded that he leave it!

On 1 December 1921, the Englishman donated it to the commune of Roquebrune.

The view from the castle
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and the castle © Leon petrosyan - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Roquebrune and the castle © Leon petrosyan – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The castle dominates the Cap Martin and the coast from Monaco to Menton from the top of its rock. It offers a splendid view of the old perched village and its terracotta tiled roofs.

The roofs, perched village of Roquebrune © Javier B - licence [CC BY 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The roofs, perched village of Roquebrune © Javier B – licence [CC BY 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Sainte-Marguerite church

With its colourful bell tower, the church of Sainte Marguerite is located in the heart of the medieval village of Roquebrune.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin Church © Unknown Author - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The portal of the Sainte-Marguerite church © Unknown Author – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

It is a former 13th-century chapel, enlarged in the 15th century and redesigned in the baroque style in the 17th century.

Inside there are several interesting decorative elements, including polychrome stucco. Two paintings by local artist Marc-Antoine Otto date from the 17th century: the Crucifixion and the Deploration of Christ. On the left-wing, there is a copy of Michelangelo’s ‘Last Judgement’, 54 times smaller than the original in the Sistine Chapel.

Inside Sainte Marguerite Church © Unknown Author - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Inside Sainte Marguerite Church © Unknown Author – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The thousand-year-old olive tree in the village.

Roquebrune is known for its thousand-year-old olive tree: l’Olivier millénaire.

The inhabitants consider it the oldest tree in France and even in Europe.

Roquebrune's thousand-year-old Olive tree. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Roquebrune’s thousand-year-old Olive tree. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

The specialists of the remarkable trees of France estimate that it is more than 2000 years old. Perhaps 2500 to 2800 years old. The tree would thus be contemporary with the birth of Jesus Christ!

It would also be much older than the venerable oak of Allouville in Normandy (800-1200 years old).

The tree appears as a group of large shoots whose roots gradually absorb the stones of the wall on which it grows. It reaches a circumference of 23.5 m and a height of 15 m.

Olive Tree, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin © Unknown Author - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The old olive tree of Roquebrune © Unknown Author – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

It still produces small black olives of the “pichoulina” variety.

At the beginning of the 20th century, its owners wanted to cut it down. The historian and minister Gabriel Hanotaux saved the olive tree by buying the land.

Then, on 4 October 2016, the olive tree was awarded the label “Remarkable Tree of France”.

Roquebrune's thousand-year-old Olive tree. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Roquebrune’s thousand-year-old Olive tree. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

The thousand-year-old olive tree is located to the east of the hilltop village, on the road to Menton that leads to the Saint-Roch chapel.


Cap Martin peninsula

Roquebrune-Cap Martin - Stock Photos from Cezary Wojtkowski - Shutterstock

Roquebrune-Cap Martin – Stock Photos from Cezary Wojtkowski – Shutterstock

The luxurious villas of Cap Martin

To the southeast of the perched village is the wooded peninsula of Cap Martin, covered with opulent Belle Époque villas.

You will see some of these villas as you walk along the coastal path:

  • E-1027 by the Irish architect Eilleen Gray (1924)
  • Villa Torre Clementina (1904)
  • Villa Cyrnos, built for the former Empress Eugenie (1892)
  • Cypris Villa (1904)
  • and Villa Aréthuse-Trianon (1893) which evokes the Petit Trianon of Versailles
Cap Martin. Villa Cypris. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Villa Cypris. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Villa Casa del Mare. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Villa Casa del Mare. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Villa, Cap Martin. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Villa, Cap Martin. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

The coastal path of Le Corbusier

The azure waters of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin are the backdrop for beautiful walks along the coastal path.

The coast of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

The coast of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

The Promenade Le Corbusier follows the contours of Cap Martin, from the buildings of Monaco to the Grand Hotel du Cap. The path is 7 km long and runs through secluded beaches, banks of mimosa and wind-bent pines.

Le Chemin des Douaniers

During the French Revolution, the customs administration decided to lay out a path along the Mediterranean coastline.

In 1791, the “chemin des douaniers” became operational between Les Saintes Maries de la Mer and Menton.

Since then, the path has become a pedestrian area along the Cap Martin coastline. Many personalities have walked along with it: emperors, empresses, but also smugglers and nowadays families and other sportsmen.

The sea at Roquebrune Cap Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

The sea at Roquebrune Cap Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

A walk along the coastal path

The Chemin des Douaniers allows you to follow the coast from Monaco to the tip of Cap Martin between the rocks eroded by the waves and the beautiful and luxurious properties.

Cap Martin © avu-edm - licence [CC BY 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Cap Martin © avu-edm – licence [CC BY 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Lush vegetation

One can admire splendid marine landscapes and particular vegetation. Indeed, there is a mixture of endemic species and exotic plants imported at the end of the 19th century for the gardens of the Cap Martin villas.

Orange tree in Cap Martin © Tangopaso - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Orange tree in Cap Martin © Tangopaso – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Cap Martin Le Corbusier track © Renek78 - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Promenade Le Corbusier © Renek78 – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin - Indian fig opuntia. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Indian fig opuntia, a native plant from Mexico. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin - Euphorbia characias. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Euphorbia characias. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin - Echium candicans. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Echium candicans. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

From Cabanons to villas and impressive footbridges

Along the path, you will discover the bust of the architect Le Corbusier and his famous cabanon, the villas of Cap Martin including the curious villa E1027, the Grand Hôtel du Cap, the Buse beach and the Golfe Bleu beach where paragliders land.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin - The Cabanon of Le Corbusier. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

The Cabanon of Le Corbusier. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Roquebrune from the Cap Martin. Photo: Tangopaso

View of the perched village of Roquebrune from Cap Martin. Photo: Tangopaso

The beach of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

The beach of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

And then, there is this impressive footbridge hung on the retaining wall of the railway.

Cap Martin - The footbridge hung on the retaining wall of the railway. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

The footbridge hung on the retaining wall of the railway. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

The footbridge hung on the retaining wall of the railway. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

The footbridge hung on the retaining wall of the railway. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Sometimes you come across small stairs to go down directly to the water’s edge.

Stairs that leads to the sea at Cap-Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

Stairs that leads to the sea at Cap-Martin @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

The coastal path Le Corbusier gets round the headland with stunning views to Monaco, Menton and the Italian Riviera.

Menton old town from Cap Martin © avu-edm - licence [CC BY 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton old town from Cap Martin © avu-edm – licence [CC BY 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The view of Monaco from Cap Martin. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

The view of Monaco from Cap Martin. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

How to access the coastal path

There are several ways to access the customs path:

  • the Pointe du Cap Martin (Avenue Winston Churchill),
  • the Avenue Virginie Hériot (sentier de la Dragonnière),
  • the Sentier Massolin,
  • the Avenue de la Gare (Cabbé district),
  • and the Avenue Princesse Grace at the border with the Principality of Monaco.

From Monaco to the Carnolès train station, you should allow half a day’s walk… or even longer to enjoy the beautiful scenery that awaits you!

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin - Stock Photos from M_Ilie - Shutterstock

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin – Stock Photos from M_Ilie – Shutterstock 

The Villa Lumone Mausoleum

Today, the monument is strangely located in the middle of a dense residential area in the north of Cape Martin.

The Lumone Mausoleum is a Roman funerary monument that was probably built in the 1st century AD. on the ancient Via Julia Augusta.

Lumone Mausoleum. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Lumone Mausoleum. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

This prestigious funerary monument illustrates the relationship between the city of the dead and the roads.

The monument was intended for a person of some importance. Its façade with three niches and the two floors belong to a funerary enclosure, two sides of which remain visible.

The enclosure was the boundary of a plot which was probably accessed from the rear.

The central frame of the upper level was decorated with an object applied to the masonry, probably an inscription commemorating the name and titles of the deceased.

The decoration and form are of a rare type known only in Ostia (Italy) in the first century.

The Olive tree park

At the heart of the Cap Martin plateau is a magnificent public park. It includes on the east side, the park of Cap Martin, symmetrical and tamed, like a French garden.

Wisteria in the Parc des oliviers. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Wisteria in the Parc des oliviers. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

The western part, more natural, contains olive trees several hundred years old. This is the magnificent Parc des oliviers (Olive tree Park) which the former owners donated to the municipality.

Parc des Olivier. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Parc des Olivier. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

The garden is also home to a number of contemporary sculptures and the celebrity alley. There are busts of personalities who have stayed in Roquebrune Cap Martin.

Finally, there is an area with games for children and a refreshment bar.

  • Main entrance: Avenue Paul-Doumer
  • Secondary entrance: Avenue Virginie-Hériot
  • Open every day from 9 am to 5 pm (from June to October, closing at 7 pm)

Find out more!

Have you been to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin? If so, what is your favourite place? Leave me a comment just below!

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and Menton @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and Menton @sergiopazzano78 via Twenty20

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English-French Vocabulary

(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
Cap Martin from Sainte-Agnes. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)

Cap Martin from Sainte-Agnes. Photo: Tangopaso (Public Domain)


 

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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