Of all the historic villages we were fortunate enough to explore while at our Nice housesit this past spring Haut-de-Cagnes is our favourite.
It did not matter that we arrived on a day when the Grimaldi Castle Museum (above) was closed. Recognizing the name we learned later it was built around 1300 to protect the town from outside attack by Rainier Grimaldi, an ancestor of Albert II, Prince of Monaco.
|Close up of Grimaldi Castle Museum|
Having the streets to ourselves we inhaled the ambiance and appeal of Haut-de-Cagnes and immediately fell under its charm. Unlike so many other Cote d'Azur towns that have become tourist destinations due to the majority of inhabitants having vacated the old towns and buildings for more modern abodes elsewhere, Haut-de-Cagnes remains a thriving community of 650 permanent residents. And oh, what a village it is!
The shops next to the main square were also closed. Nonetheless, we did a little window shopping, and then turned our attention to the spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
Leaving the main square we headed through the archway below...
...that provides passage to the village proper - or at least a portion of it.
While I was taking the photo of John (above) he was taking a snapshot of the doorway. We both assumed it was the entrance to a shop because the front door was wide open and the window display was so appealing. I took one step over the threshold and stopped in my tracks when I heard the clatter of plates and cutlery and what sounded like a private conversation. I realized those inside were eating lunch and that perhaps the door was open simply for ventilation. Somewhat embarrassed I quickly retreated and still have no idea whether this is a shop or home. Either way, the exterior is stunning - and oh, so welcoming!
The fun thing about hilltop medieval villages is that it is practically impossible to get lost - and even if you do there is always something wonderful to discover and admire along the way.
Some times it the big things such as a view of the Med.
Other times it's a grouping such as these gorgeous potted plants arranged outside the entrances of private homes.
And then there are those splendid artistic touches that speak to the soul.
It's no surprise so many artists, authors and actors have fallen in love with Haut-de-Cagnes. An appreciation for all things creative can only thrive and flourish in such an inspiring environment as evident via those who make this place their home.
A sculpture, trellis of roses...even a bicycle leaned casually against a wall, and voila the casual result screams ART! They understand art is not restricted to a select few. It need not be displayed in a NY, London or Paris gallery. It is meant to be enjoyed on a daily basis by artists and non-artists alike.
I was so taken with it that I made a short 360° video. (To view it on YouTube click this link: https://youtu.be/c09v-T2sKq8.)
Looking for a place to call home? The building on the right is for sale.
I peered in the window...and yes, I could live here. Just look at that incredible view out the living room window!
There has been a great deal of scientific pondering why the French have fewer health problems than North Americans. I have a theory. They eat natural, unprocessed food, drink copious amounts of wine, enjoy an incredible climate AND they walk, walk, walk. With steep inclines like this who needs a gym membership?
Speaking of good health, we met a man who graciously offered to show us inside the public laundry facilities when he noticed me taking a photograph of the exterior.
He flung wide the door and with a sweeping gesture ushered us inside. He remembers coming here as a young boy while his mother did the family's weekly wash.
As his mother scrubbed and rinsed the clothes she chatted with her neighbours and likely caught up on the neighbourhood gossip. Meanwhile, the children played in and around the lavoir.
He also mentioned his father owned and operated a bakery in the building across the street. And like his father and grandfather before him this man has lived in Haut-de-Cagnes his entire life. With a wide grin he admitted he had no desire to live anywhere else. Having more than a few nomadic tendencies, I envy that sense of place and time.
More stories were shared as he walked back home. During WWII the building was used as a bomb shelter and while the bakery is no more the stone wood fired oven is still inside - and very much operable. He apologized for not having the keys on his person - otherwise he would have taken us inside.
We continued walking alongside him to the end of the street...
...and were rewarded with this view. It gives some idea of the elevation. It also reinforces my theory of why the French are so healthy. Speaking of, we estimated this man to be around our age. Imagine our surprise when he announced he was 80!
We thanked him for the tour, bade him adieu and continued on our way. This covered passageway connects a higher street with a lower one.
|Looking back through the passageway|
And as you head down one set you're certain you'll soon be climbing back up another. Not that one minds. There is so much to see.
Every minute detail of this village brought countless smiles to our faces and it was a privilege to explore its nooks and crannies while we snapped photographs galore. So many photos in fact that the remainder will be featured in a second blog post. Stay tuned for Haut-de-Cagnes: Part 2.
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