Nestled between the Principality of Monaco and Menton, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin’s oldest part is the perched village, overlooking the sea, with its 10th-century castle built to protect the western border of Ventimiglia. Roquebrune’s history is like watching a tennis match between Monaco and France: between 1355 and 1793 Roquebrune was part of Monaco under the rule of the Grimaldi family. It then became French until 1814 before returning to the Principality. Finally in 1861, locals voted to join to French rule, where it has remained until present (with the exception of WWII when it was administered by the Kingdom of Italy).
Considered a suburb of Monaco, Roquebrune dropped the “Cap-Martin” from its name to avoid confusion with Roquebrune-sur-Argens in the Var.
Today, a thousand-year-old olive tree in the old village, along with its beautiful sea views (as pictured above from the chateau) and narrow cobbled streets make Roquebrune a frequent destination for tourists. In winter the village is fairly quiet, although Roquebrune’s more than 230 nativity scenes, some of which are no larger than a shoebox, make for a pleasing way to explore the streets at Christmas. As spring arrives, the village comes alive when many fêtes attract thousands of people.
Les Coqs Roquebrunois was founded in 1927. With over 70 members, they promote through various festivities across the year, including those pictured below.
Since 1927, the village events association, Les Coqs Roquebrunois, has been organising festivals, meals and other activities that are social, cultural and educational, with the aim of bringing the local community closer together. It is a voluntary organisation of 22 active members who take it upon themselves to plan and implement the programmes each year, as well as some 50 club members who enjoy the social side of the club and help out whenever they can. After seeing how much these people do for their village, I wanted to do my bit and so this year I became the first English active member to join. Although I’m only a trainee for the first year, at my first village event in November, the Fête de la Châtaigne, I learnt how to roast chestnuts for several thousands of visitors and we sold 350 kg during the day.
The Coqs’ current president is Jean-Pierre Cognet, a veritable ball of human energy who joined in 1965 and took over the reins in 1982, and ever since the association and the life of the village has gone from strength to strength. The principal aim is to attract as many visitors as possible, while having as much fun as possible, and any profits that are generated are ploughed back into future events with the aim of enticing even more people to come and enjoy our village.
The Fête des Genêts, with children in costume.
The season really gets going with the May Ball, followed shortly after by the Fête des Genêts (on June 27th & 28th in 2015), which honours the plant that, legend says, saved Roquebrune from sliding into the sea during an earthquake. Today, children compete for the prize of best costume and dress up in outfits and garlands made from the bright yellow leaves, while the evening gives way to a disco (free entry for all). There is a very flexible attitude to children’s bedtimes in France and the ball is usually a mix of kids and adults dancing the night away.
Then, of course, is the Fête Nationale, July 13th and 14th, celebrated with a procession of burning torches through the streets of the old village, as well as an aperitif d’honneur, games for the children, and a ball – entry is free and drinks and food are reasonably priced.
The Soupe au Pistou tasting, which serves up some 650 litres of soup in August.
Over 2,000 barbajuan, a local delicacy of a triangular ravioli stuffed with blettes, orange squash and meat that originates from Monaco, are handed out as a gift from the Coqs to the hundreds who come to join the celebrations. On August 5th (in 2015) the tasting of the soupe au pistou, offered free to all-comers (BYOB: that’s bring your own bowl), is a Herculean venture that relies on the 70 plus volunteers who come the day before to chop vegetables and help prepare 650 litres of soup. In June and September the streets are taken over by stallholders and artisans for the brocantes, which are very popular.
This ancient association of villagers injects so much life into the local community and does a great job of encouraging residents to enjoy their village and its traditions. The Coqs Roquebrunois website (www.lescoqsroquebrunois.fr) contains details of the year’s events. If you are looking for a taste of French village life, come and visit the old village of Roquebrune.