When temperatures on the coast and in the cities soar, we can always find freshness in the lower Alps. For communities like Caille, however, changes in the climate are making the step from winter destination to summer something much more permanent.
The chairlift is still at the service of the skiers in winter, but during the increasingly long temperate season, it serves a whole armada of other sporting activities. A high ropes course with zip lines at Arbre & Aventure, a caving system 45 metres below the ground at the Via Souterrata, mountain bike and e-bike trails, karting from the top to bottom of the lift with Runix, a tepee village for overnight stays... All are grouped around the Parc de la Moulière and the lift station.
Mayor Yves Funel has been in charge here for 23 years, but has spent his whole life in Caille, which is around 45 minutes from Grasse. Everyone knows everyone: there are just 450 year-round residents. Up here, 1,200 metres above sea level and far removed from the bling of the coast, life is obviously pretty good. The weather can be rough, but the strength of the community is no doubt thanks – in part – to the harshest of the climate.
Caille lies at the foot of the Baou Roux and overlooks a vast grassy plain. Surrounded by hills of the Préalpes d'Azur nature reserve, cows graze in summer and sheep in the autumn after returning from the higher peaks. In good winters (for sport), the snow can be several metres deep: perfect for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and even dog sledding. The plateau isn’t strictly suitable for agriculture. Following heavy rains, a considerable part is under water and sometimes for weeks. Only very gradually does the ‘lake’ seep away into the karstic rock.
With tourists arriving every day, there’s someone who works in tourism in almost every family. Funel says the own averages 15,000 visitors during the summer season. In Caille they will find a lively community. Unlike many places in rural France, there aren’t waves of people upping sticks and moving to the city. On the contrary, the residents count many people from the coast among them, including expats, who have come here for the affordable property and natural setting.
The former washhouse or lavoir, the public bread-baking oven and an old castle have all been well-preserved. Caille is particularly proud of a 625-kilo meteorite that landed within its borders 140,000 years ago. Made of iron and nickel, and hailing from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the original was hauled off to the Natural History Museum in Paris at the start of the 19th century, but a copy is presented in the town hall.
“How green it is this year!” exclaims Marion Luigi during our visit. As the head of the Syndicat Mixte of the two ski zones of Gréolièreles- Neiges and L'Audibergue-La Moulière, she’s responsible for a range of operations that would be the tasks of entire departments in larger municipalities, from managing the cable car employees to public relations.
Like the mayor, Marion was also born and bred in the area. Together with bike tour guide Philippe Vallini, who she’s known since childhood, Marion joins us on an e-bike experience from Caille across the plain to Andon, up to L’Audibergue then through the rock-strewn forest to the Parc de la Moulière and back to Caille. Cycle routes such as this have been building as tourist attractions over the last few years.
Philippe knows the region like the back of his hand – and the advantages of electrically-assisted bikes: “You pedal the same as normal, but your power is amplified and multiplied by the battery.” Skis, bikes, kart... It’s all fun, but you don’t need ‘equipment’ to experience the natural beauty of the area. Numerous hiking trails lead through the landscape and for people for all abilities. One of the most beautiful takes four hours over the Crêtes du Bauroux, from Séranon to Caille and back. With all this activity, you’ll be in need of some replenishment! If you’re looking for refined Mediterranean cuisine then you’re likely to be disappointed, but that’s not tosay there isn’t plenty of choice. All roads lead to Le Christina, better known as Chez Huguette.
In the 1960s, when L’Audibergue was developed into a winter sports centre, Huguette was smart enough to recognise a good location when she saw one: at the bottom of the slopes. Since then, she’s fed 150 hungryskiers a day during the season, but the restaurant is often full in the summer too. Today – as every one that’s gone before – the chef serves croutons d'ail as an amuse bouche. Then comes hearty mountain food: lamb, beef and vegetables with lots of butter. It’s all prepared by Huguette, now a great-grandmother. The menu costs €26 and a reservation is strongly recommended.
There’s also a good range of accommodation, from charming private chambres d'hôtes to hostels and other original concepts. These include: La Godille at the foot of the piste in d’Audibergue, a small inn run by the Grun family who work with local producers and experts to host events on wild herbs and medicinal plants, for example; the Lou Païs tepee camp in La Moulière, which features eight large tents for up eight people; the Cabanes de la Moulière treehouses run by Sophie Wetzel; and the Bastide Napoleon by the Madre family, whichowns an open roof over the bed with a clear view of the starry sky. Funel explains that many have been created by mothers looking to create an income while their children are at school. “La mayonnaise commence à prendre,” says mayor, “we are on the right path with all our efforts in the field of tourism.”