You hear the term “stepping back in time,” but you can’t truly grasp the meaning until you experience it yourself.

I first visited Paspus, a mountain top across from Saorge (and a cool 2400 in elevation), two years ago when my mountain man invited me and my family up for a picnic.

We were in awe of the place, but it wasn’t until I returned on this trip that I really absorbed the place and its story.

I’d read that Paspus was on the salt route from Nice to Tende in the 12th (I think) century. Salt was a huge commodity then; it would have to be for anyone to haul it up and around those mountains of the Piedmonts.

At some point, a small community cropped up on that particular mountain. Gibi said his house was built in the 1700s. You can see the terraced land where farmers once tried to make a go of making a living on not too friendly inclines.

They even had a little chapel, where the mountain folk would go to worship. Even Gibi remembers this, so it continued until fairly recently (he bought his house in the ’60s). But now it lays in disrepair, Mary sadly looking down on bags of concrete and hoes stored in the chapel.

Looking around, you see a handful of stone houses, but they’re all abandoned. There’s no work on the mountain, and many forsook this simple way of life to relocate to cities like Nice where they could find jobs.

“Il n’y a person,” Gibi told me. There is no one, except him, living on the mountain. And he is only there part time. He has an apartment in town and a job nearby.

But as often as he can come, he does, and like Sisyphus, continues the neverending job of keeping the mountain tame. Trees must be cut back. Rocks must be placed in holes in the fence to keep out the wild boars. Stones that have fallen from walls must be put back.

But I suspect Gibi would have it no other way. For life at Paspus is simple in a way it cannot be anywhere else. Everything he has in his rustic home, he’s lugged up the mountain. Lunch might be pasta and lapin (rabbit) he caught himself. Or a salad he foraged along the trail. He will proudly offer you a Paspus Kir, white wine enhanced with blueberry syrup from his crop.

It makes me sad that this way of life is dying, but for people like Gibi. But I am honored to have experienced it, if only for a day.