The village of Châteauneuf-Villevieille, population c 900, can be accessed two ‘interesting’ ways. One that is winding with steep ascents, very Côte d’Azur.
The other route is up from Contes which consists of multiple, and I mean multiple, hairpin bends. The latter being, in my view, a little stressful especially having taken the first route and over shooting the village! Once there though, it is totally worthwhile. It is a small village with a definite community feel and buzz about it.
The existence of an ancient tumbled down fortified village higher up is not immediately apparent. This site, that is accessed by a challenging road, is Castel Nuovo. Ancient being around the year 1100 when people were escaping marauding bands of barbarians. Marauding bands of bandits continued to be a common theme. The fortified village contained around 100 buildings and a pigeonnier tower. In the 1500s monasteries left the back country due to the continued safety issues.
Châteauneuf-Villevieille itself has a history predating Castel Nuovo with Roman remains. It is considered that this is where the current Niçois can trace back their roots. Castel Nuovo suffered from several problems, a water source being the main one. The settlement appears to have been abandoned in favour of the more accessible and livable Châteauneuf-Villevieille.
The church of the fortified village was restored in the 1800s. The mayor of Châteauneuf-Villevieille, Edmond Mari, commenced the restoration of the pigeonnier some 25 years ago. The restoration is continuing on, the volunteer workforce is expanding and the rebuilding of the tower is progressing; the tower being the communal centre of the fortified village. Anyone can volunteer to do some work and simply have to present themselves Saturdays from 8 until noon – they will be made very welcome. There is plenty of information and literature at the Mairie in Châteauneuf-Villevieille.
A huge thank you MD Poole, the prolific author (Worldly Goods and Bergdorf Goodman amongst many others), for introducing me to the village and the fascinating Castel Nuovo! MD is a happy volunteer working on the restoration, enthusiastic about it and rightly so. It is part of the cultural heritage of Nice and its surroundings.
It has been suggested that there is a ghost in Castel Nuovo, some say this is not the case. If there is an unexpected person in any photo then let me know!
MD Poole’s books
Tim Fountain’s Me and Mon Ami YouTube video
TV Monaco (in French) with Jean-Philippe Pizzio
All photos courtesy Les Amis de Castel Nuovo