This article will help you learn all a place near Monaco in the form of the small village of Sospel, which has about 4000 inhabitants. It is located at an altitude of 350 metres above sea level, near the Italian border and the Mercantour Park. Sospel is one of the most amazing places in the region. This small 15-kilometre patch of land has a complicated history. It can be likened to that of a successful person born in difficult times. Its glory started in the Middle Ages and continued up until the 18th century when Sospel became a jewel of the Savoy kingdom.
All of its past is carved in stone…
The first mention of Sospel dates back to 1095, when it was called Loco Sespedeli. Back then the land was ruled by the Italian town of Ventimiglia, and in 1275 it became part of the Provencal County. Its last rulers were the Counts of Savoy. In 1370 Sospel sided with the Avignon Pope against theRoman Pope. Sospel thus acquired the status of a separate diocese, which led to the unusual occurrence of building of a large San Michele Cathedral in such a small town.
The location of Sospel is very strategic as it is at the intersection of two rivers: the Bever and Merlancon. The spot is protected by the mountains, but accessible through a valley. The town was once part of a “salt road” linking Nice and Turin. The high toll bridge across the Bever river that has been regulating the traffic over centuries is one of its most beautiful places. The old part of the town used to be an administrative and spiritual centre with its own bishop and the cathedral of San Michele. Back then this temple was the largest in the region of Alpes-Maritimes. It is now dilapidated and only has the status of a simple parish church. Recently San Michele filed for restoration as an architectural monument.
The Cabraia square with its two-tier fountain is the centre of the town. The low level was designed for watering the animals and the upper part, for people. “Cabraia” stands for a “flock of sheep” as it used to be a shelter for sheep. The “Cabraia” restaurant is one of the best places to have a lovely dinner.
The road to San Michele Cathedral will take you to a traditional old French store which became famous after the BBC series “Open all hours”. Many signs will lead you to this place.
Once you reach the square, you can admire the majestic cathedral of San Michele that embodies the “baroque” architectural style. To the right is the library and to the left, the Richie Palace with a board stating that Pope Pius VII had been there in 1809. Obviously, this was not the best trip for the Pope as he was then imprisoned by Napoleon I.
The construction of the cathedral took place from 1641 to 1762.
If you continue your journey, you will see the remains of the ancient castle towers that used to protect the city. Its differently shaped windows suggest the different periods in the town’s history. The town had a fortified wall in the 13th-14th centuries.
It is interesting to visit the old train station building that once connected Menton and Sospel. It was built in 1912, but eventually was no longer needed. It is now home to some of the city’s cafes.
Strolling through the old street of San Pierre, you will see a door still bearing an image of a lion and a sheep, which was a former “salt” tax office. This street is also known to be the straightest in town and used to be a favorite spot with the local nobility. We also recommend visiting the “Sout’a Lopia” restaurant in this street, famous for its Provençal cuisine. And the pink building at the end of the street is the City Hall.
If you love wandering through the quaint ancient streets, you can find them on the map: Pont de la Concorde, Rue de la République, Garibaldi laundry, the chapel of the White Penitents, San Nicolas square and the famous old bridge “Pont Vieux” across the Bever river, dating to the 13th century.
You don’t need to go to the library to learn about Sospel’s extraordinary past. Its very history is written on the walls. This place is full of charm. Its residents believe that
Sospel is a bit like old Nice, but not in any way dirty or impoverished. If you come to Sospel for the first time, you will spend hours wandering through its cobbled streets, enjoying its rich architectural heritage, old houses, narrow alleys, arches and squares. The Old Town is tucked between the modern buildings, and it is truly some kind of a time capsule sending you back to the past. The old town invites you to enjoy horse riding, fishing, and some rich nature.
The local authorities are planning to build new homes, to make some Menton citizens part of Sospel’s population, and to develop its tourist activity. The population is expected to be doubled within the next ten years with the development of infrastructure, and an entertainment and sports industry. Special attention will be given to golf courses, in the hope of attracting fans of the sport.
You will find very few foreigners in Sospel, but all the visitors here feel like they are home. Rumour has it that that one Russian, who was a former member of the KGB alongside V.V. Putin in Eastern Germany, and another former resident of the USSR with the intriguing name of Dmitry Shostakovich, currently live in the area.
The A8 road will take you to Sospel from Nice – follow gate 59 and then there is a direct road to Sospel. There is also a direct bus n°15 from Menton. If you like traveling by train, it is a very pleasant journey from Nice that will take you 55 minutes.
Try to book a room at the Villa Amiel, a few minutes away from the railway station. It is a comfortable B&B in a historic 16th century building. Churchill used to stop here, and he loved playing golf.
So whether you are a golfer or walker, or just interested in history, be sure to consider visiting Sospel if you are looking for a small village with lots of charm and location near Monaco.