Isolated Charm High Above the Tinée Valley

May 18, 2022

He sits high astride three intersecting metal poles, on a rocky peak at the edge of the Mercantour National Park, his hand to his forehead, looking off into the distance. Le Grand Guetteur (The Great Watchman) now stands on the ruins of an ancient castle once owned by Bertrand de Caïs, the Lord of Roure in the 14th century. This tiny, perched medieval village is one of the more isolated regions in the Tinée Valley. To get to it you must travel up the steep mountain road that leads from Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée to the Col de la Couillole (a favorite with cyclists from all over France) and the ski resorts of Beuil and Valberg. After five kilometers you’ll turn off onto another steep mountain road, this one even narrower and marked by several 180° switchbacks. Follow this route for about six kilometers and you’ll arrive at the village of Roure, one of my favorite villages in the area.

The village is very popular with local tourists though not many outside of the area are familiar with it. Spread out on the sides of two converging mountain slopes it features a great many interesting landmarks and monuments. When you first enter the town the houses will be perched on the hillside below you on the left. The road circles around to the other side of a very small valley and from there you can get a really great look at the buildings and houses on the other side. One thing you will notice right away are the roofs. Unlike the tiled roofs so popular on the coast, here the roofs are mostly made with a local red slate that adds a dark vibrancy to the skyline.

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A Little History

The first indication of the village can be found in 1067 when it is referred to by the name “Rora” (derived from the Latin word “robur,” meaning oak) in a list of tithes made to the Bishop of Nice by Viscount Rostaing. It’s said that the villagers, who raised cows and goats, conducted business and settled their affairs under a large oak tree, hence the name.

A castle was erected around this time and the first recorded owners of the village were the Thorame-Glandèves family. It was purchased in 1340 by François Caïs. Barnabé Grimaldi de Bueil successfully attacked the castle in 1353, killing Caïs and it remained in his family’s possession for almost 300 years. When Annibal Grimaldi was executed in 1621 the castle was destroyed and the village was given to the Pidemontese Allbrione family. Due to their financial difficulties the village was able to buy the land and the properties (including the mills, the bread oven, the pastures, the forests and more) and Roure became communal property, free from the domination and oppression of a lord.

Between 1859 and 1926 many copper mines operated in the area around Roure. In the end it proved too difficult to extract the minerals and the mines were abandoned. Geological research is still being carried out today and the area is full of copper, quartz, zinc, uranium, pyrite and many more minerals.

The current road to the village was not established until after the Second World War which meant that the inhabitants were forced to live in almost complete self-sufficiency for many centuries. The only way down from the mountain was on foot or by mule. A 1850 meter long cable that was powered by an electric motor and carried wooden wagons from the valley floor to the village was built in 1927 and continued to be operated until 1962. Carrying food, provisions, mail and building supplies it was an enormous help to the villagers. To this day the inhabitants use crawler-mounted motor wheelbarrows to transport heavy objects along the steep narrow streets.

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A Walk Through The Village

When you first enter the town most of the houses will be perched on the hillside below you on the left. The road circles around to the other side of a very small valley where the church is located. From this vantage point you have a really great view of the buildings and houses that are spread out on the side of the mountain in a jumbled cluster or wood and stone. Roure is one of those villages that has taken the time and energy to construct a “walking tour” with signs and information about the various landmarks. If you look for the signs as you wander through the village (and follow them in order) you’ll see everything there is to see. The first point of interest is the church so head over there and we’ll begin the tour.

L’Église Saint-Laurent (The Church of Saint Laurent)

The large Church of Saint-Laurent (listed as an historical monument since 1987) is a very interesting structure indeed. If you look only at the two ends of the church it’s hard to believe they are part of the same building. Built sometime in the 14th century the original church featured a Romanesque-Gothic style. The main nave was demolished in late 17th century and a larger one was built in the Baroque style. (In fact, many of the churches in these mountains were remodeled in the Baroque style around this time.) However, some elements of the original building remained intact, most notably the Romanesque facade that faces the cemetery and was the original entrance to the church. This three-bay wall shaped tower is a unique structure in the Alpes-Maritimes and gives the building a wildly contrasting and schizophrenic feel. The new facade is found on the opposite end, facing the Place Jules Mallet.

If you look closely you’ll see a sundial on the facade of the church near the center top. It dates from 1760 and was designed by the Italian Don Joseph Blanchi. There are four other prominent sundials located in the village, two from the 1700s and two of fairly recent in origin.

Inside the church you’ll find an altarpiece by François Bréa that dates from 1560 and depicts the Assumption. A polyptych of Saint Lawrence surrounded by other saints is believed to be by a Ligurian artist from the 1500s. “Ecco Homo,” a painting by Jean Rocca from 1634 features Saint Michael and Archangel Gabriel.

From the front of the church take the short stairs and path that leads up to the ruins of the former castle. This castle, situated in a strategic location above the Tinée Valley, also happened to be located along an ancient Roman road that connected Nice and Embrun, and as such it played a very important defensive role in the history of the village.

The “Great Watchman,” a bronze sculpture by Nicolas Laverenne, was installed in this location in 2007 and the castle esplanade was modernized and updated to allow for visitors to easily reach the summit.

Make your way back down from the castle ruins to the church square and then down the street to the Hôtel de Ville, housed today in what was once the Chapelle Saint-Pierre of the Brotherhood of White Penitents (Chapelle Saint-Pierre de la confrérie des Pénitents Blancs). Built in the middle of the 18th century this chapel is a vast rectangular building with a high porch and double flights of stairs. The White Penitents were a brotherhood of lay people, both men and women, who performed charity to aid the poor and sick.

Founded in 1306 in Nice, the Roure chapter was active from the late 1600s until the mid-1900s. The Penitents took a very active role in the life of the parish, especially in the numerous processions. With their ostentatious display of clothing and ornaments and they added a certain splendor and grandeur to the various religious ceremonies. In the 1960s the chapel was decommissioned and the religious furniture was transferred to the church, before the building was transformed into the current Town Hall.

La Fontassa Fountain-Washhouse

Roure has two fountains which supply water for the people, animals and gardens of the village. A spring called “La Sagne,” about one-half a kilometer upstream of the village, supplies the water for both. The unique triple vault design of La Fontassa Fountain provides not just a fountain, but a washbasin and a trough for animals, one in each section. Built from stone and mortared with lime it was constructed in the late 1870s though the stone basins themselves date back to 1722. Above is a terrace for drying clothes.

Water, of course, also serves a multitude of other purposes including the manufacturing of certain textiles such as hemp, wool and linen and fighting fires. In the late 19th century it also became clear to scientists and doctors that many diseases were spread by poor quality drinking water making a structure like this even more necessary.

When running water and sewer systems were finally introduced into the homes of Roure in the early 1950s the fountain and washhouse became less vital though they still operate today and serve those needing some fresh spring water. I’ve been to Roure several times on my bike and having a fountain like this to fill up my water bottles is most appreciated.

Follow the signs to reach la cable transporteur (the cable carrier).

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La Cable Transporteur

Until the middle of the 19th century Roure sat at the crossroads of a very active network of mule tracks that crisscrossed the high country mountains. However, when a new road network was established in the 1860, with the main road along the valley floor, Roure became isolated and disconnected from the rest of the territory. An electric tramway established in 1911 put Nice just three hours away from Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée (located just below Roure) compared to the previous time of three days it took to walk the route with mules. This opened up new outlets and markets for the goods produced in the area and Roure had no intention of being left out.

63 Roure businessmen banded together in 1913 to create an electric cable system that would allow goods and materials to be moved quickly up and down the mountain from Roure (at an altitude of 1082m) to Saint-Sauveur (at an altitude of 490m). 1,800 meters long, the system employed two wagons, each of which could hold 450 kilograms.

It was completed in 1927 and operated until 1962. Two thick steel cables, supported by three pylons and operated by an electric motor, allowed the baskets to move from Roure to Saint-Sauveur in just twenty minutes, nine times faster than a mule could make the journey. In 1940 the cable system was used to supply troops positioned in the town and to evacuate the village in June.

In 1938 the village was finally connected to the main road network in the region. After the war the need for the cable system declined until it was finally discontinued when a cable broke in February 1962 and it was decided not to repair it.

Continuing along the tour you’ll pass through la Place du Torch, a small square that was once the intersection of the Roman road linking Nice to Embrun and a mule track that lead to Roubion, Beuil and the high Var valley. Part of the early village developed around the castle and the church and another part around this little crossroads. The town hall was located here until 2002 as was the primary school and the communal bread oven. You’ll find a communal bread oven in almost every small village in the Alpes-Maritimes. They were places where a baker would take your dough and bake your bread for you. The vast majority of these are no longer in operation, but the one here in Roure is still open on weekends.

The second fountain in Roure, Fontaine du Culassou, is located just up the road. Together with the Fountain of Fontassa, this fountain was directly responsible for allowing full time life in the village. In addition to providing water for families and animals it also supplied irrigation water for many gardnes located just below the village. The current fountain was built in the 1930 when the road between the entrance to the village and the church square was being constructed.

From the Fontaine du Culassou we’ll head up to the main road and very shortly you’ll see the Chapelle Notre-Dame des Grâces on your left. It’s a small climb from the main road up the to this chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The exact date of the construction of this chapel has been lost to time. The only thing known for certain is that it was built sometime after 1481 (due to the construction method that was used). It was built in three stages. The first building, a very typical chapel-porch with a semi-circular vault is made of elongated blocks of stone and white lime mortar.

This initial structure was extended sometime later with a higher vault and a side chapel was added. It’s theorized that perhaps this enlargement was made at the end of the 17th century when the parish church was no longer usable, due to the demolition of the Romanesque nave and the construction of the current Baroque nave. At some point, a porch and awning was added to the front of the second building.

From the chapel we’ll head back towards the village and follow the signs to the old mill. Along with the bread oven and the pastures and forests, the village mill was considered “communal property.” It played a vital role in the local economy and provided an important source of income. Every year a public auction was held and the highest bidder was awarded the management and oversight of the mill. Villagers who wished to have their grain or olives processed at the mill would then pay a fee whereby the manager of the mill would be reimbursed for his initial payment and, hopefully, make a profit.

This present mill was constructed in 1888 when a canal was built to bring water from 6 kilometers away. Before that the mill was located almost one-half a kilometer below the village on the edge of the Vionène River. It took over an hour by mule to reach the mill and the maintenance costs were high, especially when the river would rise and sometimes flood. The millstones and other parts of the original mill were transported up the mountain to be used in the new mill. The mill remained in operation until the mid-1960s grinding cereals such as wheat, barley and rye, as well as olives.

Chapelle Saint-Sébastien-et-Saint-Bernard (Chapel of Saint Sebastien and Saint Bernard)

Between the years of 1347 and 1352 France was ravaged by the Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague or just “the plague.” It would return on a regular basis for the next 400 years. To ward off the disease, communities in France built small chapels on the outskirts of the towns and villages and dedicated these places of worship to plague saints. Saint Sébastien is one of the most well-known saints said to be able to deflect the plague. This chapel, built in 1481 at the northern entrance to Roure on the ancient mule track leading to Roubion was dedicated to Saint Sébastien and Saint Bernard (protector of mountain travelers).

Today the chapel is known for its wonderful frescoes painted in 1510 by Andrea De Cella, a Ligurian artist who was based in nearby Roquebrune. He belonged to a small group of painters known as “naive painters,” because though he lacked certain skills his worked demonstrated a sense of spontaneity and improvisation that many found appealing. His work can be found throughout the Alpes-Maritimes including chapels in Clans, Entraunes and La Roquette sur Var.

The right side of the chapel is dedicated to the life of Saint Bernard while the left portrays the martyrdom of Saint Sébastien (a Roman officer, he was condemned in the 3rd century for his conversion to Christianity). One of the most famous paintings in the chapel involves a man and a woman being led to hell for the sin of adultery. In 1427 a married woman in the village had an affair with the local priest and this particular painting was a moralistic warning to the population.

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More to do and See in Roure

Three very small villages (sometimes referred to as “hamlets”) are associated with the commune of Roure: Tiecs Supérieur, Tiecs Inférieur and Valabres. If you’re visiting Roure and would like to include a short hike the walk to Tiecs Supérior is fairly short and fairly level. As you’re leaving (or approaching) Roure on the D130 you’ll come to a big 180° switchback where you can park your car and walk down the road. On Google Maps you’ll see the road listed as “Tiecs Supérior.” The tiny village is maybe 15 or 20 minutes away and features the charming little Chapelle Saint-Anne. It’s a very nice walk if you have the time.

The Marcel Kroënlein Arboretum is dedicated to protecting and preserving all the rare and endangered species of mountain trees in the world. Since its creation in 1988 over 400 trees have been planted, including 137 “exotic” species. Covering 17 hectares it’s a living tree museum with a very unique collection that includes junipers, ancient fruit trees, spruce, larch and Scots pines. A high-altitude experimental vegetable garden and an “Art-boretum” add to the attractions.

Roure is situated close to a lot of other beautiful mountain villages that are worth a visit if you have time including Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée, Roubion, Beuil, Rimplas, Isola and more.


Roure can be reached via the M6202 and M2205 from Nice to the south. From the north take the M2205 from the Col de la Bonette and Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée. Take the M30 out of Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée and climb to the west towards Col de la Couillole. After about 4 kilometers you’ll come to the D130 which turns to the right and makes a winding loop from the east to the west for another 4 kilometers or so. The D130 is an extremely narrow road in many places, one of those mountain roads where it is literally impossible for two cars to pass each other. If you find another vehicle coming towards you one of you will simply has to back up until you reach a portion of the road where you can fit side by side.

The best place to park is along the side of the road just before entering the village. Roure is rarely very crowded and I’ve never had much trouble finding a spot to park here.

There is a small Office de Toursime just next to the Church of Saint-Laurent.

Juste les Faits:
What: The village of Roure
Where: Roure (Alpes-Maritimes) (Google Maps)
When: All year
Phone: Mairie – 04 93 02 00 70

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