Classed amongst the most beautiful villages of France, Sainte-Agnès, at 780 metres altitude, is also the highest coastal village in all of Europe.
Its strategic position in the hinterland of Menton made Sainte-Agnès a stronghold in the 16th century. Later, during the Second World War, the Ouvrage Sainte Agnès - an extension of the Maginot Line hollowed out of the cliff – allowed for the region's defence against the Italian army. Today, this fort is a museum open to the public.
But let's not forget that Sainte-Agnès is first and foremost an old and very pretty Provençal village much cherished by its 1,169 inhabitants, mostly people who have recently moved to the countryside and bought and restored the old stone houses. But be warned: if you too are tempted by the old stone buildings, the beautiful landscapes and the breathtaking views, real estate prices have skyrocketed in recent years!
The hilltop village of Sainte Agnès in the Alpes Maritimes
The ruins of the castle of Sainte-Agnès
Despite that, Sainte-Agnès has kept all its authentic charm with its arched passageways and beautiful stone houses from the 15th and 18th century with their magnificent doors. Small and friendly restaurants, crafts shops and art galleries animate the village.
Hundreds of years ago the people of Sainte-Agnès built the present-day village around the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges church, built in the 16th century when the original site of the town at the top of the cliff was abandoned. You will recognize the church by its bell tower covered in enamelled tiles.
At the top of the rocky peak above the village only a few vestiges of the castle built in the 12th century remain. But the association “LesPeintres du Soleil” has created a medieval garden there and the site offers you incredible views over the bay of Menton and the Italian border.
The Ouvrage Sainte Agnès or Fortress of the Maginot Line, a veritable underground “village”, takes up a surface area of 2,000 m2 beneath 55 metres of rock. Comprised of an entry block, two artillery blocks, two infantry blocks and an observation block facing Italy, it could house between 300 and 400 men in complete autarky during three months. The well-documented museum offers a guided tour that let's the visitor discover the military installations.
Even more out of the ordinary, the Droukgon Djangchoub Ling, a centre for Tibetan-Buddhist Drukpa, is situated not far from the village.
Also to visit:
The St Sébastien Chapel and Culture and Tradition space with the “The Peintres du Soleil”, a group of contemporary artists, and the eco-museum “Temps Passé”.