Discovering Breglio and the Cruella Tower




Overview of the village of Breglio from the Cruella Tower

Villages of Liguria

Discovering Breglio and the Cruella Tower




January 19, 2024

In south-eastern France, the village of Breglio, in French Breil, is an excellent destination for those wishing to spend a day away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy places, perfect for a day trip from western Liguria. Its narrow, ancient streets tell centuries-old stories, and right in the middle of the village stands the Cruella Tower, an imposing testimony to the ancient Genoese watch.


What to do and see in Breglio? Discover how to get there and our suggestions for exploring the village at its best!

Where is it located and how to get to Breglio

 

Located in south-eastern France, the commune of Breil-sur-Roya is in the Roia Valley region. It is only 24 km from Ventimiglia and about 80 km from Diano Marina: undoubtedly a charming destination and easily accessible from Agriturismo Le Girandole, which can be reached in just over 1 hour by car. Are you looking for holiday flats in western Liguria? Discover the agritourism!
The entire length of the town is crossed by the Roia river, which has its source in the Colle di Tenda, turning into a lake before the dam, while after the dam the river turns into a rushing torrent along a small gorge, to flow into the Ligurian Sea after only 59 km at Ventimiglia.

The history of the village

 

Breil-sur-Roya is an ancient village criss-crossed by strategic roads linking Provence and the Nice Country to the Riviera dei Fiori, via Ventimiglia, to the Po Plain. Its history has its roots in the Bronze Age, with traces of human presence dating back to 800 BC. In the 5th century BC, the Celts joined the local Ligurians, forming the Celto-Ligurian population of the Oratelli.
During the Middle Ages, Breglio came under the rule of various entities, including the Romans, the Lombards and the Counts of Savoy. In the 16th century, following the fate of the County of Nice, it became part of the Duchy of Savoy and later of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Over the centuries, it was disputed between Genoa and the County of Nice, until it followed the fate of the former and became part of the Duchy of Savoy in the 16th century.
In 1860, after a referendum, Breil-sur-Roya joined France along with other territories of the County of Nice. In the 20th century, the village saw major changes with the development of infrastructure such as the international railway station and the presence of Alpine troops. During the Second World War, it suffered serious damage and in 1947 was territorially enlarged with the annexation of the Italian hamlets of Libri and Piena. Its history reflects the vicissitudes of a community tied to its territory and the influences of the surrounding powers.

The streets of the centre of Breglio

What to see in Breglio

 

Breglio stands out for its history and the authenticity of its landscapes. Crossed by the Roia river, the village and its monuments narrate the rich heritage it has witnessed. Here are some suggestions on what to visit in Breglio.

 

The Breglio War Memorial

 

The Monumento ai Caduti di Breglio (Breglio War Memorial), erected in 1922 during the time when Breglio was part of the Kingdom of Italy, is of historical importance. During the visit, a reflection on its historical interpretation emerges, with signs of a possible reworking of the narrative to emphasise the alliance with France during the First World War. However, a certain historical ambiguity is noted, as there are no traces of Italian soldiers during the Battle of Verdun, one of the bloodiest battles of the Great War between the French and Germans. Nevertheless, the monument remains a tribute to the fallen Breglians, a testimony that crosses time and historical borders.

The Breglio war memorial

Biancheri Square

 

Giuseppe Bianchieri, the longest-serving president of the Chamber of Deputies in the history of the Kingdom of Italy and the Italian Republic, left an indelible mark not only for his long institutional service but also for his visionary proposal to build a railroad between Ventimiglia and Cuneo. Originally conceived through the Argentina Valley, Biancheri suggested an alternative route through the Roia Valley, spearheading the design of the Ventimiglia to Breil-sur-Roya (Breglio) section of the current Tenda line. This bold initiative shaped the landscape and connectivity of the region.

In recognition of Giuseppe Bianchieri's contributions, a middle school in Ventimiglia, a street in Genoa's Sestri Ponente neighborhood, and the main square in Breil-sur-Roya bear his name. Not only that, the square in Limonetto (CN) is also dedicated to his memory, celebrating his lasting impact on the history and development of the communities traversed by the railroad he helped design.

 

Brancion Square in downtown Breglio

The Chapel of Mercy

 

The Chapel of Mercy, set in the historic context of Brancion Square, currently faces the challenges of ground subsidence that have contributed to the delineation of a charming little square in front of its facade. Built in the late 17th century together with the church of Santa-Maria-in-Albis, the chapel features a Baroque facade with a sophisticated articulation on three levels. The base shows an ornate doorway, the second level expresses refined Baroque decoration, and the third features scroll-like fins and a medallion with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The bell tower added between 1880 and 1890 and the nineteenth-century frescoes contribute to an atmospheric and historically rich environment.

The Chapel of Mercy in Breil

The hydroelectric dam

 

The Breglio hydroelectric dam is a key man-made structure for the production of electricity. Its water supply comes from Swan Lake, erected after World War II. The construction of this dam undoubtedly influenced the appearance of the area, generating an essential body of water to supply the Arbousset hydroelectric plant. Currently, in addition to its energy role, the reservoir provides recreational opportunities, including fishing and kayaking, enriching the life of the community and underscoring the facility's adaptability in serving various purposes.

Mini dam in Breglio

What to do in Breglio: the hike to the Tour de la Cruella

 

The 4-km-long hike to the Tour de la Cruella winds through picturesque landscapes, particularly along the Roya stream. It is undoubtedly an interesting circuit for both hikers and nature and history lovers. The route covers a total elevation gain of 342 meters, with an ascent and descent of 171 meters each.

The start of the trail to the Cruella Tower and view of Breglio

Recommended clothing for the hike includes sportswear and sneakers. I recommend carrying a bottle of water. No special physical preparation is required, although the climb is challenging and requires slow progression.

 

The trailhead and Genoa Gate

 

The trail begins near the Chapelle Saint-Antoine-l'Ermite de Breil-sur-Roya, a chapel that cannot be visited inside but has remains of an old watchtower. The first section is pleasantly flat, and winds along the Roya stream, offering breathtaking views of the stream's gorge.

La Chapelle Saint Antoine along the path to the Tour de la Cruella

Next, one encounters the Porte de Genes, or Porte de Genes, part of Breil-sur-Roya's system of fortifications and the only one still standing to this day.

The entrance to the trail and the Porte de Genes

The Bocca della Cruella

 

Continuing on, after about 200 meters, you reach the Bocca della Cruella and are presented with the option of continuing to Fanghetto or continuing to the Tower. The trail, known as the "Sentier Valléen de la Roya," offers a historical glimpse along the meandering Roya River and ancient Salt Roads.

Overview of the Mouth of the Cruella

The path to the tower has a steep drop of about 150 meters. The trail is well marked but narrow in some sections, requiring caution on the ascent. The name "Trail of the Irish" is a tribute to the participation of Irish citizens in its restoration as part of a European program. A more challenging alternative, the Tour de la Cruella Long Trail, offers breathtaking views from the Cruella Tower.

Start Climbing Trail of the Cruella

La Tour de la Cruella and its history

 

The Cruella Tower represents a symbol of over a thousand years of history for the village of Breil. Originally erected as a lookout point against Saracen raids in the 10th century, it was later rebuilt by the Counts of Ventimiglia in 1000 AD to assert their dominance over the valley. Over the centuries, the tower witnessed alliances, conflicts and dominations, passing from the hands of the Savoy family to those of the French during the League of Augusta in 1690.

Arrive at the Tour de la Cruella

La Cruella was garrisoned by Provençal garrisons against threats from Genoa and the Houses of Tenda. In 1495, the citizens of Breglio refused the restoration of the battlements, declaring that the work fell under Savoy sovereign jurisdiction. In the 17th century, during the War of the League of Augusta, the tower was momentarily under French rule, only to return under the Savoy. In 1793, with the rise of the French Revolution, the tricolor flag flew over Cruella until 1814.

After a period of inactivity, the tower returned to use during World War II, when Italian explorers attempted to conquer the Nice region. The resistance of the Chasseurs Alpins prevented the fall of Breil into enemy hands.

The trail on the way back after visiting the Tour de la Cruella

 

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