I’m returning to my posts about Villages Perchés (perched villages) of which there are many I’ve yet to cover. Today’s village Carros is one of sixteen villages grouped together by the Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur tourist department as the Route des Villages Perchés (Route of Perched Villages). The others are: Aspremont, Castagniers, Coaraze, Colomars, Duranus, Èze, Falicon, La Gaude, Lantosque, Levens, La Roquette-sur-Var, Saint-Blaise, Saint-Jeannet, Tourrette-Levens and Utelle. I’ve previously only covered Eze, so there are plenty more to write about.
Just 15km (9 miles) from Nice, Carros is a surprisingly stunning hill village, one that very few visitors ever see owing to the reputation of its namesake modern town. Modern Carros, built about 40-50 years ago is a hideous grouping of soulless apartment blocks and industrial buildings but go beyond this, a few kilometres up the hill and you’ll receive your reward.
The views are some of my favourites of all the hill villages around, stretching up and down the Var river valley to snowy mountain peaks and the Mediterranean at Nice. The 12th century castle at the top of the village houses a rather unlikely International Centre of Contemporary Art and there are some interesting modern sculptures juxtaposed in its ancient streets.
History of Carros
Although human occupancy of the site of Carros can be traced back to Prehistoric times, the development of an urban area bearing the name of “Vicus Lavaratensis” took place during Roman Antiquity. Many Gallo-Roman inscriptions from 2nd Century confirm, as much through their references to the settlement of rich families as those to significant political figures, the extent of the size of this urban area by comparison to the Roman town of Vence. In the hills above Carros, the archeological sites of “La Roche Fendue” and “Laurume” confirm human occupation of the area predating that of the village in the proto-historic era.
During the Medieval era, the village developed around 12th century castle and was part of the kingdom of the Blacas Lords for more than six hundred years. The city wall buildings and their twenty arrow slits reveal the location of 14th century entrance to the village. Its Notre-Dame de Cola church built in 11th-12th centuries remained the seat of the parish of Carros until the Modern era.
In 1673, a new church built beside the Castle became the new seat of the parish of Carros. In 18th century, the chapel of the White Penitents was erected at the entrance of the village. From this Modern Era, many artefacts have been conserved: ceramics (17th century), coins (18th century) discovered during excavation works, church ornaments and the entire borough archives since 16th century.
After the French Revolution, Carros, located in the newly- named “Var” region, was a border town. In 1860, the county of Nice became part of France and, as a result, Carros became part of the newly-founded “Alpes-Maritimes” region. From 1968 onwards, the region’s industrial zone was formed in Carros and a new town built below the old one.
Centre International d’Art Contemporain (CIAC)
I frequently cycle past Carros as it’s on one of my regular cycling routes and therefore I rarely venture into the village though I do make regular use of the water fountain at its entrance. However, I have visited CIAC which is in its sumptuous medieval castle.
Château de Carros is a jewel of 12th century Provençal architecture, characterised by a rectangular main building with a tower in all four corners. Its first owner in 1156 was Lord Rostaing de Carros but soon after the castle was in the hands hands of the De Placas family, the Lords of Blacas, who owned it over 600 years. It’s only since 1998 that the castle has housed CIAC, International Centre of Contemporary Art.
Relatively recently renovated, its 800 sqm (8,000 sq ft) hosts one of the most innovative contemporary permanent and temporary collections which typically attracts over 15,000 visitors per annum.
Also of note is La Villa Barbary, a building from the end of 19th century located close to the village and surrounded by a large park whose amphitheatre is used for concerts.
The Selves’ Chapel built in 16th century on the site of an ancient medieval chapel, the afore-mentioned Gallo-Roman engravings which are perfectly visible on many stones in the village. And let’s not forget 19th century windmill, called the Briquet Windmill after its builder, which now houses in the Tourist Office.
What else is Carros famous for? Its strawberries though these mostly come from the acres of glass houses in the Var valley.
Images courtesy of Carros Tourist Office