Sainte-Agnès, French Riviera

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Perched on the flank of a mountain high above the town of Menton and the Mediterranean sea, Sainte-Agnès is claimed to be the highest coastal village in Europe. From there, the panoramic view over the French Riviera from the Italian border right to Roquebrune-Cap Martin is breathtaking. It is estimated that over 50,000 tourists come up each year to Sainte-Agnès, recently labelled “One of France’s most beautiful villages“.


Situation of Sainte-Agnès

Sainte-Agnès lies 11kms (7 miles) of Menton at an altitude of 800 m above sea level. The village is accessible by the D22, a narrow winding mountain road from Menton.

People are attracted by Sainte-Agnès for its fantastic position which dominates Menton and Roquebrune-Cap Martin. The French motorway A8 is clearly visible crisscrossing the outback of Menton through a series of viaducts and tunnels.

Great walks in the mountains can be started from Sainte-Agnès, including a two/three hour climb to the Pic de Baudon (1,264m), where one is rewarded with stunning views.

Menton viewed from Sainte-Agnès:

Roquebrune-Cap Martin viewed from Sainte-Agnès:

A general view of the perched village of Sainte-Agnès:


A bit of History

Legend has it that Sainte-Agnès was founded by a Saracen prince named Haroun who had fallen in love with a local maid.

Another story tells of an Italian princess on a journey who would have found refuge in a village’s cave while trying to avoid a violent storm.

The envious and strategic location of Sainte-Agnès overlooking the Mediterranean coastline was coveted by the counts of Ventimiglia, the counts of Provence, the House of Savoy and the Grimaldis. Unlike Menton, Sainte-Agnès belonged to the County of Nice.

Alongside Nice and its county, Sainte-Agnès was annexed to France in 1860 following a referendum on the matter.


The Village

The centre of the village is made up of picturesque stepped cobblestone streets – some with arched passages – which date back to medieval times. Craftsmen stores, artists workshops, restaurants and cafés are lined on the old streets in well-restored houses from the 15th and 16th centuries.

The Baroque Notre-Dame-des-Neiges church, dating from 1535 and 1744 is quite remarkable with its bell tower covered with glazed tiles.

The inside of the church:

A vaulted passageway in the old village:

Rue des Sarrasins:


The castle

Set above the village atop a jagged peak are the ruins of the feudal castle which once was a retreat from the Saracen invaders. The castle was built around 1180 but its foundation could date from the end of the 10th century.

The fortress was partially dismantled by order of Louis XIV to put down the rebellion of the neighbouring village of Peille. The defensive interest of the castle was again used during the War of Austrian Succession from 1744 to 1749.

At the base of the castle’s ramparts is a medieval garden laid out and maintained by the association “Peintres du Soleil” which offers a stunning panorama over the Mediterranean Sea.


The Maginot Line Fort

A fort built deep into the rock in the 1930s was the southernmost point of the Maginot Line’s Alpine extension. The concrete bunker (Ouvrage de Sainte-Agnès) was made to defend the Bay of Menton from an invasion coming from Italy.

In 1940 it only served fifteen days but had enough firepower to defend itself against Italian fighters.

The fort is open to public visits in summer.


English-French Vocabulary

(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs

  • annexation = annexion (f)
  • castle = château (m)
  • count = comte (m)
  • county = comté (m)
  • feudal castle = château féodal (m)
  • fort = fort (m)
  • French Riviera = Côte d’Azur (f)
  • House of Savoy = Maison de Savoie (f)
  • Italy = Italie (f)
  • Maginot Line = Ligne Maginot (f)
  • Mediterranean Sea = Mer Méditerranée (f)
  • mountain = montagne (f)
  • panorama = panorama (m)
  • perched village = village perché (m)
  • Saracen = Sarrasin (m) / Sarrasine (f)
  • viewpoint = point de vue (m)
  • village = village (m)

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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. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French 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.

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