For the people of Breil-sur-Roya before the Second World War, the Col de Brouis was a lifeline. It was the only route for them to the rest of France.
To the north of them was Tenda, an Italian town surrounded by lush forests that were the Italian king’s favourite hunting grounds. To the south, along the fast-flowing Roya river, were two small French settlements and another border post with Italy beyond. They were stranded, with only high rock walls and enemy territory on all sides.
No wonder there are so many barracks on the Col de Brouis. The soldiers sheltered here at this strategic point, ready to fire down at the armies advancing upon Breil or to mobilise and defend the pass.
Up, right above, on the many hiking trails of these mountains underneath the Authion plateau, is another huge barracks. It stares down at you as you climb the road from Sospel with large empty eyes, for the building was never finished or inhabited.
From Sospel the climb starts in the pleasant and open meadows in the valley of the small river Bevera. It ascends through deep gorges, though never too tight, and ends in open meadows again.
It is as if the pass is higher than its 879m, and you have passed into the northern Alps.
Actually, these fields used to sustain a sizeable number of people that lived on and around the col. It is still open year round: you will see serious local cyclists training here through the winter, and the auberge at the top serves the best brownie in all of France – if not the world – as a reward.
The side into the Roya is more closed in, but the road is pleasant, wide and well surfaced, with an even gradient over its 8 kilometres. On the mountains above here, the locals collect mushrooms, herbs and wildflowers.