The Old Smuggle Routes – Nice – Savoy – Piemonte – Genova

Once again it was 34°C in the shade in Nice today, so my wife and I decided to go to the mountains.

The Tinée river

30 kilometers from Nice

Nice and cold. No place to bring your dog, though. The water is white and wild. The river would take him miles downstream.

Bye bye Boris! See you in the Bay of Angels! (OMFG!)

Let’s go see the mountains where this river comes from.

We’re heading north, and we have arrived in Réserve de Chasse du Mercantour, where the Italian royalty used to hunt, even after 1860, when the region became French. (See below.)

Mercantour National Park is one of the nine national parks of France. Since it was created in 1979, the Mercantour Park has proven popular, with 800,000 visitors every year enjoying the 600 km of marked footpaths and visiting its villages.

The protected area covers some 685 km², consisting of a central uninhabited zone comprising seven valleys – Roya, Bévéra, Vésubie, Tinée, Haut Var/Cians (in the Alpes-Maritimes) plus Verdon and Ubaye (in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) – and a peripheral zone comprising 28 villages. Many of them are perched villages, concealing great architectural riches (numerous churches decorated with murals and altar pieces by primitive Niçois painters). More than 150 rural sites are located within the Park. Around Mont Bégo there are petroglyphs pecked out on schist and granite faces. They have been dated from the late Neolithic and Bronze Ages.

Town hall/school of Isola.

One source of the river, near Génissene de Verps.

Isola 2000, an artificial wintersport resort.

We’re reaching higher grounds, smugglers area, between Savoy and Piemonte.

150-200 years ago smuggling was a dangerous profession and bloody hard work. Nothing compared to swallowing some condoms with cocaine, getting your ass on a plane, and hoping you’re not getting caught. Man, that’s peanuts!

You had to outsmart His Majesty’s Customs. If they were looking for you on mountain A, you had to take a detour via mountain B. Three more days!

Higher up there’s less vegetation, so less hiding places.

We’re almost on the border between France and Italy, high in the Alpes Maritimes.

We’re here! Colla della Lombarda! 2350 meter; 350 meter higher than Isola 2000.

The lakes here are ice cold.

We saw a marmot coming from the lake, trying to hide under a rock.

Walkers may also glimpse a chamois, several thousand of which live in the park.

There is a tremendous variety of wildlife in the Mercantour: stags and roebucks in the undergrowth, hares and wild boars, partridges, eagles and buzzards, numerous species of butterflies and even a few Italian Wolves (which migrated there at the beginning of the nineties). A Wolves Centre welcomes visitors in Saint-Martin-Vésubie.

What a country!

It’s nice and cool up here, almost cold if you’re used to the Niçoise climate.

The old customs office near Colla della Lombarda. When the European Union was established, this building was destroyed, to keep squatters from doing naughty things there, like enjoying life, enjoying nature, etc. Don’t forget, Italy is still a Catholic country.

The fortress of Vinadio, built for King Charles Albert of Piedmont, Savoy and Sardinia. It was a military masterpiece, but it was never used as a stronghold. Charles Albert abdicated after a major fuck-up and passed the scepter to his son Victor Emmanuel II, who bargained away Nice and Savoy to Napoleon III, to become the first king of Italy.

We decided to take a different road home: from Cuneo to Nice via Ventimiglia. This is the route of the first railroad in this area (the Roya Valley).

The Cuneo-Ventimiglia-Nice line was built in 1851 when the Savoy Government decided to connect Piedmont with the Ligurian littoral and the rich Provence. The railway was completed in 1928. In WWII it was severely damaged and in part destroyed, and out of use for many years.

In 1979 the restoration was completed and the line was reopened.

The Upper Roya Valley (along with the Tinée and Vésubie valleys) became a part of France on 12 October 1947. The County of Nice and Savoy were annexed by France in 1860, but Napoléon III allowed Italy to keep the Roya for their royal hunting grounds in the Mercantour, and the valley stayed Italian until the peace treaty of 1947.

The Upper Roya Valley begins at the Col de Tende (1871 m) on the French-Italian border. It runs south about 35 km to Breil-sur-Roya and then another 8 km to where it crosses back into Italy. The Lower Roya Valley flows into the Mediterranean at Ventimiglia.

About Jack Vanderwyk

Hey! What am I like! :-)
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