BY CHERYL ANDERSON
It was in 1994 that I began my yearly sojourn to the Côte d’Azur. That first year I was intent on seeing perchés (perched) villages. Gorbio was the first one I visited as it was close by in the hills above Menton, France, where I stayed in an apartment in the vieille ville (old town) for the first 9 years before finding my place in Cap Martin.
Gorbio is a very charming, very authentic petit perché in a medieval village. The name Golbi first appeared in 1157. A quiet village now, but at one time it was the junction of roads connecting Castellar, Monti, Sainte Agnes, and Roquebrune. Gorbio became part of France in 1860. The residents of Gorbio have nicknamed it lu nebulous (The Nebulous) because at 360 meters it is often foggy.
In the center of the main place, there is a giant orme (elm tree) planted in 1713; according to history it was planted to celebrate the Treaty of Utrecht and is officially listed as one of the “most remarkable trees in France.” It’s where you are dropped off if arriving by bus. Close to the elm, is the “grand” fountain, La Fontaine de la Place (1902), an abreuvoir (water trough). Its use was for mules and donkeys to drink from, in the day. Its shape is that of a harness for the mules with baskets on either side.
The very pretty, described as exotic, Fontaine de Malaussene (1882) in the Place de Mairie was one of only three sources of water for the village at that time; it was coupled with the fountain in Place Honoré de Vial and the source for the lavoir (public washing area).
The large arch, facing the main place, is the entrance to the ancient village. Meander along the cobbled streets up to the baroque style L’eglise Saint-Barthélémy (1683). The roof of the clock tower is very colorful and possesses an interesting design. The beautiful view from the top of the perché is well worth the trek. There you will find chapels, a sweeping view of the Méditerranée in the distance, and so much more.
Rising up all around you, as you climb the narrow cobbled streets to L’eglise Saint-Barthélémy, are ancient houses, mostly 14th– to 16th-century; arches connect the houses. Along the way you’ll pass a few shops, wonderful carved doors, nooks and crannies with interesting scenarios, allées, porches, and 17th-century dates engraved on the walls. The streets are shaded but on occasion, on a sunny day, shards of sunlight cut through between the buildings.
The local museum is in the “truncated” Tour Lascaris. The tower was added in the 15th century and is all that remains of the Château des Lascaris-Ventimille on Place Honoré Vial, probably built in the 11th century; a modern building sits on 12th-century foundations. An earthquake in 1887 took down the crenelated top and the 13th-century windows. Renovation of the ancient building may still be in progress.
The annual evening event, La Fête des Limaces, is celebrated in June and hosted by the Chapelle des Penitents-Blancs de la Sainte Croix (1445); this very small plain chapel with a black door is without frills and faces the large church. The only light for the evening event are small oil lamps made from snail shells placed along the narrow streets and in front of houses. I’ve yet to find out how or why snails shells were used.
La fête des Cerises (Cherry Festival) is also in June, where cherries from the village area are sold. La fête de la Saint-Barthélémy, a blessing of the animals that come to the place, is celebrated in August. It’s quite the exhibition filled with traditional fanfare. Yet another church in the village, is the 12th-century Chapelle Saint-Lazare.
But enough of about churches—onto the fabulous food! My first meal in Gorbio was at Auberge du Village, 8 rue Gambetta. Since that first visit, the restaurant closed its doors for years, but looking online, I see it has reopened—I just may give it a try again this year. I can’t review what it’s like now, but back then it had a very, very good offering of authentic Provençal fare. However, the views from their windows would still be wonderful and very much the same as it was when I dined there.
I first read about the Auberge in The Rough Guide to Provence and the Côte d’Azur. The author said to have a meal and then, after “feasting on vegetable fritters, stuffed artichokes, ravioli and courgette flowers you can sit on the benches in the quiet Place Honoré Vial (named after a Resistance fighter shot in 1944), soaking up the sun and the view.” I did, thus making the excellent suggestion of where to have lunch and contemplate in Gorbio into just the sort of experience I was hoping to find. Indeed, it holds many, many fond memories.
Restaurant le Beauséjour is located on the main place across from the elm tree. Its awning, covered with a bower of green vines, hangs over the few tables on the terrace running along the front of the charming, quaint, and cozy indoor dining area. Traditional Provençal dishes are artfully plated on plates and in bowls of all different designs, both modern and old-fashioned, all delightfully mismatched. As well as being full of delicious local flavors, the ambience of Beauséjour is one of quiet and peace and well loved by the locals. On weekends, especially, it is a prudent idea to reserve a table ahead of time.
To perhaps work off your many delicious meals, it’s not impossible to hike up from the coast to the village, if you are so inclined and in a hiking mood. Simply start early, walk around the village, have lunch, then take the bus back down. I took the bus up and walked down once. Of course, you don’t have to hike—buses from towns along the coast are available to take you there or, naturally, you can drive. It’s a fun little ride along the narrow, windy road up to the village.
Visiting Gorbio, however you get there, makes for a leisurely day in an ancien village where there are not as many tourists as elsewhere on the Côte d’Azur, at least not anytime I’ve been.Beauséjour means beautiful stay. Indeed, you’ll find it so in Gorbio.
Restaurant le Beauséjour
14 Place de la République
+33 4 93 41 46 15