In mid’ June we decided to drive north to the small town of Barcelonette, situated high in the French Alps, about a three-hour drive from Nice. Our decision was based primarily on the strong relationship this town, or region, has had with Mexico since the early 19th century. Many people from here immigrated to Mexico; there’s not a family that did not have someone who went, and those that did, many did extremely well, returning years later very affluent and building elaborate mansions on the outskirts of town.
They certainly went at the right time. As well-experienced wool merchants, they brought with them their entrepreneurial spirit, along with the ideas and concepts that were taking place in France at the time, and applied them in Mexico. They started a number of businesses, many that still exist today, such as textile factories, the first brewery (Montezuma-Sol), some of the first banks, and built the first department stores, such as Liverpool, Fabricas de Francia and Palacio de Hierro, copying the Parisian models of the Bon Marché and la Samaritan.
To get to Barcelonette we had to pass over a couple of mountain ranges, and at times the road was nothing more than a path, with often barely enough room to pass any other vehicles we met along the way. But most of the vehicles were touring motorcycles, which these roads are certainly best for, and made passing quite easy. The route we chose wasn’t the main road to Barcelonette, but whatever way you go it isn’t easy getting into the valley, especially in the winter months. The two roads we utilized in and out are often shut down when the snow starts, leaving only the highway via Digne for access.
We stopped for lunch in Colmar-des-Alpes, a small walled town with a chateau perched above it, all quite picturesque. Not very large though, within a 1/2 hour we had taken in most of the town and we were ready to continue our drive. The views along the way continued to get more amazing. And we certainly chose a good time to visit as there wasn’t much traffic and the weather was wonderful. We reached the summit and then began our descent down into the Ubaye Valley. We could see the town below, but it took us about a 20 minutes to reach it as we continued to zig-zag our way down the side of the mountain.