The French Riviera: History, Charm and Art of Eze

What do you think about first, when you hear “French Riviera”? Long beaches, glamour, haute-cousine, art, vibrant shades of turquoise and terracotta? For me, there is this idea of little charming villages nestled in the hills. Of places that take you back, at least for a little while, and let you experience the sights and smells of the ages long past.

Search for that kind of experiences led me to Eze.

The Three Faces of Eze

You will find Eze no more than 30 minutes away from Nice, and if you drive along Moyenne Cornice (N7) you can enjoy the entrancing views of the French Riviera. The road will take you to the Eze’s hilltop village, but that is not all there is to see of Eze.

The view from Moyenne Cornice (N7).
The view from Moyenne Cornice (N7). Or, “The brave pup surveying his kingdom”. 😀

Most people identify Eze with its medieval ruins exclusively, but Eze actually consists of three levels that go up the side of the mountain. Eze Bord-de-Mer is at the sea level, and it can be a great start for your day of exploration as most train and bus stops from Nice stop by there. You can also access it by driving along the Base Corniche (N98). From there, you can get to Eze Village (approx. 450 m above the sea) by following the Nietzsche’s trail. Or, if you are really in shape, you can finish the day by hiking or biking to the top level – The Col d’Eze (approx. 650 m above the sea). Another way to get to the Col d’Eze is via Grande Cornice (D2564).

The Legend of Nietzsche’s Trail

For many, the main draw of Eze is climbing the famous Nietzsche’s trail.

Legend says that Nietzsche used to climb the trail from Eze Bord-de-Mer to Eze Village every day during his stay in French Riviera, in the late 19th century. They say that the sun and heat gave him hallucinations that inspired one of his most well-known works “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”.

While we did not decide for taking the trail, those who did say they understand where the idea of hallucinations came from. 😀 The trail is challenging but not too difficult and it should take you from one to two hours depending on your pace. Make sure to bring lots of water and a hat to combat the sun and wear trainers instead of flip-flops.

There is one serious upside that makes it all worth it tough – a breathtaking view. If we had more time, we would have definitely tried it out, though definitely when the sun sets a bit. Lorry is struggling with the hear as it is. 🙂

The Eagle’s Nest

You can often hear people referring to Eze Village as an “eagle’s nest”. The origin of that expression comes from the fact that Eze is situated at around 450 meters above the sea level and overlooks the French Riviera. Besides, just feel of walking down its winding and picturesque streets, the feel of being inside the walls of a medieval city, gives you the impression of nest and protection.

The first thing I would recommend upon coming to Eze Village is to visit the Tourist Office. There are many signs directing your way so you can’t miss it. There you can get a complimentary copy of “Best of French Riviera” booklet and a map to the Village. They also offer guided tours through the village that last about hour and a half and cost 10 euros per person. Considering that the tour includes the visit to the Exotic Garden of Eze – admission cost is 6 euros per person – it’s a good offer.

We were short on time so we decided to go by ourselves, which we later regretted since it took us more than two ours to see everything, but alas. We are definitely getting that guided tour in Cagnes-sur-Mer. 😀

Whole French Riviera has a long-standing affair with art and that can be felt in Eze; the whole village is a work of art.

Streets are narrow and well preserved and you never know what the next turn is going to bring. Entrances to hotels, restaurants and shops are cutting away on each side, while artists and craftsman are occupying former cellars and ground floors of the buildings.

Pictures, sculptures, scents, and spices are everywhere.

The Church of Our Lady of Assumption

The baroque church of Our Lady of Assumption was designed by Antonio Spinelli and constructed between 1764 and 1778 on the ruins of the old church. The tower is so high you can see it from afar, but at the same time, it attracts lightning. If you take a look at the picture above, you will see that the tower dome is missing. Unfortunately, after repeated lightning strikes, they had to remove it.

What I found different is that the scent of incense was absent, you could smell flowers instead and, although this may sound silly, I liked the fact that there was slow french music playing inside.

The Exotic Garden of Eze

The Exotic Garden of Eze - La Jardin Exotique d'Eze.
The garden is a part of the hill, it has several level and paths so there is lots to explore.

We walked in with little expectations. We were already in love with the rest of Eze but they recommended the garden at the Tourist Office and it was pet-friendly so we decided to see what it looks like.

The garden is situated within the remains of the 12th-century medieval fortress at the top of Eze Village. The admission fee is 6 euros per person and dogs are allowed, which is not the case in most parks and National parks on the French Riviera.

Under careful supervision René Gianton, Major of Eze, and Jean Gastaud, one of the founding fathers of Exotic Garden of Monako, the first seeds and flower beds were set back in 1949. Aside from seeds, there was a number of fully grown plants, among which was the Crown of Thorns, 130 years old and weighing nearly half a ton. I can not imagine having to lift that one up the hill.

There are two parts to the garden, the south side here you can find more exotic plants from Africa and Central America, such as cacti, aloe vera and agave, and the north side where you can find plants that are common for the Mediterranean.

If you ever wondered what is the difference between aloe vera and agave, this is the place to be. Or, since Lorry especially did his best to sniff out all of them, you can just ask him.

The number and the setting of the plants will leave you in awe, but the garden is not all about the plants. There are places for respite and reflection upon art and surroundings throughout the garden. You can find comfortable wooden chairs, vaporizers, water fountains, shaded areas, and even a small waterfall – all in order to make the garden even more pleasurable during hot summer months.

Adding to the aesthetic appeal are 14 sculptures made of clay and representing earth goddesses that you can spot in different parts of the garden. Their creator is a French sculptor Jean-Philippe Richard and each has a name and a small poem in French and English accompanying it.

You can go through the garden in one hour or one day. There are new things to spot and explore everywhere you look, even if you walked down that path just a moments ago. There are also boards with additional information about the park, plants, and statues, but also with information about the sights you see from where you stand.

Breathtaking view from Eze Botanical Garden and Marina
Spell-binding view of Villefranche-sur-Mer and St Jean-Cap Ferrat from the Exotic Garden of Eze. They say that on a clear summer day you can see as far as Corsica. (Also featuring Marina.)

We expected a little but gained a lot. The Exotic Garden of Eze was the highlight of our day, for all three of us. Afterwards, we decided to rest in one of the many pet-friendly coffee shops in Eze, and enjoyed real French crepes with apricot marmalade.

Now, this is not all there is to Eze. Another interesting stop is the tour of Fragonard factory, the famous French perfume maker, but more on that next time. 🙂

What about you? Have you been to Eze, what did you like best? Do you plan to go? Let me know if you have questions. 🙂

Post Author
Sanja Gardasevic
Used to travel in books, now she combines it with real-life adventures. Proud parent of the cutest dog in the world (so, not biased at all). Incorrigible romantic.

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