Côte d’Azur - Train des Pignes - the medieval village of Entrevaux

SEP 09,2015 - SEP 09,2015 (1 DAYS)

France

1 DAYS

Nature

Train des Pignes: from Nice to Entrevaux:

Start & End: Chemins de Fer de Provence station. The modern new station is at 4 bis, Rue Alfred Binet -  about 6 blocks north of the Nice main railway station (Gare de Nice-Ville, Avenue Thiers).

Note: thee is also a bus no. 790 from Nice, Wilson to Ebtrevaux departing at 09.00 on Sundays only (1 h 35 min. ride). This bus departs on other days as well - but in the late afternoon hours (SAT - 14.00, MON-FRI: 16.20).The price: 1.50 euros (!).

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Introduction: Chemins de Fer de Provence is a railroad line that connects Nice and Digne Les-Bains in 3 hours and 30 minutes. The Train des Pignes is a one meter gauge railroad that manages to wind its way through the Southern Alps along the Var River for a 95 mile, almost four hour run from Nice to Digne. The scenery is spectacular as the train follows the riverbed between the mountains, but going the full route makes for a long and somewhat tiring day with the scenery eventually getting repetitive. Fortunately, a little more than half the way is the fortress village of Entrevaux that allows one to enjoy the train and scenery and spend a few hours seeing one of Cote d’Azur’s most historic villages and citadel. The train serves around 10 stations and 30 other stops. There are 19 stops before Entrevaux, but the trains only stops at seven of them unless someone wants to get on or off.

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Vesubie station:

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Villars sur Var station:

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Touët-sur-Var village:

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Touët-sur-Var station:

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It crosses two French regions: the Maritime Alps, the Alps of Haute-Provence and the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur). The scenery shifts from sea promenades and swaying palm trees on the Côte d’Azur to olive groves, fields of wild thyme and snowy mountains. This unique journey will take you right to the heart of the Maritime Alps.

Var river and valley:

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There are five trains a day between Nice and Digne-les-Bains, two during the morning and two during the afternoon-evening. Up-to-date time tables: http://gecp.asso.fr/cp/horaire/horaire/01122013-affiche-horaires-interurbaine-pour-site.pdf

Depart Nice (approximate): 6.55, 9.25, 13.05, 17.15, 18.13.
Depart Dignes-les-Bains : 7.15, 10.45, 14.25, 17.35.

Depart Entrevaux to Nice: 5.58, 7.33, 9.08, 12.38, 16.19, 19.29.

Depart Entrevaux to Dignes-les-Bains: 8.30, 19.46, 14.29, 18.47, 19.45.

Duration and fares: Nice - Entrevaux: approx. 1.30 hrs. Price: 11.8 euros.

                                  Entrevaux - Nice: approx. 1.30 hrs. Price: 11.8 euros.

Childen under 4 free. Children from 4 to 12 half-price tickets. Small dogs do not require ticket(s).

Bookings are not required for individuals. Come 15-20 minutes before departure and buy your ticket(s) in CASH OR CREDIT CARD (any company BUT NOT AMEX !!). No long queues.

From 15 June until 14 September free commentary (English and French) on board.

Walk from Gare de Nice-Ville to the Chemins de Fer de Provence station (1 km.): Head EAST on Avenue Thiers toward Avenue Malaussena (continuation north of Avenue Jean Médecin: the main road which resides north-south with the trams lines), 330 m. Arriving to Avenue Malaussena / Avenue Jean Médecin means walking east in Avenue Thiers and zig-zaging also right and left in Avenue Jean Médecin. Continue NORTH (left) onto Avenue Malaussena, 350 m. Count three roads to the left. You turn left at the third road (beyond the Liberation station), Rue du Dr Robert Thivin, 70 m. Turn right toward Rue Alfred Binet, 15 m. Turn left toward Rue Alfred Binet, 170 m. Turn right onto Rue Alfred Binet
36 m - and you face to your left the Chemins de Fer de Provence
4 Bis Rue Alfred Binet.

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Stop at Entrevaux: arriving on the 10h30 train and departing on the 14h18 (towards Digne) is quite pressing time frame. But, arriving on the 10h30 train and returning on the 16h19 (towards Nice) works quite well and allows enjoying a lunch in one of the local restaurants. Allow 1 hour for exploring the town alleys. Keep in mind that most of the local restaurants close off at 14.00 !

Entrevaux (Occitan and Provençal). Entre = between and Vau = valley) is a commune in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence with 947 inhabitants (as for year 2010).

Entrevaux in brief: is a former fortified royal town, restructured by Vauban (military marshal of Louis XIV) and renowned for its stunning citadel, exceptional fortifications, cathedral and royal gate. This is popular tourist site, only 60 km from Nice. Nowadays it is an Haute-Provence site that has kept its  character and appeal - making this village an unmissable stopover.

History: Situated on the river Var the town of Entrevaux once stood on the border between France and Savoy. It lies on the north bank of the river, on the road that follows the valley and used to cross the frontier. First fortified as far back as Roman times, Entrevaux was surrounded by walls in medieval times and a castle was built on a pinnacle that rises high above the town on the north side. The Spanish briefly occupied Entrevaux in the 1530s and the area saw some unrest during the French Wars of Religion in the second half of the 16th century. However none of this was enough to provoke any investment in serious artillery fortifications, so the town was essentially still a medieval fortress for most of the 17th century. The French alpine frontier was at peace for most of the century and the need to build or maintain expensive fortifications in the region was not seen to be important. This changed in 1690 when the Savoyards made a surprise attack across the frontier, raiding Seyne-les-Alpes. Suddenly made aware of their weakness, the authorities on the French side of the border undertook rapid work to strengthen their fortresses. The engineer assigned to the region, Niquet, hastily put together plans to enlarge some of the medieval towers to create "tower bastions", as at nearby Colmars. He also built a small hornwork next to the cathedral on the east side of town, where the Porte d'Italie gate was situated. This was the only area of the fortifications that was not protected by the river or by steep ground. In 1692 the Savoyards made another raid across the Alps and the king sent his celebrated engineer Vauban to undertake an emergency review of the Alpine fortresses. After making plans and recommendations for the larger fortresses such as Briancon and Mont-Dauphin, Vauban finally gave his attention to Entrevaux in 1693. He designed two large tower bastions on the south side of the town, replacing one of the medieval towers modified by Niquet a few years earlier. In the Alps Vauban planned tower bastions for Gap, Digne, Colmars and Entrevaux, but only those at Entrevaux were ever built. Vauban and Niquet left the entrance towers in place, but an angled bastion was built around the foot of the south tower, which could flank the southern walls of the town, along with the tower bastions to the east. On the far side of the bridge Vauban planned a large, wide hornwork, which was rejected on the grounds of cost. Instead a small medieval-looking gatehouse was built at the south end of the bridge in the early 18th century with musket loopholes, but no provision for guns. The medieval castle (now ,the citadel) high above the town did not escape Vauban's attention. The citadel was too inaccessible to be assaulted with heavy artillery and the ground was too steep for a bastioned trace. As a result, the citadel has no conventional bastioned fortifications, but it was given embrasures for guns and loopholes for musket defense, especially on the north side. The citadel's defences also saw some 19th century modifications, which included changes to the north gate. The north side of the citadel was protected by a ditch carved out of the rock, which has a counterscarp gallery. This is a covered passageway that runs along the outer edge of the ditch and allowed the garrison to fire into and along the ditch. On the south side of the citadel there was no risk of attack because the slope up from the town is extremely steep and rocky. However the citadel is very high above the town and some distance to the north, so Vauban was skeptical about its usefulness during an attack on the town. Part of the town, in particular the vulnerable Porte d'Italie, is actually obscured by the shape of the slope. To address this, Vauban planned a front of two bastions to be built part way up the slope between the town and the citadel. Once again the requirement to keep costs down resulted in these plans being shelved. Instead two small redoubts were built on the slope to cover the east and west approaches to the town. These redoubts mounted several guns each and were much more effective for observing and covering the ground close to the town, especially the flat land to the east in front of the Porte d'Italie. The improvements put in place by Vauban and Niquet were soon put to the test. In 1704 a Savoyard force laid siege to Entrevaux. Despite the fact that a garrison had not yet been put in place the inhabitants of the town managed to hold out for 48 days until the Savoyards withdrew. During the 18th century Vauban's recommendation for a covered way linking the town and the citadel was carried out. This covered way winds up the steep slope with 7 hairpin bends. The south side of the path is protected by a loopholed wall and there are a series of traverses to guard against ricochet fire. The two redoubts on the lower part of the slope were accessed from this covered way.

From the train station in Entrevaux - it is 200 m. walk to the citadel entrance. You continue walking UP (east) and turn right (south) to the old town and citadel gate and towers. On your left is the Tourist Office.

View from the train station to the Citadel:

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View from Entrevaux train station to the Old town of Entrevaux.

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The bridge leading from the train station to the Citadel and Old town of Entrevaux:
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View from the bridge (leading from the train station to the Citadel) to the Old town of Entrevaux:

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The town walls from the entrance to the Old Town and the Citadel:

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The Citadel: The medieval village citadel (town citadel in the past) of Entrevaux, built on a rocky overhang dominates the Var valley and river. Viewing Entrevaux from the outside is impressive, both for the perched citadel and for the walled town. The citadel is 150m above the village - but the path leading to the citadel is zig-zaging above and it takes 30-45 to climb from the village to the citadel itself. There are breath-taking views over the valley and the village for those who have braved the 800m path that leads to this fortress among olive groves. Keep in mind that in hot days/hours it might be quite demanding walk or climb.

Walk through the walled village and follow the signs for the citadel entrance. Cost is 3 euros, including access to the citadel and the Powder-Magazine Museum. Attention: you pay the entrance fee - in the middle of your climb, NOT, in the beginning of the climbing path. You'll need euro coins for the automatic "jeton" or coin turnstile at the entrance. Take 3 or 4 coins of 1 euro for every person. No technical way for change in this automatic dispenser or turnstile. You can buy coins at the tourist office.

The walled village of Entrevaux is unique in that it has to be entered through a gate house; then across a long what was once a drawbridge - and finally through a vaulted gate. The gate is flanked by two semi-circular medieval towers:

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The town walls from the entrance to the Old Town and the Citadel:

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In the entrance gate - on your right - Prison d'Citadelle:

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Beyond the Bureau de Tourisme we climb up along the Montee de la Porte Royale. We pass the Town Hall Square (Pl. de Mairie):

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The immediately next square is the Place de la Planet with an old interesting house there:

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The walk up the walled and cobble-stoned walkway is about 30-40 minutes, even with the occasional stop for photos (and to catch your breath). It's worth the walk just for the view, and even more for visiting the interior of the citadel's rooms and courtyard. There's a good map at the top showing how to tour the citadel. Here is the point where you pay with your coins of euros ( 3 euros - summer 2015) and pass the turnstile. On your left - a restroom.

From here starts a steep climb. The path is signed and it is easy to follow the signs up the hill (pointing to : Citadelle Musee de la poudriere):

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View to the Entrevaux village after passing the turnstile:

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View to the Var valley after passing the turnstile:

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Most of the walk to the Citadel is along a  wall to repel invaders and stop you from falling over the side when you need a rest from the stiff walk. View to the Old Town - from the Citadel Walls and Fortifications. Every 5 m. there is a window in the wall which reveals a spectacular view over the village roofs. View over Entrevaux through a window in the wall on the pathway up:

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A copulating couple etched into the rock - on our way up (midway) to the Citadel:

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View from the midway:

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Further up the Citadel hill pathway:

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The Citadel History Exhibition - nearly the top of the hill:

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View from the upper tier of the Citadel:

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This is the top of the Citadel hill:

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This is the view to the north from the top of the Citadel hill:

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This is the view to the east from the top of the Citadel hill:

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This is the view to the west from the top of the Citadel hill:

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Inner Courtyard in the upper tier with graves and caves:

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View of Var River and the Old and Outer parts of the Village:

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The weapones Storeroom (on your descent - the right side):

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View of the Old Town Roofs from the Lower Parts of the Hill:

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The Var River Surrounding the Old Town and Entrevaux Citadel:

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The Old Town: Just as impressive is the walled Medieval town, with entrance through the gate house, across the long draw bridge and through the vaulted gate between the two towers. You will fall in love with village itself: for the charm of the tall, narrow houses, small squares and ancient fountains: all set among stunning landscapes, olive groves, and terraced gardens ! The village streets are dark and narrow between the high buildings, maintaining the medieval feeling you get from crossing the bridge and entering the fortified area through the gateway. The walled town itself requires much more time to explore that a simple walk-around or you'll miss a lot. We suggest that you allow 1 hour for browsing the charming narrow roads . No need for a walking tour guide from the Tourist Office. No non-resident cars are allowed in the old town.

The town is divided into two sections. The "commercial" center of Entrevaux (SOUTH to the main road) is opposite the old town. Quite uninteresting, except for practical reasons. Included are the post office, pharmacy, shops, restaurant and rest room. The northern part includes the pictorial old town the the citadel hill overlooking the walled old town. Streets that zig-zag up the hillside opposite the walled village have a great view of the walled town across the river. There are some marked "sites" just a short way up, including the old flour mill and olive-oil mill, with residential areas and a scattering of villas across the hillside.

In Entrevaux village:

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The Gothic Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption church is quite grand, dating from 15th and 17th centuries, with a large, oranate facade. It served as a cathedral from 1624 to 1790 (known at the time from the name of the diocese as Glandèves Cathedral). The cathedral houses a large painting of the Assumption of the Virgin by Mimault, from 1647, as well as an organ by Jean Eustache dating to 1717. Along the wall in front of the church is a doorway to a very nice playground along the riverside:

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There is also a motorcycle museum (Musee de la Moto) with a working collection of early, mostly European models (Téléphone - 04 93 79 12 70 (evening only). E-mails: franck.lucani@wanadoo.fr, stephanie.vaschetto@wanadoo.fr). Opening hours: everyday, MAY - SEP: 10.00 - 12.30, 14.00 - 18.00:

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Mills:  You can visit the ancient water-powered flour and oil mills. Both the flour mill (Moulin à Farine)

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and the oil mill (Moulin à Huile)

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are located in the "outer" village, overlooking the railway station. The oil mill is still being used. The stone aqueduct along the top of the arched bridge [Photo 19] is just beside the Moulin à Farine.

Gorge de la Chalvagne + Aqueduct - Northern (Outer) part of the village:

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Dining out: see Tip below.

Food

Hotel Restaurant le Vauban, 4 Place Louis Moreau, 04320 Entrevaux:

we found that the easiest place for having lunch, with flexible hours of opening and serving is the main restaurant in the "outer village" area opposite the walled town. Just keep in mind that this restaurant might be full up with tourists' groups in the rush-hours. This was the ONLY restaurant to serve food after 14.00. Reasonable prices. Traditional food including a few versions of the local Secca. Marvelous sight of the Citadel hill - just opposite the restaurant and the hotel (this two star hotel and restaurant offers comfortable, no frills, rooms):

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