Le Haut Pays et les Gilets Jaunes

Sometimes, I just have to get out of Nice. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a natural environment, so Saturday morning I rode the “Train des Merveilles” to the easily accessible small town of Breil sur Roya. Napoleon slept here on one of his military campaigns against Italy (the border is not far away). Another claim to fame is the historical architecture, including two Baroque churches and the medieval ruins of city walls. Set along the Roya river in a  mountain valley, it is a popular spot with anglers. Breil’s attraction for me, however, is as the base for numerous hikes.


My favorite is a relatively short one uphill, skirting a babbling stream over beige boulders with views onto country homes. In springtime the yards are bursting with forsythia and various blossoms. Butterflies, bees and hummingbird moths ravenously swirl around the plants and birds chirp away. What a break from traffic, cigarette smoke, apartment noise and those annoying pigeons back home.

At trail’s end you end up at a Romanesque church ruin set amid a large grove of ancient olive trees. Breil rests in the valley down below. It’s a perfect picnic spot.

The backcountry of Nice is known for such locales. Once way stations on trade routes that ran through the mountains, they are well past their heyday and are in serious decline. It is no surprise that in the sparsely populated town square a few Gilets Jaunes protestors were active. Posters on walls throughout town advertise the French communist party and grievances of pensioners and the unemployed.

I made sure to get on an early train back, before the Nice station was closed.

We are going through a weekend of “perturbations.” Chinese President Xi Jinping is meeting with Macron, coinciding with an attempt by the Gilets Jaunes for a massive protest. Large parts of the city center are closed to all vehicle and foot traffic.  No trains are stopping in Nice all weekend, nor in the neighboring Riviera towns. The gendarmerie is out in heavy force. The 7-kilometer Promenade des Anglais is closed from end to end. One protestor has been injured and is in a coma, and the protests have just begun.


The story of France’s beautiful villages as the source of national angst is akin to that of the rural/urban divide in the US, Britain, Italy and god knows where else populism is brewing. I wonder if there’s enough money in the world to save these towns, and democracy.

About kmazz

I spend as much time as possible pursuing my interests in global culture, photography, arts and politics.
This entry was posted in Breil sur Roya, expat, France, Gilets Jaunes, Le Haut Pays, Nice, France, protests. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Le Haut Pays et les Gilets Jaunes

  1. Diane Foulds says:

    Beautiful photistry, Kathleen. I say “photistry,” because they are more artistry than photography.
    Your seamless braid of Gilets Jaunes with urban/rural and declining hamlets is intriguing. I am bringing this to my Niçoise friend here, a woman in her mid-80s who savors them. We rhapsodized about your essay on La Promenade des Anglais. I had always wondered at that name, so out of place in a land of anglophobes, and she told of how Queen Victoria had a Nice estate on some hill overlooking the sea. Is it still there, I asked. Yes, she said, though now transformed into apartments.
    She will love this essay, as do I.

    • kmazz says:

      Thank you, Diane. Yes, the Hotel Regina where Queen Victoria and her entourage would stay is still there, as an exclusive apartment house. I was just there, as it is across from the Matisse Museum and the lovely park in front of it. Victoria’s favorite confiserie is still in operation too, in old town.

  2. Francesca says:

    I love this – can we visit this hike?

    Sent from my iPhone so please excuse the brevity


  3. Ian M Wallace says:

    I wonder what President Xi makes of the gilets jaunes protest movement? In his stylish and immaculate suits he looks more like the CEO of a large conglomerate than the head of a communist state.
    Breil looks idyllic. You must have many attractive towns within easy range.
    Looking forward to more enticing posts!

  4. Nancy D. Murray says:

    I forwarded this to my French dinner group again as your posts are so beautifully written and photographed. I remember hearing how the (invading) English retirees were buying up French properties a couple decades ago, but in fact they were saving them by refurbishing houses and small chateaux that would otherwise fall into ruin for lack of money and attention. Still, there are too many to save. Thank you for your always thoughtful reflections and terrific photography.

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