Featured writer: Annie Cosby
If you ever find yourself near the southern end of the French-Italian border, you absolutely cannot leave without a day trip to the medieval town of Èze (pronounced “ez”). Halway between Nice and Monaco, it’s only minutes on a bus from either locale to this breathtaking eagle’s nest of a village – and the bus ride is part of the fun!
Now, Èze is a commune (in the French sense, not the communist sense) on the French Riviera, also known as the Côte d’Azur. But there are several Èzes within it – the specific part you’re looking for is Eze-Village. (You don’t want Eze-sur-Mer. Make sure you get on the right bus! It’ll be the one with all the tourists.)
Which brings me to my Warning: The village has been incredibly done over for tourists, which many adventurers frown upon – frequently including myself. But in this instance, that doesn’t justify skipping this haven in the clouds! That does mean, however, that the cafes, hotels and restaurants in the village are wildly expensive, so budget travelers (like myself) should take care to eat before arriving. And maybe bring along a water bottle, because you’re only going one direction: UP!
Note: There are hiking trails around Èze, which I hear are wonderful. I wouldn’t know. Climbing the village steps was hiking enough for us!
Èze is perched on Mount Bastide, which has supposedly been inhabited since around 2000 B.C. (Holy shit, man!) Celto-ligurians and then Romans and then some Moors occupied the city, which was the target of numerous invasions due to its miraculous defensive position. (You can see everything from up there.) The House of Savoy had it, Turkish troops had it, everybody seemed to want Èze at one time or another. But it finally became a part of France, along with Nice, in the 19th century.
As I mentioned earlier, Èze has been restored for tourists to a pristine condition it probably never experienced before the tourist dollars started rolling in. The French Riviera as a whole was actually an impoverished region up until it became popular with the upper-class British as a health destination in the late 18th century.
The streets of Èze are extremely narrow. Donkeys were used for transporting everything into the city.
Get lost in the maze that is Èze!
The chapel is the oldest building in the village. It’s called the Chapelle de la Sainte Croix, and is really interesting in its own right. (It was built in 1306 and the religious people that tended to the plague victims gathered here.) But my favorite part of it was its memorable sunny yellow!
Now, you can wander Èze and explore the souvenir shops, perfumeries and art galleries for hours, but the main attraction is the Jardin exotique d’Èze.
We wandered up there, at the very top of Èze, only to be confronted with a turnstile and entrance fee.
My general travel philosophy is “Entrance fee? No thanks.” But my traveling partner was a student, thus earning a price reduction, and I paid in because I didn’t want to miss out on anything.
And so I’m here to tell you: Pay the damn fee! It’s worth it!
The garden is built where the old 12th-century chateau ruins stand, over 400 meters above the sea. That’s 1,300 feet! That’s more than 2 St. Louis Arches. That’s just shy of the Empire State Building. That’s way taller than the Statue of Liberty. (Which is disappointingly small. Post on that issue to come.) But back to Èze – it’s higher than the Eiffel Tower!
The heights were a bit daunting at first. The wind was really, really strong up there, and all that separates you from 400 meters is a measly railing.
As you can see, the place is stunning. They say Nietzsche, Walt Disney and the Grand Duchess Anastasia all visited the village. (True? I have no idea.)
I don’t think anything I can say will beat the view. So enjoy Èze!