Walking: France: Roya Valley: CHATEAU DE MALMORT

We read in the “Rando Pedestre” (Walking Guide) of the Roya Valley about the ruins of a chateau standing over the village of Saorge and we thought, why  not try it?

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We followed the entire circuit (in red) which the guide says 3.5 hours duration.

The map gives the impression that it is a cakewalk of a walk but lasting 3 1/2 hours, so we packed our rucksack with wine, food and two bottles of water (regretfully, it should have been “three”), drove the car towards  “428” (see map) and parked next to the signpost where it is written  “Chateau de Malmort”.

After only ten minutes traipsing on level ground, including a close encounter with a man-eating bulldog and traversing a derelict wooden bridge, we started our ascent to the mountain.

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When walking up or down steep mountain paths, a stick (here shown an improvised “a la Saint Peter’s” cane) is a must-have to give stability and hence, prevent you from falling.

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We noticed a huge number of fallen trees in this foresty mountain.  They have collapsed on their own because of some kind of disease that attacks their bases.

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From a twisty forest path, the ground gradually changes into a pure rocky surface.

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At midday, it was time to unpack our rucksack, laid the picnic cloth and started eating our lunch.  Sorry folks, the baguette was  already ravaged when I thought of the camera.  But the baguette paper bag will give you an idea.

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We seemed to be getting nearer the summit, the path was getting rougher and steeper.  I had to practically take a grip on the rocks like a rock-climber, but without the ropes and the gears.  There were patches of almost 80% inclining dirt tracks without anything to hold on to, and only after calling the angels in heaven and promising them that I am going to be good from that moment on, that I only found the courage to hold on H’s  “a-la- Saint- Peter’s” stick so he can tow me upwards!

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Err, this is not yet the summit, but we needed to do some photo ops

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This is a shot from the top of  a cliff.  The ground where I stood had been badly eroding.

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I took this photo to show how narrow the rocky path at that point, that at the slightest miscalculated movement we could fall tumbling down. Encircled is the tower of the chateau.

The Chateau de Malmort

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This fortified 13th century chateau played a big role at the time of the revolutionary wars. This feudal site stands over the valley of the Roya for almost 500 meters. 

Despite the almost impossible climb, it was very satisfying to see the ruins of the Chateau.  Sadly, it is continuing to crumble.  We can understand the authorities not pursuing any renovation plans as it would be a  gargantuan undertaking – financially and physically – to restore something that will benefit only a handful of walkers.

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The French flag made of (now rusty) aluminium painted with the tri-colours.

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The view from the chateau is fabulous. We could see the valley from beneath our feet particularly the villages of Fontan and Saorge.

 

After a considerable moment getting stumped in disbelief, wondering how the heck the people who lived in this Chateau fetched water, trekked down the valley to find food, went on with their daily tasks, communicated with the outside world below while almost completely isolated and geographically inaccessible from all sides, we left and followed the sign going down to the “Vallee de Cairos”.

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This is a ruin of what used to be an animal shed.

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Right at the summit, higher than the Chateau grounds, we stumble upon a flat ground comprising these structures (what are they?)

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Walkers! To protect the sheep against possible attacks from wolves, shepherds of this zone are equipped with dogs to protect the troupes. For your security and for the tranquility of animals,  please keep your distance from them.
If a dog approaches you, keep still. Don’t cry. Don’t throw rocks. After some time, the dog will (eventually) go away…

The way down was another two hours,  just as exhausting as the way up because a different group of leg muscles took another battering.  Our water was running low and we were drying up that as soon as I saw a miniscule waterfall in the forest, I practically laid on my stomach so I could  reach the trickling water.  “Wait until we get to the river!” H called out.  But there never was any trace of a river until another hour and  as soon as I saw the crystal clear raging water, i quickly stripped off my blouse (there was not a single soul in the vicinity) and with only my bra and jeans, took a big dip into the cold Roya (river) !  Whoah,  what an instant relief to my dehydrated body that was!  I swear I was at the edge of a heatstroke so despite the  freezing temperature, it was pure heaven to feel the water on my nearly steaming body.

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 A shot of the river where I laid like a disabled fish.

Epilogue:
Five hours of gruelling walk.  We went over our limits and  it nearly knocked us down.  We collapsed in bed as soon as we got back home, but the experience is one for the books.

We will definitely do it again…

Granile

It was the feast of St Anne last Saturday and there was dancing in the square at 10pm.  We wanted to go but knowing that this hamlet is 1,040 meters above sea level, driving there at night wouldn’t be a good idea.  Hence, we promised ourselves that we shall go the next day for some exploration.  That day of exploration happened  four days later….

Granile is described as the cutest hamlet in the Roya Valley.  We fully agree.

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This shrine of St Anne greets everyone who enters the hamlet from the main road.

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It was founded in the 10th century by the inhabitants of Saorge who were looking for land to cultivate.

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The onion dome of Chapel St Anne….the violet stone tiles…

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From last Saturday’s festivities, it’s time to clear up the caterer’s equipment

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Granile is well hidden in the mountains to protect it from brigands who used to haunt the valley in the olden days

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Notice the blue paint around doors and windows – it’s to prevent flies and mosquitoes from entering the house

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The wooden balconies are typical of the place

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The exterior staircases 

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Benches in public areas, to accommodate gossipers

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The public restroom is reached by a staircase

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In memory of their war heroes

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A terrace in the sky

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Despite the hamlet’s  isolation, walkers and visitors are welcome

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In the olden days, houses composed of several floors to accommodate a big family.  When the children got married and the parents died, parts of the house had to be sold hence the construction of exterior staircases to access the higher floors (that have been sold)

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I probably need a rope to support my climb on those steps….like Tarzan

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Footpath sign

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The festivity in honor of their patron saint is over.  Time to return the chairs…

Passing Airole

Last Saturday, to break our 2-hour trip to the builders’ warehouse in the Var (region), we prepared a generous picnic basket for an alfresco lunch in Airole.
You might ask, why the “2-hour” trip? Because about 60 kilometer radius from where we live (Monaco, Nice, Antibes, Cannes, among others), all the builders’ stores are a rip-off, charging a fortune to everything from rubber washers to water heater tanks to bathtubs. They regard everyone who lives in the south of France as rolling in money. We don’t.

Airole. It’s always a mindblowing experience to visit this ancient village hewn out of a rock perched above the Roya Valley.
The houses built inside caves and the dark and narrow labyrinthal passageways sort of put you into a trance and the deeper you probe,
an interesting corner or garden is waiting to surprise you. Surprisingly enough, this village is frequented by the Dutch and there is a modest number of Dutch residents here as indicated by the several cars with NL plates in all the parking lots that snake around the rock. A bar-cafe in the square is owned by a Dutch couple.

We saw on the noticeboard that it is the Festa del Turista day and some dancing and dining would be held that night. We were curious why they would celebrate a Tourist Festival but heck, this is just one of the summer festivals we are always scouting for and it to be in Italy is a bonus! So after our picnic, we quickly drove straight to the (poorer South of France residents’) builders’ warehouse promising ourselves that we shall return that evening…..

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Because the village is carved from a rocky hill, the only wider space to put up a football field
and a children’s playground is at the summit. We had our picnic in the park nearby.

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Exploring ancient villages is great for those looking for house decorating/renovating ideas.
This window gives the illusion that it has a “functioning” terrace

The dine and dance night

Arriving at the foot of Airole hill at 9pm, we were directed by two carabineri to a carpark 300 meters away.  No sweat really because a long and winding series of stone steps right infront of our parking spot gives direct access to the village on top.

As soon as we set foot in the village square, we were taken aback by a man’s voice uttering the word…..”ahl-LOR-ah ]…to a neighbour.  Gee, that really gave us the feeling that we were in Italian soil!  We love Italians speak.  They speak with charming power.  They speak as if they are singing in the opera! 

Note: Alora…is the Italian word for “OK” or “so”
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The festival was well attended by tourists and locals alike.

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There were no waiters nor waitresses to take orders.  To buy food, we had to join a long queue of 50 people towards this man.  “Fifty” was almost always constant due to continuous arrival of newcomers.  The flow of cash was concentrated on him.  He sold colour-coded tickets; one colour for drinks, another for the main dish i.e;; pasta with mussels or barbecue, still another for french fries, etc all food could be claimed in the outdoor kitchen; drinks at the bar.   

While everyone queued and dined, the 2-man band was playing lively music and people started dancing.

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The men are taken

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Too young to dance

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The Piazza

Concert in the monastery

Saorge, Valley de la Roya, France

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The 17th century Baroque-style monastery where we went for a free concert tonight
Called the Couvent des Franciscans monastery, it was built by the Franciscan monks who settled in the village in 1633.

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The trio who played the music of Beethoven, Brahms and Turina.
S says he was like floating in the air as he listened …I don’t blame him, I was sobbing myself!

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View from the monastery’s terrace – the village of Saorge

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Saorge is classed as one of the “40 most beautiful villages of France”.

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With a population of 400 and an altitude of 500meters above sea level, there are accommodations to be found like this gite or the French’s version of Bed and Breakfast

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The 15th-century, 7-story tall Lombardy-style bell tower of La Madone del Poggio church. The church was built by the Cistercian monks from the Lerin Islands who were in Saorge for 700 years.


The Madone del Poggio church is now private and not open for visits, except for one day in September, during the National Patrimony weekend where all historic monuments like her are open to the public. We have always been waiting for that day but we were always away…hopefully we get lucky this year!