La Brigue is nestled deep in the valley below the ridges that are now the Italian border. The old cobbled streets are lined with colourful homes, the village cut in half by the river. Take the time to meander through the pretty village streets.
Prior to 1860, Italy was made up of independent states. Much of what is now the French Riviera belonged to one of those states – the house of Savoy. In 1860 Italy was unified as a kingdom and the côte d’Azur was annexed to France.
Why? It was ceded by Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, as he sought the military and political support of the French Emperor, Napoleon III for the creation of the Kingdom of Italy – a kingdom for which Victor Emmanuel II became the first king. Menton was one of those cities annexed to France in 1860. Only Monaco retained its status as a sovereign state, though its interests are closely tied to those of France.
The villages of La Brigue and Tende however, were not included with the territory of the Comté de Nice that was returned to France. They remained part of the Piemont region in Italy despite voting overwhelmingly in a referendum for annexation to France. The decision not to cede the two villages was under the pretext of preserving the hunting grounds of Victor Emmanuel II up on the high ridges, though the territory was of strategic interest.
In 1947, the two villages finally became French.
One of the remnants of La Brigue’s Italian past is the train that leads up the Roya valley. The last two French stations – La Brigue and Tende – are serviced solely by the Italian train. In La Brigue -and even farther south- you’ll hear as much Italian as you will hear French, and some speak a local dialect called Brigasque.
The architecture in the region is more Italian than French: the flamboyant and colourful Baroque churches and chapels, the yellow façades and green articulated shutters with slats: all Italian.