Visiting Èze Village on the Côte D’Azur With a Small Dog
Perched high up on an impressive cliff on the French Riviera is a jewel of a medieval town. It’s a wonderful place, one of the best medieval towns you could visit. Even with a fair amount of crowding, Èze is a must see.
My tip? Get there early … as in before 9:00 a.m. early! If you drive into Èze later than that, arm yourself with patience because parking will be very limited. You may need to circle for a while waiting for someone to leave, and then be quick enough to rush in to the spot before another frustrated tourist does. Tempers can (and did) flare. You have been warned.
There are buses to Èze from Nice and from Èze-sur-Mer near the train station. Wait. You know what? Before you get confused, you should know that there are three parts to Èze:
- Èze-sur-Mer sits at the sea’s edge. This is where the trains pull in.
- Èze-Village – what this post is about – is on the hilltop.
- In between the two is the more residential town of Saint-Laurent-d’Èze.
Èze is up. All of it. Just, up. On a clear day you can see St. Tropez and Italy from this eagle’s nest. And it’s well worth any difficulty in finding it or getting to it. To say Èze is picturesque only begins to capture its appeal. Make sure you have room on your camera’s memory cards. You. Will. Go. Crazy. Taking pictures.
To find the entrance to the town, you must follow (on foot) the only road that leads from the main parking lot to the town entrance. You will find large stone steps with a spectacular view of the entry gardens to the 5-star hotel La Chevre d’Or. Take the stone steps (you guessed it) up, and keep going (yup) up. You’ll eventually hit the large archways that usher you into the town proper.
Dear Reader, it had been a long time since I had come across a village with so much charm! The village is so beautiful it almost seems plucked out of a fairy tale. Everywhere I looked, there were window boxes, art, and plants. There were banana, date, carob, orange, and lemon trees! And that’s not to mention the bougainvillea and jasmine climbing up all sorts of gorgeous old walls. Proof of the warm climate found all year. And did I mention the panoramic views of the sea and its coastline? We just kept pinching ourselves to ensure it was all real.
And no surprise, the small town has quite the past.
The area was first populated around 2000 BC as a commune. It was subsequently occupied by the Romans and then the Moors, who held the area for approximately 80 years until William of Provence drove them out in 973. By 1388, Èze was a part of the royal House of Savoy and became a fortified stronghold because of its proximity to Nice. In 1543, Turkish troops seized the village under orders from Hayreddin Barbarossa. Then France claimed possession when Louis XIV destroyed the walls surrounding the city in 1706 in the war of the Spanish succession. Finally, in April 1860, the people of Èze unanimously decided to be officially designated as part of France.
I had an amazing time meandering through the narrow pedestrian roads, scooting ahead under archways, inviting myself into beautifully restored houses, or having a drink in one of the many tiny shady squares complete with refreshing fountains. Èze seduced me immediately.
Dad loved Èze even before entering the old town when he found the most charming coffee shop near the parking lot – right out of someone’s little three-wheeler car! And Mom was tickled pink to find out about the donkeys. See, up until about the 1960s (or so I am told), everyone in the village had one of these beasts. Then times changed and the donkeys slowly disappeared from Èze. But two remain: Nani and Nina! They used to carry luggage to the Chateau Èze Hotel. Yes, they were the porters – or as the sign said in French, the “Bagagists”! I am serious, Dear Reader! Truly, I am not kidding. I just wish I had experienced more than just hearing them. Mom and I so wanted to meet these retired, and now pampered, animals!
Much to the delight of the bipeds, Èze also boasts an impressive collection of small arts and crafts boutiques, perfumeries, art galleries, jewellery vendors, eateries and more. Some looked like they had been dug out of the rock! I found out later that those places were where the donkeys used to live! There were also a number of tiny terraces hanging over streets with tiny tables available for a full meal or a quick coffee, ice cream, or yummy French pastry.
The rather orange church in the center of the old village (Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption) can be seen from miles around. It was built between 1764 and 1772 and has a relatively plain neo-classical facade. But that plainness conceals an impressive interior where you can see several interesting decorative features including paintings and frescoes. An Egyptian cross reminds all of the village’s ancient roots when the Phoenicians erected a temple there to honour the goddess Isis.
My favourite activity in Èze village was visiting the exotic botanical garden at the very tiptop! (I did say Èze is up, right?) And yes, the garden is small dog friendly. I didn’t even have to pay the cover charge!
You can’t see the garden until you go through the gate, so we were surprised by how large it is. I ran around on narrow steps and pathways like a crazy dog, enjoying the impressive garden built around the foundation of an 800 year-old castle. Louis XIV sadly destroyed the castle itself during the Spanish Succession I mentioned earlier. I am guessing that the botanical garden was built to bring beauty back to the spot.
The manicured paths lead you down or up on a tour of all sorts of cacti, some 25 feet tall! I saw agave, aloes, lavender and so much more. I even saw plants I had never seen before! Doting the space are tall and elegant sculptures of earth goddesses. Each has a plaque detailing her name and her thoughts. It is absolutely delightful and beautiful.
You will have the most fantastic view of the Mediterranean and its coastline from the cliff summit in the garden. On the hottest of summer days, there are misting machines to help people remain cool, but these were not on when we visited since the beginnings of the mistral winds were already upon the region.
If you love to walk, then as you leave Èze village, take a sharp right turn and walk along the Friedrich Nietzsche path all the way down to Èze-sur-Mer. I was told that Nietzsche composed the last part of his work “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” under the olive and pine-trees. This delightful walk takes about an hour, depending on your fitness level. Of course you will need twice that (and some) to climb back up if you parked near Èze village!
Èze was the first of many small medieval villages we saw on this trip and was one of the most delightful towns I have ever visited. It set the tone for our trip and also set the bar. And what a high bar Èze set!
In review: Your jaw will drop at the gorgeous view of the Mediterranean from Èze, a charming hilltop town on the Côte d’Azur. Its beautiful cobblestone streets and hot-pink bougainvillea are a far cry from the glamour of Cannes or St-Tropez. For travelers like us who couldn’t care less about celebrities and mega-yachts, that just added to the appeal. Shoppers will be delighted in the many local perfumeries, craft shops, and art galleries. Do note that visiting Èze is not for those with severe health issues (heart or respiratory) and it is not handicap accessible. The visit can be tough on the knees as well. So take your time. The village is not listed among the 170 or so plus-beaux villages (of which I have seen at least 50), but I maintain that Èze village should not only be on the list but should also be in the top 10 of the list. This oversight is a grave error that I hope will be rectified.