Peillon, Peille, Sainte-Agnès & Roquebrune-Cap-Martin

November 30, 2020

Distance: 68 kilometers (42 miles)
Time: About 4 to 5 hours depending on your pace
Departure: La Turbie
Difficulty: Somewhat Difficult (lots of climbing)
Elevation Gain: 1,715 meters (5,627 feet)
73 Villages by Bike Challenge: 4 villages

Peillon was the very first “perched village” that I discovered in France. In February of 1995 Carole and I came to Europe to get married. We were in Nice, headed to Geneva, and our guide book had a recommendation for two villages: Peillon and Peille. I was very intrigued with the description of these “perched villages” so we set out to find them as they were not far out of our way. Unfortunately, we got hopelessly lost (this was way before GPS and map apps) and ended up in La Turbie as night was descending. We stayed there for the night and the next morning we made it to Peillon. (We never did make it to Peille on that trip.) Ever since then these two villages have been rather special to me and I’ve now visited them countless times, on bike and by car. This ride begins in La Turbie, heads down to La Trinité and then up to Peillon and Peille. From there it’s up and over the Col de la Madone for a stop in Sainte-Agnès. Then down to the coast at Menton, over to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and back up to La Turbie. It’s a wonderful ride with lots of climbing, a lot of variety (mountains and sea shores), beautiful villages and lots and lots to see along the way.

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La Turbie to Peillon

I got a very early start for this ride. La Turbie is only a 30 minute drive from Vence if the traffic is clear and I left early enough that I was in La Turbie ready to hit the road at 7:45AM. (I’ve written about another great ride, from Vence to La Turbie on this website.) I knew it would be a little cold (I made the ride at the end of September) and I had brought a light windbreaker and some light gloves. It was, however, much colder than I had anticipated, around 7°C when I started (45°F). Now, this might not have been too bad except for the fact that the first 9km from La Turbie to La Trinité are completely downhill. Add to that the fact that the sun hadn’t really cleared the hills in the area and I was freezing!

From La Turbie take the main road, the D2564, west out of town. Almost immediately you’ll come to a big roundabout where you’ll take the D2204A/M2204A all the way into La Trinité. Ride all the way into town and you’ll come to a big roundabout where the M2204 heads south to Nice and north towards the mountains. Hang a right here and the road will shortly turn into the D2204. We’re in a fairly industrialized area for a short while here which can be quite busy, so keep your wits about you and ride carefully. After a few kilometers you arrive at the turnoff to Peille and Peillon, the D21 which you’ll take to the right. After about 4kms you’ll come to another roundabout with a very nice, big replication of the Peillon coat of arms in the center featuring a dragon, a star, a sand palm and the head of a staff. Shortly after this roundabout you’ll turn right on the D121, also known as the Route du Vieux Village, and begin the climb up into Peillon.


Almost immediately after turning off onto the D121 you can see the village of Peillon come into view straight ahead. It really is an amazing site, this tiny little medieval village perched so high in the sky on the very tip of a big rocky outcrop. It never fails to take my breath away and this view of Peillon really is the ultimate definition of a “perched village” in my opinion. I was there so early in the morning that the sun had yet to climb over the hilltops and so my photo, I’m sorry to say, is somewhat lacking.

The road up to the village winds back and forth giving you very nice views of the valleys on both sides of the village. It’s not a long climb, just over 3kms, and it’s not very steep. Unlike a lot of other similar perched villages in this part of France, Peillon is pretty quiet. Because of its location there is not a lot of tourist activity here, which is a shame, because it has to be one of the most authentic, well-preserved medieval villages in all of France. You won’t find a lot of color, most of the buildings are built with stone and very few of them are painted.

The steep, narrow, winding streets, the stone staircases and the vaulted passageways can be difficult to manage with a bike in tow and in a few places I had to take off my shoes for fear of slipping on the slick stones. That said, it’s definitely worth walking up to the church near the top of the village, the Église Paroissiale de la Transfiguration (Parish Church of the Transfiguration). For many centuries a small chapel served as the main place of worship in Peillon, but beginning in the 16th century it was transformed and enlarged to give us this current church. The main facade was built in the 18th century. There’s a wonderful little courtyard in front of the church where I sat, ate a bar and just enjoyed the gorgeous morning. Also look for the table d’orientation which just requires a few steps to reach and will give you information about what you are looking at from this high point.

The village was mentioned in the history books for the first time in 1150. Until 1235 Peillon and nearby Peille were considered a single entity, at least by the Catholic church. Peillon came under Savoyard authority in 1388 and was ruled by many different lords until the French Revolution when it was occupied by revolutionaries and returned to France. From 1814 to 1860 it became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia before returning to France for good. You’ll find a large fountain at the entrance to the village which is now an Historical Monument. There are very few shops, galleries or boutiques in town and you won’t find any place here to get food. There are several other chapels and small churches nearby as well.

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Peillon to Peille

From the village of Peillon you’ll need to backtrack back down the way you came to the D21. Turn right and continue on up to the D53 where you’ll take another right turn. Here we begin another climb, this one to the village of Peille. It’s longer and steeper than the climb up to Peillon, about 7kms. Keep an eye out for the Chapelle Saint-Roch as you enter the village. Dating back to the 16th century, it was almost completely destroyed in an earthquake in 1887 but rebuilt about twenty years later.


Until 1860 the village of Peille was known by its Italian name of Peglia. There are nearby remains of a wall that date back to the Neolithic period but it isn’t until 1029 that we have written confirmation of a village here, Over the years it has been known as Pilia, Pehla and Peila. Peille became French in 1792, but just like Peillon it fell under Sardinian rule from 1814 to 1860. Unlike Peillon, Peille is spread out on the side of a mountain, so while it is still considered a “perched village,” it is nowhere near as dramatic as Peillon.

As you ride into the heart of the village you will come to a small square, Place Carnot, with a large fountain, a restaurant, a bakery and the post office. You can continue straight through the village and come out the other end back on the D53, but if you have the time and inclination it’s worth taking a trip up to the rue Lascaris to the World War I war memorial, perched at one of the highest points in the village. You have a marvelous view here of the surrounding countryside and you can actually ride your bike for part of the way.

On the northeast end of the village, across the D53, you’ll find l’Église Sainte-Marie which dates back to the 12th century. There are several other chapels in and around the village and, of course, several fountains and lots of pretty streets and doorways. Food can be hard to come by in Peillon, so don’t count on finding much to eat here. There is a nice restaurant in Place Carnot, Restaurant Cauvin, where I did eat once, but it’s not always open.

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The Col de la Madone and Sainte-Agnès

Once you’re finished exploring Peille it’s time to get back on the D53 and head for the famous Col de la Madone, a climb that Lance Armstrong used to train on back in the early 2000s. As you leave Peille take a look back occasionally as you’ll get the nicest view of the village from this vantage point. Most cyclists climb this col from the other side starting in Menton, but this side is also quite nice. Taking the D53 out of Peille you’ll come to the D22 where you’ll turn left. It’s not a long climb, just under 4kms, and it’s not particularly steep. At the top you won’t find much, some old abandoned stone buildings and a marker or two. The road down the other side into Sainte-Agnès is not in very good shape for most of the way, so be careful. The descent lasts just over 5kms and you’ll then find yourself at large intersection from which you can head south to Menton, or make a small climb up to Sainte-Agnès. You know which way I’m going. But, before heading up to the village note the small chapel near the side of the road.


I first visited Sainte-Agnès many, many years ago with my old cycling pal Les. We were staying in Nice and rode to Menton and then up to Sainte-Agnès wondering most of the time if we were going the right way. It’s one of the official “Most Beautiful Villages of France” and is also known as the highest “coastal village” in Europe. I’ve written about another ride to Sainte-Agnès, which includes the Col d’Èze and the Col de la Madone on this website. You can also find another article about the Fort Sainte-Agnès, an old World War II underground bunker built deep into the side of the mountain that was part of the famous Maginot Line. I’ve been here many, many times and it really is an enchanting village. It can be very crowded during tourist season as buses bring people up from Menton, but its worth a visit anytime of the year.

As I said earlier, you have to make one more short climb to get into the village. The road actually splits and you can go to the left to enter the village from the west or to the right to enter the village from the east. I generally take the left road, which passes by the World War I memorial and brings you to the main church in town, the Notre Dame des Neiges. There’s really only one small main street running through the village and if you follow this you’ll come out on the other end (near the fort) where you can then take the eastern road back down to the junction at the D22. Don’t miss the lookout near the end of the village from which you will have absolutely amazing views of Menton and the coast to the east and the west.

Along the way you’ll find a nice variety of shops, boutiques and restaurants. Located high above the village on a rocky peak are the remains of an old castle and a beautiful little medieval garden. Several chapels are spread around the area. According to legend the town took its name from a traveling Italian princess who found refuge in a cave near the village during a violent storm and then built a chapel there in honor of her patron saint. Just like Peillon and Peille, Sainte-Agnès did not become a part of modern day France until 1860. There’s a Lavender Festival which takes place on the next to last weekend every July.

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Down to Menton & Roquebrune-cap-Martin

It’s a beautiful descent from Sainte-Agnès down to Menton. The roads are in excellent condition and usually fairly wide. Depending on your skill and fearlessness you can make quite a speedy ride of it. The D22 will eventually turn into the D223 and then the D23, which you can follow right down to the seashore. It’s about 10km, followed by a nice ride along the D52, the small coastal road that runs along the bay of Menton. Getting rom Menton to Roquebrune-cap-Martin is a bit tricky. As you head west you’ll want to get onto the D6007 a bigger road that runs parallel to the D52, but veers inland as you approach Cap Martin. Then take the D2564 until you come to Avenue Raymond Poincaré where you’ll turn right and head into the old village. One more short climb and you’ll be there.


For many years I confused the old medieval village of Roquebrune-cap-Martin with the more modern town located on Cap Martin. I didn’t even realize there was an old village up on the hill. This village dates back to 970 when it was formed to add protection to the old Roman road, the Via Augusta. In 1793 Roquebrune became French but was then declared a free city in 1848 before returning to France in 1861. It’s a favorite spot of the well-to-do French Riviera crowd, being quite close to Monte-Carlo. You’ll find lots of stores, boutiques, restaurants, cafes and shops here and probably a pretty sizable crowd of tourists.

A few of the standout landmarks you can visit are the Mausoleum of Lumone (a Roman funerary), the Place des Deux-Frères and the Église Sainte Margaret. There’s a wonderful overlook at Place des Deux-Frères which provides more incredible views of the sea and the coast. There is also an olive tree, said to be over a thousand years old and one of the oldest in the world. The castle at the top of the village was built in the 900s and its keep is the oldest in France. You can wander around inside the village exploring the small streets and narrow passageways before heading back down to the D2564 which will take you all the way back up to La Turbie.

I love this ride! As I said at the start, Peille and Peillon have a special place in my heart and Sainte-Agnès is a magnificent village to spend time in. The nice variety that this ride provides between the coast and the mountains makes it really special for me and when you throw in a chance to climb up the Col de la Madone, well, it’s close to perfect.

Steve and Carole in Vence - Peillon, Peille, Saint-Agnes & Roquebrune-cap-Martin
The loop through Peillon, Peille, Sainet-Agnès and Roquebrune-cap-Martin.

Important Notes: There is a lot of climbing on this route so be prepared. The traffic is usually not too bad throughout most the route but during peak tourist seasons it can get busier. Most of the roads are in excellent condition, except for the portion from the top of the Col de la Madone down to Sainte-Agnès. As always you’ll want to make sure you have a good bike and plenty of water. The best time to make this ride in the summer is early in the morning when it’s the coolest and in the winter early in the afternoon when it’s warmest. When I rode during late September it was a bit chilly at the beginning, but warmed up quickly as the day went on. You’ll want a helmet and sunscreen no matter what time of the year you go. You should be able to find water all along the route, but for food your best bet will be Sainte-Agnès and Roquebrune-cap-Martin. If you are riding alone make sure someone knows where you are going and what time you should be back. I always wear an identification bracelet that I got from Road ID.

Juste les Faits:
What: Bike ride that loops through Peillon, Peille, Sainte-Agnès and Roquebrune-cap-Martin with a climb over the Col de la Madone.
Where: Begins in La Turbie (Google Maps)
When: Most of the year
Phone: La Turbie Office de Tourisme – 04 83 93 95 31
Facebook: communesainteagnes

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