Sainte-Agnès: A Hidden Treasure in the Alpes-Maritimes, France

published September 18, 2017

Perfectly Provence is a Provence-based food, travel and lifestyle digital magazine.  J. Christina is honored to share historical discoveries while exploring Sainte-Agnès, France - a seemingly forgotten, lost in time village, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.

Sainte-Agnès, France is a perched medieval village, 10 kilometers inland from Menton, in the southeastern corner of the Cote d’Azur.  This rocky outcrop gracefully dangles at an altitude of 800 meters above the sea. Since 1997, this medieval village has been classified as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.  What’s more, this quaint village also boasts the title of “highest coastal village in Europe”. 
Scribbles and Smiles by J. Christina
Gracefully dangling Sainte Agnes
Reaching Sainte-Agnès is an exhilarating feat, driving up the steeply winding, precarious mountain road, where at every turn, you are welcomed with incredible views of this Provençal hilltop village. Once you’ve mastered this twisty road, reaching this jagged peak you’ll find this enchanting village offers tourists several atelier shops, arched pathways, and cobblestone streets beckoning to be explored. The village has a few terraced restaurants and vantage points, to enjoy the incredible view that spans east and west along the French Riviera coastline below and across the azure sea. 
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Luminary shop along the ancient cobblestone walkway           (©ScribblesandSmiles)

In this off-the-beaten path medieval village, there is an unexpected cosmopolitan surprise; we discovered de l'Espace Culture à Ste. Agnes - a cultural center building. The center exhibits significant historical works of archaeology, history, heritage, and artistic expression by local artisans. Here we are welcomed with a sneak preview, a gallery of images, by well-known local street photographers: Jilly Bennett and Philippe Chiodi.  Even in this small French commune, you will find incredible artistic talent flowing, all the while being recognized, honored, and celebrated.
Many scenic hilltop villages are centered around ancient churches, castle ruins, religious pilgrimages, and legends. Here we discovered a unique site, the Baroque Church of Notre Dame des Neiges (Our Lady of the Snow), dating from 1535, with its amazing bell tower and rooftops covered in glazed-enamel tiles. According to legend, this church was built in commemoration to Virgin Mary’s miracle of snowfall in August, 352AD, in Rome.  For those making the rugged pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain, the trail leads through Sainte-Agnès, and is easily recognizable with the metaphorical scalloped shell pointing the way.
As you weave your way along the rough, stone streets, and through the primitive passageways, heading south, you will find Fort Sainte-Agnès Museum. An original and fully equipped military bunker fortification, built in the 1930’s, it was part of the Maginot defense system, intended to deter an invasion by the Germans.
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Maginot defense system                    (google image)

Climbing even higher above the village, you will discover 9th century castle ruins and gardens, perfect for a day of exploring (and photo ops!). At this vantage point, you can also enjoy a panorama view of the Cote d’Azur, and see the defensive position that Sainte-Agnès occupied during World War II.
The Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, is one of the most diverse and beautiful areas in France. Like Sainte-Agnès, there are several ancient perched villages, seemingly forgotten, lost in time, just waiting for an intrepid traveler to discover its history.

Transportation: Zest Bus #10 from Menton– 22-25 passengers shuttle bus

J. Christina is the author and hobbyist photographer behind  Scribbles and Smiles, writing a personal travel blog from the Midwest. Christina (Christie) is married to John, a.k.a. Mr. Christie. Where Mr. Christie is right on-board with their travel jaunts around the world; sharing in their blogging endeavors. He supports, encourages, handles gadgetry and embraces the role of in-house editor - hence, their bespoke pen name, J. Christina.

J. Christina’s blogging journey began before the word blog was trending, writing about European travel destinations on share-sites, forums and online journals. After many years of intrepid travel, they thoughtfully opened their treasure-trove of European travelogues, artfully sharing with a worldwide audience. Intentionally sharing the joie de vivre through their words and images, so others can travel vicariously. J. Christina believes smiling with your eyes is a beautiful thing.

You can read their most recent dispatches from aboard an elegant European river ship, sharing the allure of Europe’s great rivers and their capital cities. Or, follow them through serendipitous discoveries in the Cote d’Azur, where J. Christina captures the essence of a perched medieval village.

J. Christina’s work has been featured on France Today, Bonjour Paris and The Good Life France.


France Property Magazine - Gorbio, France

 A nice retweet by France Property Magazine
Gorbio: A Perched Medieval Village in the Alpes-Maritimes 


Gorbio: A Perched Medieval Village in the Alpes-Maritimes

France Today is the leading website and print magazine for those interested in French travel destinations, food, and. culture.

Please to contribute this article to France Today on August 8, 2017                       
By J. Christina J.@ScribblesandSmiles
Scribbles and Smiles by J. Christina
                                                         Gorbio, France                                         Photo Credits: Jacques Dufrenoy

Gorbio, France is a perched medieval village, high-up above Menton, in the southeastern corner of the Côte d’Azur. This picturesque village seems to be perched atop a quiet little secret, hence it seems to be forgotten by tourists. As with other historic perched villages, Gorbio has an impressive view, 354 meters high above the Mediterranean Sea. 

On arriving in Gorbio you will see the main square, the Place de la République. It’s a traditional French village square, where people congregate to chat and exchange pleasantries over a café; this is a village where everyone knows everyone else. In this square, history is rich and runs deep, here we find a celebrated 300-year-old elm tree. It was planted in 1713, to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, returning the County of Nice back to the sovereignty of the Duke of Savoy.

With only 300 residents in the village of Gorbio, and 1000 total in the commune, it is an astonishing community of religious fêtes, festivals and celebrations. One is the Procession aux Limaces (Procession of Slugs), where after the olive harvest, snail shells are filled with olive oil and lit to illuminate the entire village on this night of festivities. It is where villagers celebrate the abundant olive harvest and await the processional through the village, led by the local Priest, all-the-while giving thanks to the Virgin Mary.

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Streets of Gorbio, France                          Photo  Credits: J. Christina

Gorbio tugs at your heart strings with its stunning views and medieval vaulted passageways that seem to lure you forward, for a closer peek inside. It’s a little storybook village with a beautiful history, lovely people, and the most charming maze of cobblestone lanes, and houses built from iconic stone, all festooned with flowers. Strolling the steep, winding stone paths of Gorbio is an authentic experience. It’s a lived-in village, seemingly unchanged from ancient times, where centuries old buildings and antiquities cascade throughout, i.e., the exotic fountain in the Place de la Mairie, built in 1882, and the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs de la Sainte Croix, built in 1445.

The village has a Michelin rated restaurant, Le Beau Séjour, owned by the Bracco family. The owners have captured the essence of French décor, in a canvas of French grey and linen white, creating a romantic ambience. The food is homemade with locally sourced ingredients, all composed from traditional recipes, such as rabbit, lamb and fish… along with the not-to-be missed apricot pie!

Truth is, there are many scattered hidden treasures along the Cote d’Azur: secluded hideaways, ancient ruins, and villages like Gorbio steeped in history. Discovering places serendipitously is the pleasure of travel.

Transportation: Zest Bus Line:   Bus 7 from Menton – shuttle bus- 22-25 passenger
Restaurant: Le Beau Séjour (cash only-March–October lunch only//July-August lunch & dinner-*closed every Wednesday)

J. Christina is a personal travel blogger, writer and amateur-hobbyist photographer at Scribbles and Smiles.  Living happily in the USA, married to John, aka, Mr. Christie.  J. Christina is our bespoke identity in the blogosphere.  Scribbles and Smiles by J. Christina is a  means for others to travel vicariously through our blog posts,  Instagram and Facebook.  J.Christina has contributed to Bonjour Paris,  FRANCE Today,  The Good Life France.


La Petite France: Strasbourg, Alsace Region, France

Welcome to Strasbourg, France! This is our fourth country on this month-long journey with J. Christina.  Currently, traveling along the Rhine and Moselle rivers with Uniworld, onboard the River Queen.  Strasbourg is the capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France, and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Strasbourg is located close to the border with Germany in the historic region of Alsace. We find the  Alsace region to be filled with impressive cities such as Strasbourg, Colmar and Mulhouse.

We arrive onboard Uniworld's River Queen, gliding in on the longest and most important river in Europe, the Rhine. Our ship sailed overnight from Speyer, Germany reaching Strasbourg on Thursday, June 22, 2017.  The Rhine river has huge economic activities, as it is indeed the most developed and active part in Europe with industries of all sectors. No other river in the world has so many old and famous cities along its banks: Basel, Switzerland, Strasbourg, France, along with Worms, Mainz and Cologne, Germany - to name a few.

We start in La Petite France the most picturesque district of old Strasbourg. Especially the Maison des Tanneurs, where fishermen, millers and tanners once lived and worked in this part of town. The magnificent half-timbered houses date from the 16th and 17th centuries, where sloping roofs open-out onto lofts, where animal hides were once dried. This district is filled with stylish wooden houses adorned with colorful flowers, gabled roofs, and chimneys - sometimes topped by stork nests.
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La Petite France - half-timbered houses along the historic canals
The city center, the Grande Île,  was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, the only time such an honor was placed on an entire city center.  Strasbourg is immersed in the Franco-German culture but has been in a tug-of-war throughout history. The city is a cross-cultural bridge for France and Germany, especially through the University of Strasbourg, currently the second largest in France. And where the Cathedral of Strasbourg is the second most visited after Notre-Dame in Paris.

Scribbles and Smiles by J Christina
View of La Petite France, Les Ponts Couverts and the Strasbourg Cathedral spire from Le Barrage Vauban


Speyer Cathedral, Helmut Kohl: Speyer, Germany

Speyer is a 2027-year-old city, along the banks of the Rhine river in southwest Germany, in the Rhineland-Palatinate state. The town is dominated by the Speyer Cathedral, which is named Imperial Cathedral of Speyer.  It is dedicated to St. Mary, patron saint of Speyer, and to St. Stephen.  In 1925, the cathedral was raised to a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 198l.
This is day nine of our European river cruise. Our Uniworld river ship arrived in Speyer on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 at 8:30a.m. Where we are met by Herman the German, our tour guide, for our half-day walking tour.  Herman shares historic information about his city. Telling us the city of Speyer was liberated by the Americans during WWII, and then became part of the French zone from 1944 to 1989.  Herman is old enough to recall seeing Charles De Gaulle lead the French troops through the city at the end of the World War II.


Charismatic Bernkastel-Kues, Germany

Bernkastel-Kues is an attractive little twin town in the Moselle Valley, halfway between Cochem and Trier, Germany.  In the early 20th century, Bernkastel on the right bank was merged with Kues on the left bank along the Moselle River.

Our river ship, the River Queen set sail from Trier, on Sunday June 18, 2017, at 1:00p.m. and arrived in Bernkastel, Germany at 9:00p.m. and will remain in port overnight. We began Monday, June 19, 2017, with a village walking tour. Our guide, Marita is the daughter of a winemaker and she lives in the town of Kues, which is directly across the Moselle River from Bernkastel.
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Looking across to Kues, Germany


Christ's Holy Tunic: Trier, Germany

Trier lies in a valley between low vine-covered hills of red sandstone in the west of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, near the border with Luxembourg and within the important Moselle wine region. Uniworld's River Queen  docked overnight  near Trier Harbor, along the head of the Moselle river.  Where we begin on Sunday, June 18, 2017, with a city tour of  historic Trier.

As the oldest city in Germany, Trier blends the old and new history together seamlessly with the Moselle river.     Trier was the largest Roman settlement north of the Alps, and had no less than six emperors ruling this Roman City.   Remnants of the old Roman city still stand, and is designated as a UNESCO protected site. Other Roman remnants are the Amphitheater, the Imperial Bath, and Porta Nigra (the Black Gate).

Scribbles and Smiles by J Christina
The Porta Nigra is a large Roman city gate in Trier, Germany. It is today the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps.
We start our visit at the Basilica of Constantine, one of two basilicas built by Emperor Constantine in 306AD.  This church was destroyed in WWII, as was 40% of Trier. The other basilica is St. Peter’s Cathedral - home of the Holy Tunic, a sacred relic donated by Constantine’s mother, St. Helena.

On Friday of Easter Week, in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI’s special envoy Cardinal Marc Ouellet, presided over a ceremony opening the pilgrimage to the Holy Tunic, preserved in the Cathedral of Trier in Germany. The relic, piously believed to be the ‘seamless garment’ worn by Christ at the Passion, was exposed for the veneration of the faithful, for only the fourth time in the last hundred years. According to legend, the Holy Tunic was brought to Trier – at the time when Gaul was the capital.

Notably another important fact, Trier is the birthplace of Karl Marx.
The Karl Marx House museum is a writer’s house museum in Trier. In 1818, Karl Marx, the father of modern socialism and communism, was born in the house. It is now a museum about Karl Marx's life and writings.

J. Christina is a personal travel blogger, writer and amateur-hobbyist photographer at Scribbles and Smiles.  Living happily in the USA, married to John, aka, Mr. Christie.  J. Christina is our bespoke identity in the blogosphere.  Scribbles and Smiles by J. Christina is a  means for others to travel vicariously through our blog posts,  Instagram and Facebook.  J.Christina has contributed to Bonjour Paris,  FRANCE Today,  The Good Life France.


The Grand Duchy: Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

The River Queen arrives in Trier, Germany at 1:00p.m. on Saturday, June 17, 2017 and will remain in dock overnight. Where we will visit Luxembourg American Cemetery and also a walking tour of Trier, Germany - birthplace of Karl Marx.

Luxembourg is officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and is a landlocked country in western Europe. It is bordered by Belgium to the west and north, Germany to the east, and France to the south. Its capital, Luxembourg City, is together with Brussels and Strasbourg one of the three official capitals of the European Union and the seat of the European Court of Justice, the highest juridical authority in the EU.

Scribbles and Smiles by J Christina
A grand duchy is a country or territory whose official head of state or ruler is a monarch bearing the title of grand duke or grand duchess.

Half-Timbered Houses, Castles and Cobble Stone Streets: Cochem, Germany

Our boutique river ship arrives in Cochem early on June 16, 2017, and we begin with an 8:15a.m. walking tour of the village of Cochem and a shuttle ride up to Reichsburg Castle.

Cochem is situated between Trier and Koblenz along the Moselle river. Few towns in Germany can match its charm with its picturesque beauty. Offering legends, folklore and a rich medieval history - woven into every curlicue street. Situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty surrounded by high elevations, steep vineyards and storybook wine villages.

Scribbles and Smiles by J Christina
view of the village of Cochem from the Moselle with the Reichsburg Castle on the hilltop @Flickr
Cochem boasts some of the most enchanting sights along the 250Km stretch of the Moselle River wine region. There are more than 4000 wine makers,  and a population of only 5800 - an area once settled by the Celts,  nearly 2500 years ago.


The German Corner: Koblenz, Germany

Uniworld's boutique river ship the River Queen sailed overnight from Cologne, Germany reaching Koblenz, Germany at 8:a.m on Thursday, June 15, 2017. We are docked within walking distance of  the heart of Koblenz.  We  begin the morning with a leisurely walking tour into the heart of Koblenz. Koblenz – Germany’s most beautiful corner. We are met by  Homeira, nicknamed Mira, our tour guide, who was born in Afghanistan.  Her family re-located to Germany when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, in 1979.

Scribbles and Smiles by J Christina
Monument  to Wilhelm the great, he was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 9 November 1918. He was the eldest grandchild of the British Queen Victoria.


Cologne Cathedral: Cologne Germany


Uniworld’s River Queen departed Amsterdam at 1:00p.m. on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.  To begin our 24-hours of sailing, gliding southbound, on the Rhine River. At about 6:00a.m. we pass Dusseldorf, Germany and reach our destination of Cologne, Germany at 12 noon, on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. From the ship's sundeck, we begin to see Cologne Cathedral -  where the twin spires soar 157meters high.

Our ship docks on the banks of the Rhine and within walking distance of all to see-and-do in Cologne. We begin with a  guided-walking tour of  Old Town Cologne and with a visit to the Cologne Cathedral. Also know as, the High Cathedral of St. Peter, an iconic landmark, along with a self-guided tour in the Museum Ludwig.  The cathedral, in 1996 was named a UNESCO world heritage site, retains many original treasures.

The cathedral suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs during the war. However, It did not collapse, but stood tall in an otherwise flattened city. The twin spires are said to have been used as an easily recognizable navigational landmark by Allied aircraft which may be a reason that the cathedral was not entirely destroyed.

Inside are the relics of the Magi in the reliquary and other sacred figures.  The bones of the Magi arrived, wrapped in first century Syrian silk.  King Otto placed gold crowns on the skulls of all three of the wise men.  Analysis has revealed that one skeleton is of an old man, one of middle-age, and the third of a young man.  And this coincides with legend, that the Magi were about ages 60-, 40-, and 20-years old.  The Star of Bethlehem is, understandably, an important motif in the Cathedral.
 Cologne Cathedral-High Cathedral of Saint Peter
Scribbles and Smiles by J Christina
On 15 August 1248 Archbishop Konrad Hochstaden laid the foundation stone for a new Cologne Cathedral

The Allure of European River Cruising

J. Christina has been asked many times about our cruises and we want to define what we believe describes this type of European boutique river cruise - that we and many others  enjoy. Our post represents our personal opinions, thoughts and comments about this unique river cruising experience and why we think it's so alluring to so many. While we use what we believe is the correct term -  river cruise ship.

Let’s start with what it is:   An elegantly designed boutique river cruise ship sailing on the great waterways and rivers in Europe. While offering luxury hotel-style accommodations and amenities, and some with décor reminiscent of the region. 
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Reception lobby onboard the River Queen
It is not:  An ocean-going vessel that offers casinos, all night buffets or Broadway productions on board, nor is it a small canal, towpath barge, that only travels a few miles in one country.

European river cruising allows travelers to embark on a one-of-a-kind, curated itinerary for the river traveler. Traveling in a unique style while stepping-off into the heart of great European cities, with ease, grace and anticipation.

Our firsthand experiences are from  cruising the many beautiful and enchanting rivers of Europe.  When vetting and designing our personalized European itinerary, we tick-off the boxes: educational, enriching, opportunity to meet other well-traveled individuals, while ending sightseeing days with regional meals and luxury accommodations. So far, we believe we have found these amenities in  European river cruising culture.
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Biking in Amsterdam
Itineraries transcend every age group, i.e.  families with children to the young-at-heart. Inclusive tours range from sightseeing at a gentle pace to full-out fitness and active adventures. Something for everyone.

European river cruising is often the mid-segment of our independently designed travels. We incorporate a variety of pre-and post-destinations to make crossing the Atlantic worthwhile, i.e. pre-Amsterdam and post-Switzerland and on to the Cote d'Azur.   In our case, European river cruising opens the passage for us to get from point A to point B..…effortlessly and refreshed to continue our extended travels.
Scribbles and Smiles by J Christina
Rijksmuseum Museum Gardens
Become a river cruiser with us today aboard #Uniworld's River Queen, as we glide along the riverscapes of historic cities making daily ports-of-call in Germany, Luxembourg, France, and reaching our final destination ashore in Basel, Switzerland.

*J. Christina is a personal travel blogger, writer and amateur-hobbyist photographer at Scribbles and Smiles.  Living happily in the USA, married to John, aka, Mr. Christie.  J. Christina is our bespoke identity in the blogosphere.  Scribbles and Smiles by J. Christina is a  means for others to travel vicariously through our blog posts,  Instagram and Facebook.  J.Christina has contributed to Bonjour Paris, FRANCE Magazine, and The Good Life France.