FRANCE: The Grande Corniche (French Riviera)
Between Nice and Menton the mountains plunge sharply down to the sea. Running along these heights are three famous routes: the Grande Corniche, the Moyenne Corniche and the Basse Corniche. The first affords the most stunning views, climbing to 1,476ft/450m. The second offers beautiful vistas along the shore; while the third provides access to the coastal resorts.
The Grande Corniche from Menton to Nice; 19mi/31km. Allow 3hr.
The Grande Corniche, built by Napoleon along the route of the ancient Via Julia Augusta, passes through La Turbie (1,470ft/450m) above Monaco.
From Menton take ave. Carnot and ave. de la Madone (D 6007). Leaving the Moyenne Corniche on the left, the road (D 2564) runs above the town and Cap Martin. 437yd/400m after entering Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, take a sharp right onto a small road leading to the village.
Return to D 2564.
From nearly 1,000ft/300m above the sea, a marvellous view extends out over Bordighera Point, Menton and, immediately below, Monte Carlo Beach.
Farther inland is the Alpine Trophy.
The hilltop village of La Turbie (alt. 1,575ft/480m; population 3,155), built in a pass on the Grande Corniche, is most famous for its Alpine Trophy (see below), a masterpiece of Roman art.
When Caesar died, the Alps were occupied by unconquered tribes who posed a constant threat to communications between Rome and its possessions in Gaul and Spain. Augustus ended this threat by extending Roman rule into the region. In 6 BC the Senate and the Roman people commemorated the victory with the erection of the trophy on the Via Julia Augusta. (Only one other Roman trophy is still standing, in Romania).
On Avenue Charles-de-Gaulle is a 19C fountain, built at the end of a Roman aqueduct. Below, from the southwest corner of place Neuve, a fine view of the coast is obtained. Rue Comte-de-Cessole was once part of the Via Julia Augusta. Pass through the West Gate, climbing past medieval houses to the Trophy. A house on the right bears a plaque with verses Dante dedicated to La Turbie.
The 18C church (open daily 9am–6.30pm; 04 93 41 21 15) is a fine example of the Nice Baroque style, with paintings attributed to J-B Van Loo and Veronese (light switch in the chapel on the right).
Return to the rue de Cessole and climb to the top of the hill to take a look at the Trophy, then return towards rue Droite (also once part of the Via Julia), passing under the East Gate. Bring your camera to capture the great panorama of Monaco, the Italian Riviera, Èze and the heights of Mont Agel from the terraces here.
Trophée des Alpes
Open Tue–Sun mid-May–mid-Sept 9.30am–1pm, 2.30pm–6.30pm; late Sept–early May 10am–1.30pm, 2.30pm–5pm. 5P. 04 93 41 20 84. www.ville-la-turbie.fr.
The Alpine Trophy consisted of a circular Doric colonnade with niches for statues of the Roman generals who took part in the campaign to conquer the Alps. The base featured a long dedication to Augustus, whose statue probably stood on a small dome over the monument. In the Middle Ages it was converted into a fort, then served as a source of building stone, before being mined by Louis XIV. It has been partially restored to a height of 115ft/35m. The museum recounts the story of the Trophy and its restoration.
The Grande Corniche reveals distant views of Cap Ferrat, then of Èze village as the road reaches its highest point at 1,804ft/550m.
Alt. 1,680ft/512m. There is an extended view to the north over the mountains and valleys. Mont Bastide, on the left, was a Celto-Ligurian oppidum and a Roman camp.
On leaving Col d’Èze towards Nice, turn right up the road signed “Parc Départemental de la Grande Corniche-Astrorama”.
La Trinité. Open Jul–Aug Tue–Sat 7pm–11pm; Mar–Jun and Sept–Oct Fri– Sat 7pm–11pm. 9€ (6–25 years 7€). 04 93 85 85 58. www.astrorama.net.
After a series of hairpin bends, the road reaches a plateau, which is home to a former Feuillerins gun battery, now an astronomical research and observation centre.
Park at the foot of the Fort de la Revère (closed to the public).
Parc de la Revère
From the base of the fort there is a superb panorama over the whole Var coast as far as Italy.
1hr. Signed flora and geology nature trail.
Just 0.7mi/1.2km beyond the pass, opposite a small café extends a panorama of the Tête de Chien, Èze and the sea below, Cap Ferrat, Cap d’Antibes, the Iles de Lérins, the Esterel and the Alps.
Col des Quatre-Chemins
A short way beyond the pass (alt. 1,037ft/327m), one can see the Alps through an opening made by the Paillon Valley. Soon the road descends steeply, offering a wide view of the Pre-Alps, and then of Nice and the Cap d’Antibes. Enter Nice from the east by ave. des Diables-Bleus.
Menton: © Katja Kreder/John Warburton Lee/Photononstop
Roquebrune: © SIME/Gräfenhain Günter/Sime/Photononstop
Cap Martin: © Sergio Pitamitz/Flirt/Photononstop