It was a wet Saturday afternoon in mid-April and I was on my way to play cricket. My destination was the mountain village of St Valery Du Thier in the foothills of the Alps. To get there, I had taken the bus from Nice to the town of Grasse, where I would meet Kevin, one of my team-mates who would give me a ride from Grasse to our ground in St Valery. I met Kevin outside the bus station in Grasse and piled my cricket equipment into the back of his Jeep. We set off through the mist towards St Valery on what would be a surprisingly interesting trip.
The first part of the trip that attracted my attention was the scenery. I had already been suitably taken aback by the Provençal countryside on my trip from Nice to Grasse on the 500 bus, which had wound its way from the beach all the way through the mountains. Grasse is already over 500m above sea level, despite being less than 20km from the Mediterranean. So, when we climbed higher, I was a little surprised and certainly rather excited.
The road from Grasse to St Valery Du Their was stunning. The gradient was fearsome. Kevin had to drop his Jeep into a very low gear as we crawled up the winding mountain pass. The view back down towards Grasse was stunning. The slope led passed the town and down into a valley that melted into the mist and low clouds. As we began to inch higher and higher, the cloud descended in all round us making it feel as though we were embarking on a rather intimidating Alpine ascent.
As we reached about 900m above sea level, we came to the village of St Valery and Kevin turned to me to ask me a question:
"Do you know the story of St Valery?"
"No, what story?" I replied.
Kevin explained that when Napoleon made his return from exile – a period known as the 100 days – on the Island of Elba, St Valery Du Thiers was one of his first stops on his march back to Paris. Apparently, he and his men stopped there for lunch in the village square. Because of this, a bust of the little man now sits on a plinth in the centre of town. Sadly, it is not the original. That disappeared during WWII.
That all seemed a very nice story and an interesting snippet of local history. However, as significant as that seemed, I could not get passed the idea of the general and his men marching through such heavy mountain terrain. By the time they reached St Valery, they would certainly have earned their lunch.