Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Authion – walking in military history

Jo Sinnott from the Travel Channel, wild camped over night on the Authion Plateau, comfy’ed up in her tent with her steady (motorbike) steed parked just outside. The series “Wild Camping” follows her adventures around Europe on her faithful machine and takes her to some surprising places – where you might never believe she could camp outside!!

If you can pick up Travel Channel programmes, the summary of Jo’s time in the Alpes-Maritimes is a fascinating look-see at all there is to offer here in one of the sexiest departments that France possesses. The Mercantour holiday specialists, spacebetween, supported the filming team in their explorations of the Alpes-Maritimes.

The tranquillity of the place and its magnificent views rather belie its rather chequered history of skirmishing, which given its strategic look out point position is scarcely surprising.

The County of Nice had been part of the Savoy-Piedmont kingdom since 1388, and from a military point of view, Authion has its strategic mark made in earlier wars, such as the French revolution. In 1793 and 1794, weak Austrian and Sardinian forces retrenched there, held out against French troops, who were then forced to make a big detour via the Republic of Genoa to attack their rear guard.

In 1859, the Napoleon III and Cavour made a secret agreement: the French people would help Piedmont to cast off the Austrians, in exchange for France being handed Nice and the Savoy county. After the battles of Magenta and Solferino, the peace deal was signed and the County of Nice became French in 1860, despite the England’s opposition. Relations were always tense as King Victor-Emmanuel was determined to keep his fabulous hunting grounds further north in the Mercantour.

In WWII as part of the Maginot Line which stretches to Sainte Agnès, the Authion defensive system dissuaded Italians to attack from 1940.

In March 1945, General De Gaulle wanted the French army to take back territory which was still occupied by the Germans. The battle of Authion raged from April 10 to 24, and caused a massive loss to the French - 280 killed and 1,000 wounded, in comparison to 100 killed on the German side. All a last minute tragedy with the Armistice being but a few weeks away.

Visitors today can enjoy the ride up to the Col de Turini, and past the small family sized ski station of Camp D’Argent before, in the winter, parking up and donning snow shoes, for a relaxed snow shoe walk, or in the summer can either take a stroll on foot, or drive round a circuit from where you can appreciate the fort, an old tank which remains there, and the remains of barracks buildings. It rarely fails to impress on atmosphere. The site is easily reachable from the French Riviera, and from the Mercantour National Park. It is often used by the Mercantour’s walking and adventure company specialist, spacebetween, as a easy gradient day out during their walking holiday breaks.

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