•Alpes-Maritimes (06430) • Population: 2,089 • Altitude: 815 m
Tende was a fortified town guarding an important pass into the Piemont. It's a very lovely little Italian-style medieval mountain town, with the houses grouped tightly together on the flank of the mountain. Buildings are typically medieval houses and alpine archetecture, with narrow streets, vaulted passages and sculpted door lintels. The houses are roofed in lauze, a local varient of slate, and are often dark in the shadow of the mountains.
The tall "needle" ruin (the grey spire in our photo, left, and photo-5) is all that's left of the 14th-century chateau, destroyed in 1692. There are still many 19th-century forts on the heights around the town.
The line of mountains along the Franco-Italian border include over 20 peaks higher than 2000 m, and most are heavily forested with larch and pine. Ten km north of town is the Col de Tende, one of hundreds of beautiful sites in the region. The Col de Tende is the source of the Tende river, at 45 km long the shortest fleuve in France. (A fleuve is a river that flow into the sea.)
Near Tende is a quarry for the deep-green stone that contrasts so nicely with the very dark red stone that's so prevalent throughout the region. The green stone (schiste verte) is a type of schist or shale, used as floor tile, outdoor steps, and doorways, for practical and ascetic reasons. Variations of the schiste verte are unique for their local region, and the stone you'll see decorating the village of Tende is unique to Tende, coming from the single quarry below the village.
There are many trompe l'oeil paintings on the town buildings, sometimes the whole wall but occasionally just a single sneaky window beside real windows. We also found a few sundials (cadrans solaire), including the large pointerless one on the tower in our photo-4.
Tende, St. Dalmas and Casterino are centers for excursions into the Mercantour, best for hiking but jeep tours are also available.
There's plenty of commerce for hikers and hungry travelers in Tende, and welcome terrace cafés along the main street in the center of town.
The Collégiale Notre-Dame de l'Assomption is the large, dark-ocre building in the middle of the old town [photo-10]. The Count of Tende, Honoré Lascaris, ordered its construction in the 15th century. We quite liked the lintel statues of Christ and the 12 apostles. The interior is full of fine and ancient items. Open in the summer 9h-18h and the winter 9h-17h.
The 13th century Eglise Saint Michel is the striking two-toned ocre and orange building in the center of the lower town [photo-12]. With several transformations over the years, it ended up in this baroque style, with the unusual huge glass window of the central nef facing the garden and the river valley.
The 16th century Chapelle des Penitents Blancs and Chapelle des Penitents Noirs each has a tall bell-tower, somewhat onion shaped. Located just a bit below the bright Notre-Dame de l'Assomption, on can be seen at the right of our [photo-2]. Chapelles of the Penitents appeared during the 16th century in most of the villages the Roya and the other valleys of the Alpes-Maritimes.
The 13th century Chapelle Saint Sauveur is the pretty little building perched on the ridge high above the village. Visible from below, you can also see an exciting looking rope-bridge beside it, used by the Via Ferrata.
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History of Tende
First record, 11th century: Tende
Prehistoric: The prehistoric and bronze-age rock drawing in the Vallée des Merveilles, 12 km due west, are world famous.
Medieval: In 1261, Pierre-Guillaume de Vintimille, lord of Tende, maried the sister of Jean Lascaris, the young emperor of Western Greece, and took the name Vintimille-Lascaris. In 1581 Tende was acquired by the House of Savoie. In 1860, Tende and La Brigue were excluded from the reunion with France, in spite of popular demand in a plebiscite. It wasn't until the peace treaty with Italy in 1947 that Tende was reattached to France. Today Tende, at 17,747 hectares, is the largest commune of the Alpes Maritimes.
Tel : 04 93 04 73 71; Fax: 04 93 04 35 09
July (2nd Sun) - Fête de la Saint Eloi - Patron des Muletiers (calvicade of mules)
Aug - Fête des Bergers - with Aubades, folkloriqe parades (Sun), fair of local products
Oct - Fête des Châtaignes- Tende et Saint Dalmas de Tende
Honey Museum - Maison du Meil et de l'Abeille
- Location: Place Lieutenant Kalk
- Open: June - Sept, 9h-12h, 13h30-17h30
- Tel: 0493 047 622, or 0493 930 ie)
Musée départemental des Merveilles
- Location: Av. du 16 Sept 1947 (on the main street in the northern part of town).
- Open: 1 May - 15 Oct: 10h-18h30; 16 Oct - 30 Apr: 10h-17h
- Closed: Tuesday
- Entry: 4.57 €; reduced 2.30€; kids under 7 free
- Tel: 0493 043 250; Fax: 0493 04 32 53
- Natural history, archeology and the ethnology of the upper Roya valley. The museum is mainly about the prehistoric and Bronze Age rock engravings of the Mont Bégo part of the Mercantour Park.
Local sports include canyoning, paragliding (parapente), mountain biking (VTT), cross-country skiing and just about any other outdoor sports you can think of. A Via Ferrata is located on the high ridge directly above the town. In the warmer months, the town's large municipal swimming pool is available.
There are some magnificent potholling possibilities in the region of Tende. The Piaggia Bella is one of the deepest in the world, at -850 m, and the source de Fouige, 145 m developed.
• GPS: 44.043711, 7.515181
IGN (1/25,000) #3841 OT "Vallée de la Roya"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #9 "Mercantour"
Tende is a great town for serious hiking, surrounded by beautiful mountains, and hiking trails going out just about everywhere.
The GR 52A (Grande Randonnée) crosses north-south through Tende. To the south, the GR 52A crosses to La Brigue a couple of km east of St-Dalmas and continues through beautiful mountains and valleys to Saorge. To the north, the GR 52A goes past the Cime de Tavan (1912 m) and up to 1956 m before crossing the Col de Tende.
• Other hikes go into and over the mountains to the west, including the Cime du Prêtre (2142 m) and Mont Agnelino (2201 m).
• Hikes further west, to Mont Bego and the Vallée des Merveilles go via the Lac des Mesches or Casterino. Both these places are also accessable by road, the D91 from St-Dalmas.
Col de Tende - Forts.
There's a mountain road with very many lacets going from the main road at the tunnel de Tende (1280 m) up to the Col de Tende (1871 m). From the Col de Tende, a mountain road goes southwest, past the Fort de la Marguerie (1847 m) on continues southwest and south.
On the mountain ridge north of Fort de la Marguerie is Fort Pernante (2011 m), and west is Fort de Giaure. My map doesn't show any roads up to these two forts.
The mountain roads are generally in good shape and not too steep. No problem for an ordinary 4x4 vehicule. I don't know anything about the rules for public access.
Train des Merveilles - A half-dozen trains a day connect Tende with Nice, Breil and other villages to the south as well Vintemiglia on the Italian coast and Cuneo and Torino to the north.