“Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” I called out of the window of our castle room. My husband had to remind me France already had plenty of cheese. In the medieval village of Eze we had the ultimate pleasure of staying in a former castle, Chateau Eza. With only 12 rooms this castle was built over four centuries ago. The last residence of the castle before it became a hotel was Swedish Prince Guillaume, a writer who created most of his works within its walls.
Each room of Chateau Eza is decorated differently recreating the feel of a medieval castle. Our suite had multiple views of the Mediterranean Sea and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula, the courtyard of Chateau Eza, and the Moyenne Corniche, possibly the world’s most breathtaking drive from Nice to Menton passing below Eze Village.
Perched over 1400 feet above sea level at the very top of a mountain rising like the nest of a Phoenix, Eze is unlike anything I have seen in my life. In fairytales and Game of Thrones yes, but not in real life. It is a marvel to behold something so lovely, so rare, so ancient. Eze was first inhabited in 2000 BC, and after would be ruled by the Romans then the Moors who would be driven out by William of Provence.
By 1388 Èze would fall under the jurisdiction of the Italian House of Savoy, who built up the town as a fortified stronghold because of its proximity to Nice. Throughout centuries turbulent French and Turkish rule would persist. Then in 1706 Louis XIV would destroy the walls surrounding the city during the war of the Spanish succession, and eventually in 1860 by unanimous decision by the people of Eze, Eze was designated as part of France.
The marvel begins with the stunning approach from the Moyenne Corniche but only escalates as you climb closer and closer by foot to the the actual village passing through the 14th century fortress gates. This is the only entrance to the old city and the only part of the fortress that was preserved after Louis XIV attack in the early 18th century.
The cob web like maze of narrow streets that run through the village are the same stones that people walked in medieval times. Though the streets fill with tourists during the day, for those lucky enough to actually stay in Eze you have the mornings and evenings to explore virtually uninterrupted by other human beings. It is a magical experience to wake up at sunrise and walk along the stone paths of a medieval village without another soul around, to see the light of the sun peak over the horizon to the east and light up the tiny Phoenix nest of Eze.
Our balcony provided a beautiful view of the Mediterranean. Perfect to enjoy morning espresso and sunset. Each evening we would watch as the sky would kaleidoscope from blues to golden hues to deep purples and then the lights of the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula would begin to twinkle. One of my favorite perks of our room was the window over the soaking tub looking out over the Moyenne Corinche. After dinner I would linger in my bubble bath sipping my Chamomile tea while my husband and I recapped stories of the day.
Listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France again and again, we decided to stay our first 4 days in Eze. It was a very good decision. Eze is small and low key, so it provided the perfect transition into our Mediterranean travels. Plus it is so close to so many other points of interest we could easily explore other areas within minutes.
Getting to Eze from the Nice airport is easy. Do not be intimidated. The public transportation from Nice to surrounding areas is impeccable and everyone is very helpful if you have questions. Renting a car to simply take the 20 minute commute to Eze is not necessary because once you arrive in Eze it would become a pain to find parking as only pedestrian traffic is allowed in the village of Eze. Although getting to Eze may be easy, the actual hike to Eze Village is not, exploring the village is not for those easily fatigued with steps and inclines being the main feature of the village. Upon arrival there is a bellman station at the bottom of the hill where you can check your luggage then proceed into the village to Chateau Eza with signs pointing the way. At check in we were whisked away to a beautiful balcony overlooking the Mediterranean then shown to our castle room. My heart screaming with delight and excitement.
Ready to explore and eat we winded our way around the streets and found a small cafe named La Nid D’Aigle or The Eagle’s Nest, Eze’s nickname. Tucked into a street only wide enough for one human at a time this place was as cozy as it gets and the perfect cafe to enjoy a sandwich or salad.
That afternoon we walked the narrow corridors shopping and talking to local artisans. We also explored one of the focal points of Eze, Le Jardin exotique d’Eze. It is here where you have the highest views in Eze surrounded by exotic flora and fauna.
We would also descend the medieval village to the bottom of the hill where the Galimard Perfumery is located. The first luxury Parfumeur in France, the prestigious House of Galimard, opened its doors in Grasse in 1747. For over 260 years, Galimard has created and cultivated fine fragrances. Tours are offered everyday, but for those wanting a more educational experience you can do a Haute Couture Creation Workshop to cultivate your own fragrance. An experience you are sure to remember while learning so much about the various organics used in creating the finest perfumes.
After enjoying our first Cote d’Azur sunset from our balcony, we had no reservations for dinner and decided to walk and find a place. La Taverne d’Antan had a bustling al fresco scene and voila there was a table for 2. Extremely affordable, delicious, and the service was fantastic, it was one of our favorite places to eat during the entire trip.
Amor fati – it means to love one’s fate. It is a belief that to truly live and love and be the best human you can be, you must fall in love with life – all of it, the good and the bad. It is a phrase that the German philosopher Friedrich Neitzsche used often in his writings, many that he wrote during the time he lived in Eze. The village had a profound effect on the famous philosopher. He would later recall, “I slept well, I laughed a lot, and I found a marvelous vigor and patience.” He also found the inspiration for Thus Spoke Zarathustra, much of which was composed in his head while hiking a steep donkey trail every day from the seaside to the medieval village. The route is now known officially as Le Chemin de Nietzsche or Nietzsche’s Path.
They say the hike is difficult and they are correct. It is rough, steep, and at the same time one of the most beautiful, exhilerating hikes you will ever experience. Perhaps the trail itself developed Nietzsche’s belief in amor fati – treacherous, exhausting, yet the reward in the beauty you see, all worth the discomfort. When the brilliant blues of the Mediterranean begin to glimmer through the peaks and trees, no photo can ever capture the beauty you see before your eyes. The wildflowers, succulents, pines and stone pebbles cloak together to create a storybook path leading down to the seaside. Allow yourself an hour and half to do this hike, if you are in excellent shape you can probably do it in less time.
Once you reach the seaside town of Eze you can follow the signs reading ‘La Plage’ to the beach. For us the hike worked up quite the appetite and we made our way down the beach to the famed Anjuna Beach which sits right on the water. Here you can dine and lounge if you like and on weekend nights this becomes quite the spot as locals and yachters alike come to dance on tables.
People often talk about French cuisine and rightly so, they birthed the actual word ‘chef’ in 1842. Although the chefs of France know how to create the most flavorful dishes, the secret to why French cuisine is so delicious is the fact they only eat what is in season. With the tastiest produce often times grown in their own restaurant gardens, the Mediterranean lapping along the shore, and limited menus, the chef of the Cote d’Azur is armed with the best resources to create an unforgettable meal. In the tiny village of Eze can be found two Michelin star restaurants and to no surprise they are both located in 5 star properties. Chateau Eza holds 1 Michelin star while La Cherve d’Or (or The Golden Goat) has been awarded 2 Michelin stars. Joining La Chèvre d’Or in 2016 Chef Arnaud Faye celebrates the incredible terroir extending from the Mercantour mountains to the Mediterranean sea with menu items entitled ‘from the soil’, ‘from the waves’, ‘from the land’ and ‘about sweetness’. This restaurant is a must.
By Day 3 we were ready to get out an explore beyond Eze. We ubered to Paloma Beach on the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula. Driving past the villas of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat was an experience within itself. Being a Rolling Stones fan, it quickly became apparent what the band found so appealing about this luxurious and remote piece of the Mediterranean. Clearly there was no shortage of inspiration to record ‘Exile on Main Street’.
Paloma Beach is a private beach club with a fine pebble beach, pier jutting out into the Mediterranean, and lounger and cabana service. It is a topless beach, though few choose to go topless and as with all things French there is etiquette involved, for example you are only topless when in your lounger. Another attraction of Paloma Beach, the gorgeous yachts moored just in front. We had not been laying out long when around the corner came YachtA, the world’s largest sailboat and one of the world’s largest yachts owned by Russian oligarch, Andrey Melnichenko. A known staple on the Cote d’Azur, at 468 ft long and masts over 300 ft high, this super yacht dwarfs over yachts.
One of the highlights of the entire trip and our favorite part of the day, jumping off the pier into the crystal clear blues of the Mediterranean. It was crisp but felt so good against our skin. The salt in the Mediterranean sea makes you more buoyant so you feel so light when swimming. I am still dreaming of the brilliant colors and how the sea felt against my skin.
Our last night we enjoyed a private dinner at Chateau Eza on the balcony. Chef Matthieu Gasnier created a 5 course meal with the main course being the Whole Fish John Dory. Simple and intensely flavorful it was cooked perfectly. Whether you are staying in Eze or nearby, I highly recommend making dinner reservations at Chateau Eza, it is an enchanting experience.
Each of our days in Eze started out with a wonderful breakfast at Chateau Eza. The beautiful view from breakfast in itself is an unparalleled way to start the day.
We shopped again at the little boutiques and art galleries and eventually came to the realization that it was time to journey on. In the words of Juliet, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Au revoir as they say in France, which doesn’t simply mean goodbye, it means ‘until we meet again.’