Eze: the 'eagle's nest' high above the Côte d'Azur, France

by Annika Helander

Within striking distance of Nice and Monaco, the mountain-top village of Eze is a quiet refuge with superb views, an old church, flower-decked houses and an exotic garden filled with statues

On a green mountain peak 429m above the sea, you will find the medieval village of Eze. Its name originates either from the port of Avisio or, according to oral legend, in memory of the goddess Isis. It is sometimes referred to as the eagle's nest due to its geographical position – high above the Côte d'Azur in Provence, south-east France. The village is famous for its beauty and has attracted many celebrities throughout the years.

Early one morning, I went to the bus station in Nice to catch the bus to Eze. The driver was in desperate need of a cup of coffee, and not at all interested in talking to a lively Swedish tourist. For one euro, however, he was willing to bring me along. Twenty minutes later, we arrived and the 700-year-old gate Potern welcomed me to the village. At this point, I was unaware that this would be one of those magic days you dream of when you are planning your vacation during a cold Scandinavian winter.

From the square, la Placette, a number of small cobbled streets with narrow passages climb towards an old 12th-century castle. Many of the houses are embellished with flowers or decorated in other ways. You can visit artists and study their work. There are also several restaurants to satisfy your appetite. The church, Our Lady of the Assumption, gives the village its characteristic silhouette. It was built by the Italian architect Antonio Spinelli between 1764 and 1778. The sobriety of the outside accentuates the richness of the interior, and it is well worth visiting.

Its small cemetery is today known as the burial place of the actor and humourist Francis Blanche, who died in 1974. He discovered the village while working for Radio Monte Carlo, deciding that Eze was the place where he wanted to rest for eternity. At the Planet Square you can admire the important House of Riquier named after a lordly family originally from Nice that lived here between the 12th and 15th century. The American composer Samuel Barlow (1892-1982) bought and restored the house between 1920 and 1923.

The Jardin d'Eze completely swept me away. You will have to pay €5 to visit the exotic garden, but you would not want to miss it, believe me. It was created after World War Two by the mayor, René Gianton, with the assistance of Jean Gastaud, founder of Monaco Exotic garden. The result is magnificent. Along the paths, together with succulents from Africa, America and other places, you will discover 15 sculptures or goddesses by Jean-Philippe Richard. Each has its own identity and personality, defined by a short poem by the artist. Their beauty is stunning; they cannot be described. They just stand there, quiet and timeless, observing the Mediterranean.

In the garden, slightly outside the alleys, a place has been thoroughly created for contemplation and rest. Take your time and stay here for a while and enjoy the atmosphere. You will also find the remains of the castle. In 1706, during the war of succession with Spain, Louis XIV ordered its destruction, and it was not until the Belle Epoque that it was rediscovered and the first tourists came to visit, as we do today. As in former days, you can follow the coastline with your eyes, from Italy to Saint-Tropez. On a clear winter day, you can discern the island of Corsica. It is breathtakingly beautiful.

Where to stay

You will find two of the most beautiful hotels of the French Riviera in Eze. William of Sweden (1884-1965) bought Le Château Eza in 1923. The Royal family of Sweden stayed there on several occasions. In 1977 it was bought by André Rochas, a rich man from Geneva. He restored the castle, opened a tea salon and a restaurant. Today, it is a four-star luxury hotel.

Le Château de la Chèvre d’Or was bought in 1923 by the violinist Zalto Balokovi (1895-1965). He sold it to Robert Wolf in 1953, who transformed it into a restaurant. Soon, the establishment was frequented by celebrities such as Prince Rainier of Monaco and Walt Disney. There are of course other accommodation possibilities. You will find a detailed list at www.eze-riviera.com.

Getting there

You can go to Eze by car, bus or train. There are parking facilitiess outside the village and the bus connections are good from Nice and Monaco. You can also go by train to Eze-sur-Mer. However, it is quite a long walk. Cars are not admitted in the village of Eze itself.

Essential tips

Arm yourself with a map! You will find a travel agency around the corner, and it is open most of the time. It is warm in Eze during the summer, especially in the exotic garden. It is a good idea to bring a bottle of water and something to cover one's head.