As picturesque as can be, the hilltop villages of Alpes-Maritimes are places where time seems to have stood still, with all the charm of yesteryear. High up on a rocky spur, their houses seem to cascade downhill amid a river of greenery. The views are often breathtaking as the hilltop villages overlook the valleys, gorges, hills and dizzying mountains of this beautiful region.
Begin your lofty adventure in Sainte-Agnès, the highest coastal village in Europe. This wonderful community is recognisable by its flower-adorned houses built on sloping streets clinging to the mountainside. The winding alleys snake around its ancient buildings, overlooking the ochre roofs of the town of Menton and Italy in the distance. It's not unusual to come across a herd of goats peacefully grazing in the hills around the village.
Ten or so miles away, the village of Peille stands proud at 630 metres in altitude. Built from freestone, it is one of France's most renowned medieval settlements. Its narrow streets and vaulted passages form a magnificent architectural tableau, nestling right in the middle of the forest. Architecture enthusiasts will be keen to visit its town hall, housed within the superb Chapel of St. Sebastian. The latter has a dome covered in Roman tiles in orange shades and its circular walls feature huge bays.
Further south, the little village of Peillon stands on a craggy rock 376 metres above the Paillon Valley. Its stone houses, a reminder of the medieval era, seem to merge with the surrounding vegetation. It's lovely to wander among its close-knit buildings, and walk through the arcades and up the cobbled steps connected by vaulted passages.
40 kilometres away, the village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence looks down on the Mediterranean. A good many famous painters like Modigliani, Matisse or Soutine were inspired by the sublime light in this village full of southern colour, surrounded by ramparts. Lose yourself in its typical narrow streets and pay a visit to the art galleries, which are renowned throughout the region. In fact, art plays an important role in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, as evidenced by the Maeght Foundation, dedicated to modern works of the 20th century.
If you have time, continue your outing with a trip to Mougins, where olives and roses are grown and are a major asset of this scenic, green haven. Founded at the top of a hill, Mougins charms visitors with its steep, narrow streets, pastel-coloured houses and old washhouse, which now serves as an exhibition room in the summer period. Picasso spent his last days there, in love with this little village lost among the mountain peaks. At Mougins Photography Museum, you can see photos by the painter and be immersed for a moment in the artist's private world.
So many other hilltop villages are also worth a visit, like Le Bar-sur-Loup overlooking the valley, Saint-Jeannet, Gourdon, Lucéram and Coaraze. As you can see, it's worth taking your time when exploring the rich heritage of these picturesque hilltop communities!