We’ve previously visited, La Colle sur Loup, Saint-Paul de Vence, Vence and our next stop is Tourrettes sur Loup, a village we regularly ride through. It has a large natural spring where we can fill our bidons (drinks bottles). Typically, in summer we’ll ride up there by taking the cooler and shadier Vallon Rouge via Pont sur Loup. In spring and autumn we’re more likely to take the longer route via Vence.
This pretty medieval perched village, about 14 km (9 miles) from the coast, situated between Nice and Cannes, is very popular with many Europeans, including the British. Like many along the coast, it has grown up on a rocky outcrop surrounded by superb lush landscapes, where prickly pears grow naturally. With its tall houses built into its ramparts, Tourrettes sur Loup seems to conquer all beneath it.
The best way to discover the village is by wandering around its pretty, narrow streets and its vaulted passage-ways, taking in the tastefully restored stone facades, and climbing some of the stepped passages, bordered with pretty flower baskets. In the “Grand’ Rue”, the heart of the historic centre of the village, there are more than 30 artists’ workshops, galleries and crafts workshops galleries, overlooked by the Chateau de Villeneuve (15th cent) and its superb small square.
Unsurprisingly, Tourrettes sur Loup has been a popular hangout for many years, it’s rich in prehistoric sites from the Middle Palaeolithic and has even yielded some Neanderthal remains. Traces of the last nomadic hunters (Epipaleolithic and Mesolithic, between 11,000 and 6,000 BC) have also been identified at nearby Courmettes – famous for its goats’ cheeses.
Like many of the villages perchés, Tourrettes has experienced turbulent times. A tribe of Celtic Ligurians settled here at the beginning of 9th century B.C.. Later in 262 B.C. the Romans came to occupy turres altea (the observation point) and stayed until 476 A.D., the start of 500 years of invasions. The village was invaded by all the barbarian tribes: Visigoths, Huns, Franks and Lombards until the Saracens fortified the place and occupied it until 972. It was only after a conflict with the House of Duras and the Count of Provence that Marie of Brittany, mother of Louis II of Provence, gave Tourrettes-lès-Vence (previously in the hands of the Grimaldis) to Guichard de Villeneuve in 1387 and thus it remained in that family until the French Revolution.
Antoine Villeneuve had the present chateau built in 1437 which encompassed the old 11th century belfry. The church of the same period (12th c.) was rebuilt in 16th century, renovated in the 19th and currently undergoing further repairs. From 1463 onwards Tourrettes suffered innumerable misfortunes: the black plague wreaked havoc for 70 years, followed by the Wars of Religion, the War between Austria and England (1744-1748), the War of the Spanish Sucession and the French Revolution during which the last of the Villeneuves fled the chateau through an underground passage only to be recognised and put to death outside Ventimiglia.
The village was called Tourrettes-lès-Vence until the French Revolution. In 1894 it was renamed Tourrettes-sur-Loup because the Loup river delineates the commune and in order for it not to be confused with Tourrettes-Levens. The derivation of the name Loup comes from the fact that this valley was previously inhabited by wolves. This also lies behind the name of the village Villeneuve-Loubet since loubet is wolf cub in provençal.
On the hills surrounding Tourrettes there are terraces where the cultivation of vines, wheat and beans used to take place as well as that of the orange trees used for the manufacture of perfumes. Now these have been replaced by aloe vera cacti, fig and pine trees. However there are still olive groves, a very important industry during 19th century, and violets – which have given Tourrettes the name of Village of Violets.
Today Tourrettes remains a place where artists of all persuasions congregate, particularly those from the world of French film.