The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

Posted by on in Provence-Côte d'Azur

Sainte Agnès: the highest coastal village in Europe

Sainte Agnès is a tiny little village located high on a ridge above Menton on the Côte d'Azur, only a couple of kilometres as the crow flies from both Italy and the coast.  It is known as the "highest coastal village in Europe" as it sits at just under 800m altitude while being practically on the sea. Owing to its strategic location it has some interesting fortifications including a medieval castle and more recent 20th century defences.  Naturally this all makes it a pretty spectacular place, both to look at and to look out of.

view of St Agnès near Menton Côte dAzur France

Come along with me as we visit Sainte Agnès, officially classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France.   This prestigious national award, les plus beaux villages de France, has been given to 155 communes across the country (out of a total of 32,000) for exceptional beauty, heritage, culture and history.  Another village with the title nearby is Gourdon.

drive to St Agnes

To get to Sainte Agnès you have to have your wits about you as it's a rather hair-raising 20 minute mountain drive up from the coast.  The road is narrow and winding, with steep drops sometimes without any protective barriers.  

two way road to St Agnes

You pass through several tunnels on this two way road (it is NOT one way despite the rather alarmingly narrow width you see here in these photos).

tunnel road to St Agnes

We followed a cyclist up; hats off to him!  Not for the faint hearted.

bike ride to St Agnes

You feel like you're on top of the world with magnificent views down to the Mediterranean and across the mountains.  In the photo below you can see Menton and the A8 motorway.

looking down at Menton

When you arrive in Sainte Agnès there are a couple of car parks, one of which is next to a rather ugly concrete structure which I initially thought was some sort of very unsypathetically constructed water tank. But it turns out its a bunker built in the 1930s as part of the Maginot Line defences, a line of fortifications, weapons installations and obstacles along many of France's borders designed to protect the country from the menace of Fascism.  This historical fort which descends 4 storeys down into the rock can be visited at weekends during winter and every day in the summer months.  

maginot line

For more information including times, tarifs and hours of the Maginot Fort click here.  Having parked the car we wandered into the village.  Every commune in France no matter how small has a mairie/hôtel de ville (town hall) and Sainte Agnès (population around 1200) is of course no excception.

St Agnes mairie

We visited on a beautiful day in November and practically had the village to ourselves.  Everything was closed except one small café.

St Agnes street

The village consists of narrow, steep cobbled alleyways which occasionally cut through vaulted passages like the one in the photo below.  There's no car access and it would be difficut to push a pram/buggy around.  I can't imagine how anyone with any mobility issues could live here, but then that's the case with all the perched hill top villages in the area.

covered street

We visited on a gorgeously sunny day but even so in November these narrow paths don't get much sunlight; lovely and cool in the summer, but just plain dark and damp in winter.  I love visiting places like this but I can't imagine living here.

JF in St Agnes

You can see from the church clock that it's just gone half past twelve and yet the shadows are deep and long.

St Agnes church

We stumbled across this little bookcase full of books to swap and borrow.  Such a great idea.

sharing library St Agnes

And finally came across the only open café, in a rare sunny spot, which we didn't eat at as we had other plans!

café in St Agnes

This auberge looked charming, but it was closed.

St Agnes lane

Up and down we strolled....

St Agnes alley

This restaurant has an amazing view...when it's open!

restaurant with view St Agnes

The inhabitants of these hill villages always decorate their doorways and tiny little patches of street with plants and flowers.

St Agnès steps

We discovered an activity for children to help make the most of their visit to the village.  It appeared to be a sort of treasure hunt with questions and enigmas in French, English and Italian to work out.  As JF and I were sans enfants we didn't pay too much attention but apparently it's available at the tourist office.  Along with the lending library, another great initiative; Sainte Agnès seemed to have some pretty smart ideas.

game for kids

Having exhausted the labyrinth of alleys it was time to head up the steps behind the village towards the medieval gardens and château.  You can see some pretty wiggly roads in the photo below.

steps up to castle

The steps took us up above the village rooftops.  From here you can see just how squashed in and narrow the place is.

St Agnes roofs

We climbed high above the houses until we reached the medieval gardens with wonderful lookout points.

castle of St Agnes

The village of Sainte Agnès may be on the list of officially beautiful places, and there's no doubt it's attractive, but I think many other local hill villages are prettier.  What does make Sainte Agnès stand out however is its surprising gardens located above the village just below the ruined castle.  

medieval gardens St Agnes

These gardens seem to defy nature.  They are planted to invoke the 5 senses with a variety of medicinal herbs, flowers, fruit trees and a vine, all clinging to the side of a mountain and dating back to medieval times. Devising the watering system must have been a challenge, Menton is after all the place in France with the most sunny days a year.

Mediterranean from St Agnes castle

As I mentioned before, we visited in November which obviously wasn't the time to see the gardens at their best, but despite the approaching winter, they were still very attractive.  And the views were truly wonderful.

St Agnes to Menton

Perhaps not ideal for those with a fear of heights - the vertiginous drops over the side of the steps were impressive - but for those with a strong constitution, the gardens in Sainte Agnes are free to visit and maintained by volunteers, and an absolute delight to experience.

steps in St Agnes

The castle, perched even higher still, is in ruins and you explore at your own risk.  The oldest parts of it date from the end of the 10th century and owing to its strategic position has played an important role in defending various marauders over the years.

château St Agnes

Despite such warnings of danger I felt the most safe at the very top as there's a decent height solid stone wall all around the lookout.  There are also panoramic maps pointing out places of interest in the 360° views.

top of castle St Agnes

The photo below shows the castle from above.

château St Agnès Menton

Finally as we drove away from Sainte Agnès we had one last look back at the pretty village sitting under its ancient château and marvelled at its perilous location.  However did they build these places high up on mountain tops hundreds of years ago?  It's really quite a thought.

St Agnes with castle

If you'd like to find more hilltop villages to visit in the Côte d'Azur back country or get ideas on how to make visiting these places with children fun, do take a look at these previous posts I've written.

13 of the best hill villages near Nice

Visiting hill villages with children

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Sainte Agnès highest coastal village in Europe

 

 

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Comments

  • Guest
    Ryszard mercredi, 01 novembre 2017

    Especialy when you ride from Col de la Madone. Fantastic views. Got it this October.

  • Guest
    Tony mercredi, 26 juillet 2017

    What more can one wish for. Gourdon is beautiful as well. Lovely photos of Sainte Angnès!

  • Guest
    Ersatz Expat mercredi, 14 décembre 2016

    What a beautiful, beautiful place, the gardens, the view, those lovely winding alleys. You have just given me another reason to want to return to the South of France

  • Guest
    Jonny (daisythebus) jeudi, 08 décembre 2016

    Wow! Even in November this village oozes Mediterranean charm. But I can't stop thinking: where do the children of the village play? There must be a thousand lost footballs somewhere near the A8...
    Stunning - thanks! #AllAboutFrance and #TravelAtHome

  • Guest
    Nadine vendredi, 02 décembre 2016

    Oh my goodness - they may have dark alleyways, but those views are amazing!! I was just saying to my husband the other day that I wanted to find some cliff-side villages to explore - everything is quite flat around where we are!

  • Guest
    Phoebe samedi, 03 décembre 2016

    We have the opposite landscape here, everything is so hilly and steep, sometimes I wish for flat (particularly for cycling!)

  • Guest
    Nichola - Globalmouse jeudi, 17 novembre 2016

    Those mountain roads scare me so much but wow, what a beautiful place....calm, picturesque and just gorgeous.

  • Guest
    Phoebe samedi, 03 décembre 2016

    The roads are alarming but you have to get used to them living around here or you wouldn't go anywhere!

  • Guest
    Julie mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    What an incredible place- the views are amazing & the November 'cornflower-blue' sky just makes me smile. My youngest would love it I think as not only does it have some WW2 history to tempt him, but he could cycle there too! I must add it to the list of places to visit!

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    Book yourselves a little trip to Lou Messugo. We must only be about 2 hours apart Julie!

  • Guest
    Paulita lundi, 14 novembre 2016

    November seems the perfect time to visit. That sky and the scenery were amazing.

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    It's a lovely month here usually. Blue skies and no people. Perfect!

  • Guest
    Girl Gone Gallic lundi, 14 novembre 2016

    I had vertigo just looking at those photos! Breathtaking...

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    Don't look down!

  • Guest
    Kimberly dimanche, 13 novembre 2016

    I love the small little villages of the Cote d'Azure. So charming. I too wondered what it would be like to live in such a small place. I enjoyed the tour around. Bises, Kimberly #allaboutfrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    Thanks Kimberley :)

  • Guest
    Elizabeth (Wander Mum) dimanche, 13 novembre 2016

    I often wonder how on earth they built such places without the luxury of modern machinery. Thanks for the tour around this town Phoebe. It certainly is very pretty and the fort is very intriguing. Those views...wow! Thanks for hosting #allaboutfrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    I always wonder that in these places too ELizabeth. Such dedication and hard work.

  • Guest
    Jill dimanche, 13 novembre 2016

    Wow, just stunning...but soothing at the same time. What an incredible spot. It looks like you had the place to yourself.

    I haven't been here, but it seems like a place I'd love to take my children -- an imagination sparker for sure. Thanks for sharing this and for #AllAboutFrance. I learn so much from the stories here, and the pictures bring me into new places. Cheers to you!

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    I'm pleased you enjoy the linky Jill. We pretty much did have the place to ourselves, I think we saw one other couple.

  • Guest
    JanetT dimanche, 13 novembre 2016

    That is breathtaking, I love your photos. I would be very nervous on that road but I agree, just lovely to visit although I wouldn't want to live there. Too steep!

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    Thanks Janet.

  • Guest
    Diane samedi, 12 novembre 2016

    Lovely pics! That mountain drive reminds me of Corsica. Just don't look down. Yikes!

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    Yes there are similarities, it's very steep around here.

  • Guest
    Janelle Gould samedi, 12 novembre 2016

    Thanks so much for sharing Sainte Agnès with us Phoebe. We've visited a couple of other villages on the list of most beautiful villages in France and have found them completely charming. We'll definitely have to check out Sainte Agnès one day! #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    Let me know when you come, and perhaps you can stay at Lou Messugo!

  • Guest
    CatherineRose samedi, 12 novembre 2016

    Wow! It's beautiful! I can't believe that tiny stone tunnel is two-way!

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    I know! You have to bimp hard on the horn before going in .

  • Guest
    FrenchVillage Jacqui vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    Gorgeous, but I hope my husband doesn't see this, he will want to visit - by bike!

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    I hope he does Jacqui as maybe we'd finally meet if he wanted to visit!

  • Guest
    Sonia vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    Absolutely beautiful photos of a stunning place x

  • Guest
    Phoebe mardi, 15 novembre 2016

    Thanks Sonia :)

  • Guest
    Becky Brown vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    Looks like such a pretty place. I love visiting places out of season, you really get to see so much more without all the crowds there. We have a village near us that has a little book swap/borrow case. It's such a lovely thing to stumble across in a village!

  • Guest
    Harriet Springbett vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    Once again you've convinced me that I must travel down to the south of France. This village looks too perfect to be true - do people actually live there? Would you recommend the October holidays for a visit? We hate being feeling like tourists... #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    Hi Harriet, yes there's a permanent population living here! Are you limited to school holidays? In which case I would recommend the Toussaint holidays but if you're free to choose any time then I'd go for late September. Early spring (late Feb-March) can also be lovely with mimosa out. May is gorgeous but tends to be busy on the Côte d'Azur.

  • Guest
    Jennifer (aka Dr. J) vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    Thanks for taking us off the beaten path for this village walk. Makes me really want to visit this part of the world. Thanks again for the inspiring post!

  • Guest
    Phoebe vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    Come on over Dr J! You'd always be very welcome to stay at Lou Messugo!

  • Guest
    Richard Alexander jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    Phoebe -- I've been visiting and writing about some of les plus beaux villages, too, but hadn't come across this one. (It's incredible how isolated many of them are -- but as you make clear in this post, they're always worth the trip.) As always, your photos are beautifully evocative and make me want to visit Saint Agnes as soon as possible!

  • Guest
    Phoebe vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    Thank you for your lovely words Richard. I adore seeking out unusual places like this, we are so lucky to live in an area with such a rich history.

  • Guest
    Margo Lestz jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    Very interesting! I've wanted to visit the Maginot Line for quite some time, but since I don't really like heights or stairs, I don't think this town is for me. :-)

  • Guest
    Phoebe vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    As long as you can overcome the drive up Margo (close your eyes and let someone else drive you?) then you could visit the bunker as it isn't in a vertiginous spot (though I guess there must be stairs inside down the 4 levels).

  • Guest
    Erin Gustafson jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    I am drawn to places on perches but then almost ALWAYS feel my fear of heights creep in. That road alone would probably stress me. But then I'd still do it! I love the views of the water from the top. Beautiful. #AllAboutFrance Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  • Guest
    Phoebe vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    Living here you have to get used to roads like this or you'd never venture out. I've been here nearly 10 years and still find them alarming but it doesn't stop me exploring.

  • Guest
    Susie Kelly jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    What a picturesque village. Long way from the shops, though.

    I didn't realise the Maginot Line stretched that far. Least said about it the better. :)

  • Guest
    Phoebe vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    Ste Agnès is practically in Italy so this bit of the Maginot Line was built to keep out Mussolini. You're right, it IS a long way to the shops!

  • Guest
    Vanessa jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    What a fabulous place! And terrific views. Your photos give a really good flavour of it. I'd never actually heard of the place, but it looks as if you could jump right into the sea from there. Thanks for this tour around a special village.

  • Guest
    Phoebe vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    It's only a tiny place, I doubt anyone from out of the area has heard of it but its location right next to the sea is pretty amazing

  • Guest
    ema jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    wow! Stunning shots and what an amazing looking place.

  • Guest
    Phoebe vendredi, 11 novembre 2016

    Isn't it just!

  • Guest
    Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles) jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    From Montenegro to France, you always seem to find the place that's at the top of the mountain, Phoebe! I love the look of this pretty village and really enjoying exploring a place out of season. Thanks for taking me on a tour for #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    Ha ha Clare, wait till I write about our trip to the mountains in Vietnam, makes those 2 look like child's play!

  • Guest
    Nell (PigeonPairandMe) jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    Oh my word - stunning! I can't believe these pictures are from November - the light is so clear and piercing. I'd be a wreck at the end of the drive to the top, though. We went somewhere similar in Spain and I was terrified.

  • Guest
    Phoebe jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    The light is always amazing in the south of France, winter included. You get used to roads like this when you live here as using them is a regular occurrence!

  • Guest
    Emily jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    That looks absolutely beautiful. I love high places. And the road looks like something out of the Italian Job. Another place on my list (sigh).

  • Guest
    Phoebe jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    The never-ending list! High places are good, I agree!

  • Guest
    Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    How beautiful but I am not sure, like you say, that it is somewhere I would like to spend my whole life. I am guessing if you did live there, though, you'd be pretty fit. I was reading about the Maginot Line in a magazine article on Vichy France just last night. Let us hope that no more walls of this type ever need to be built #sigh
    #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    Walls...very topical, how sad.

  • Guest
    annette charlton jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    Oh Wow that bike rider impresses me. I dream of being able to ride incredible roads like that one day. For the moment my rides are much more tame. Your photos are stunning with my favourite being the Thé et Crépes café with the blue chairs. #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    I could never ride such a steep road Annette, I dream of cycling in the Netherlands!

  • Guest
    Carolyne jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    Hi Phoebe: I have just added this village to my long list of "must visit" places

  • Guest
    Phoebe jeudi, 10 novembre 2016

    That list is getting long Carolyne!

  • Guest
    Kate Williams mercredi, 09 novembre 2016

    Oh it looks gorgeous! I'm not sure I'd fancy the drive up there though!

  • Guest
    Phoebe mercredi, 09 novembre 2016

    The drive was pretty hairy but you get used to it living here!

  • Guest
    Cass mardi, 08 novembre 2016

    What a beautiful place - imagine living there and having that view every day x x

  • Guest
    Phoebe mercredi, 09 novembre 2016

    Great view but imagine having to drive up there regularly!

  • Guest
    Sarah lundi, 07 novembre 2016

    What views - love them - but what a drive! I wouldn't be that cyclist....
    Seriously though it looks a gorgeous place to discover and those gardens look a treat too.

  • Guest
    Phoebe mercredi, 09 novembre 2016

    I'd like to go back in spring to see the gardens in bloom.

  • Guest
    Kelli jeudi, 27 octobre 2016

    What a breathtaking and beautiful post. Thanks for sharing. I wish I was there!

  • Guest
    Phoebe samedi, 05 novembre 2016

    Thanks for your lovely comment Kelli

  • Guest
    Mary Ann mercredi, 26 octobre 2016

    Charming. Thanks for sharing the photos!!

  • Guest
    Phoebe samedi, 05 novembre 2016

    My pleasure Mary Ann

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Guest mardi, 19 juin 2018

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