Nestled between Menton and Monaco and seemingly chiselled out of the rocks of the Grande Corniche, Roquebrune is home to l'Olivier Millénaire, the oldest living olive tree in the region.
Although signposted as l’Olivier Millénaire Roquebrune’s tourist office believe it to be nearer to 2,000 years old as they write: ‘The roots, like those of the Mathusalem de Provence, extend 20 meters in diameter and was likely planted by the Romans in the year 400.’ However, some specialists believe it to be much older and date it to be 2500 to 2800 years old.
The tree is located along chemin de Menton, a narrow tarmac pathway. To get there you will need to walk up and through Roquebrune, about a five minute walk, but there are numerous signs along the way to point you in the right direction.
The tree’s gnarled roots grow out and along the side of a steep stone embankment and it’s difficult to see where stones stop and roots begin. Wide trunks, some 13 metres high, spread their lush leafy canopy across the path, offering some shade in the hot Mediterranean summer. It’s an impressive sight at any time of the year
It is said that the tree was once the property of the Vial brothers. Hearing that they wanted to cut it down, the French statesman and historian, Gabriel Hanoteaux (1853-1944), intervened and in 1925 bought the 30m² strip of land upon which the tree grew. While still belonging to Hanoteaux’s descendants the tree is now cared for by the municipality and so marked by a wooden plaque.
Most of the olive trees in and around Nice are of the Cailletier variety so we can presume that this ancient tree is the same sort. These trees easily adapt to rocky land and send roots deep into the soil in search of water. They reach maturity when they are 15 and continue producing fruit until they are 150 years old. However, this ancient tree has not read the text books as it continues to this day to produce olives.
Cailletier olives are small in size and ovoid in shape. Although they have a large pit and very little flesh they have a high oil content. The olives are allowed to ripen on the tree to a dark colour that ranges from black brownish-purple to brownish-black.
Niçoise Olives come from the same tree. They are cured in brine, then packed and shipped in olive oil, often with added herbs. They have a flavour that is sour, sharp and rich.
The oil from Cailletier olives makes for a mild, fruity oil with almond and artichoke undertones. Just as the wine from Nice has its own appellation (AOC Bellet), the olives of Nice and surrounding countryside fall under the AOP Olive de Nice and AOP Huile d’Olive de Nice. This appellation covers the majority of the Alpes-Maritimes, extending from the Grasse hinterland down to the coast in Menton.