hidden europe 29

A mountain community in France: Sospel

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Sospel presents a colourful mix of house facades (photo © hidden europe).


Sospel is a small community in the mountains of southeast France and a place that has always punched above its weight. hidden europe reports from a peaceful small town in the Maritime Alps.

When Harriet Morton reached Sospello in 1827, after a fearful journey from Nice, she immediately identified the ambiguity that almost two centuries later still lies at the heart of life in the remote mountain community — which today styles itself more commonly as Sospel rather than Sospello. “The people have the cocked hat of the French peasants, but they speak a patois Italian. It is probably more easy to change the dress than the language,” observed Mrs Morton in the diary where every evening she recalled the events of the day. Her subsequent book Protestant Vigils, published in 1829, is one of the more eccentric of the travelogues compiled at a time when Italian travel was suddenly all the vogue for English ladies of independent means.

Even after the Nizzardo (viz. Nice and its mountain hinterland) was formally annexed by France in 1860, guidebook publishers like John Murray and Karl Baedeker continued to include the area in their North Italy guides and invariably referred to Sospel as Sospello, just as Menton remained Mentone. The Italian political and military leader Garibaldi, we should remember, hailed from Nizza (nowadays Nice), so the citizens of Nizzardo did not give up their Italian connections lightly. Even today Menton, easily the most Italianate of the French Riviera resorts, is still often referred to by its erstwhile Italian name.

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