Eze – Stunning Hilltop Village
Perched like an ‘eagle’s nest’ between Nice and Monaco some 427m above sea level, the picturesque medieval village of Eze and its light ochre church draws you in like a moth to a light and is an absolute delight to discover. Its privileged position offers some of the most outstanding views of the French Riviera but it does come at a price: the village can only be accessed on foot.
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This village is a delight to visit but not for the faint-hearted as, of all the perched villages along the Côte d’Azur, Eze is the most exhausting to explore. All cruise coaches park at the bottom of the village as there are no roads leading to the top. The whole village is pedestrian and a combination of steps and cobbled pavement. Some private guided tour vehicles can stop briefly within the #33 blue square area to drop clients off but must drive back down again.
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If you suffer from serious knee or hip joint discomfort or find yourself quickly out-of-breath, the walk up might prove difficult for you. If you want to give it a go may we suggest you take things slowly, resting a moment or two to browse the lovely boutiques and art galleries along the way (plus there are some good views well worth stopping for and photographing). That will help you catch your breath before moving on and exploring the rest of this exceptional village.
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The well-worn limestone stones that make up the side of the pathway have turned to marble over the years and become very slippery in damp or rainy weather. This can make the walk back down a little difficult (especially in flip-flops or summer shoes). There is a metal handrail that helps when you’re going up and equally so when walking down.
For those of you unable to negotiate the steep climb, you’ll find a number of pretty artisan boutiques at the bottom of Eze village. Both Galimard and Fragonard have lovely shops selling a gorgeous selection of their soaps and perfumes. Fragonard give tours of their workshop and, if you have time, you could even create your own perfume.
While you wait for your friends or family, there are a couple of rather nice and very reasonably priced restaurants and cafés if you feel like a snack. You’ll also find a few other shops, a bank and a chemist. You’ll find public toilets by Place du Général de Gaulle.
The Tourist Office
You might like to pop into the Tourist Office located at the bottom of Eze village next to the car parks (there are two parking areas: Place du Général de Gaulle (ticket) and Place Figuiera (free). Here you can pick up a detailed map of the different sites to see as you climb up and through the village.
Your exploration of Eze begins by going through an archway and past the “Postern” and its guardroom. Today this is now a tiny boutique selling beautiful olive wood tableware and ornaments.
Once through the “Postern” you’ll discover a small Provençal village with a series of narrow streets, pretty archways and superbly restored stone houses. Shady squares, trompe l’oeil paintings and ancient fountains lend further charm. Huge stoneware tubs, window boxes and a variety of climbing plants such as jasmine, bougainvillea and plumbago add a bright splash of colour while panoramic views of the sea and coastline combine to make Eze a truly remarkable site.
Among all the houses in the village, the residence of the Riquier family stands out from the others with its door decorated in low relief. The Riquier family originated from Nice and are among the first known aristocrats to live in Eze; the village was their oldest fief outside Nice. Their sovereignty lasted from the 13th century right up to the 16th century.
During the 17th and the 18th centuries, the house was occupied by the Fighiera family and later abandoned. The residence was bought in 1920 by Samuel Lathan Barlow, an American composer, who set about its restoration with the aid of Jan Juta (who also participated in the decoration of cruise liner The Queen Mary). The wrought iron and the front door are made from fragments of 15th and 16th century furniture.
In 1924 Samual Barlow had his own private water supply installed while Zatlo Balakovic (Yugoslav violinist) and his Highness William of Sweden waited a further five years before the municipality permitted the installation of water pipes into their homes. In 1930 Barlow instigated the installation (at his own expense) of the current Italian fountain in place de Planet. It became the first running water for the inhabitants of the village. The water was drawn from the Channel of the lower Corniche in Eze seaside and pumped up to the village.
But it wasn’t until after the Second World War, in 1952, that running water was finally installed for all the inhabitants of the village. Prior to then water was collected in one of the two cisterns situated in the village or taken from the fountain at the bottom of the village and brought up.
The numerous small arts and crafts boutiques are hard to resist; some are like tiny caves dug out of the rocky hill-side. The streets of this medieval village have witnessed its historic past. The two look-out towers at the entrance, the door-way and the gun-boat are all classified as historic monuments.
Eze is also renowned for two very beautiful hotel/restaurants: Château de la Chèvre d’Or and Château Eza.
Château de la Chèvre d’Or
This renowned restaurant and four-star hotel (and two-star Michelin restaurant achieved in 2000), was so named by Zatlo Balokovic. Balokovic lived in Great Britain from 1920 to 1923. In 1926 he married Joyce Barden, the grand-daughter of Adlai Stevenson, Vice President of the United-States and that year bought a house in Eze-Village.
The Château was later transformed into a hotel but had very few rooms. It was bought by its present owners in the late eighties and turned into the luxurious hotel it is today. The problem of bedrooms was quickly solved when they bought several village houses and converted them into bedrooms and junior suites.
At one time, it was not rare to see the Prince and the Princess of Monaco at the restaurant or even staying overnight; President Clinton made an impromptu visit there in October 2002 as have other remarkable and famous people.
It is now owned by the prestigious Relais & Châteaux group and has 33 bedrooms and junior suites. Plate glass windows give a panoramic 270° viesta across the Mediterranean from Monte Carlo in the East to St. Tropez in the West.
Built in 1920 Château Eza is situated at the very top of the village and was once part of a group of dwellings chosen by Prince William of Sweden, the eldest son of King Gustav V of Sweden, as winter residences. Between 1923 and 1953 the royal family spent numerous holidays there. Until 1976, it was known as the “Prince of Sweden Castle”.
In 1977, André Rochat (culinary pioneer and proprietor of Savoy French Bakery and Andre’s French Restaurant in Las Vegas) discovered Eze village. His first wish was to restore the original appearance of the castle but noticing the growing interest of tourists for Eze, couldn’t resist the temptation of creating a tea-room there. After his initial success it became a restaurant and finally a hotel. Rochat owned the Château from 1976 until the end of 1993; today it is a 4-star hotel and belongs to The Stein Group.
During the reconstruction phase of the Château, building materials had to be brought up the steep winding streets by donkeys which are still present to greet guests. Every Sunday the hotel’s two pet donkeys can be found at the entrance of the village sleepily resting in stables, which were formerly the luggage hold for the hotel.
Even today, all deliveries are brought up to the shops, cafés and restaurants on foot as the whole village is completely pedestrian. Rather than donkeys, “diables” (2-wheel hand-pushed trucks) are used instead – no mean feat on hot summer days.
Eze Botanical Garden
At the very top of the village, you’ll find Eze’s Botanical Garden created in 1949 by Jean Gastaud and inaugurated the 25th March 1950 where you’ll find an impressive collection of cacti and rare plants (many from South America). Click here to read our article about this exotic garden.
From the village you can walk down to “Eze Bord-de-Mer” by taking the Friedrich-Nietzsche path (at the end of the avenue du Jardin Exotique) located just at the entrance of the village and next to the Chèvre d’Or’s valet parking.
It was during his second stay on the Côte d’Azur (December 1884 – April 1885) that Frédéric Nietzsche discovered Eze which inspired him to compose the last part of his work “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”; the walk down is only 45 minutes but going up takes a good 1½ hours. Do this in stout walking shoes as the path is stony and in poor condition.
The History of Eze
Ancient remains have been found in and around Eze that tell of early Celto-ligurian and Phoenician settlements. Later, it was the turn of the Romans. A notable artefact of their presence can be found at La Turbie (just 5 km from Eze) with the amazing white stone commemorative monument known as the “Trophée des Alpes”, erected in 5 BC in honour of the Roman Emperor Augustus, conqueror of the peoples of the Alps. It is the only structure of its type still in existence and, even today, remains a symbol to the dominating power of the Romans along the Côte d’Azur.
In 578 it was the turn of the Lombards to settle on this very picturesque and privileged site. Then, after the village became established in the 10th century, Eze was occupied by Moorish pirates who, for more than 80 years, demanded ransoms and confiscated a proportion of the harvests.
During the Middle Ages, in 1388, Eze fell into the hands of the Italian Counts of Savoy, whose capital, Turin, was protected from French invasions by the Alps. The Counts of Savoy, fully aware of the strategic importance of this coastline, improved the defences of Eze and protected its entrance by fortified double doors called “La Poterne”.
Despite these efforts, the village was occupied in 1543 by the Turks of Soliman the Magnificent allied with King François I, in his war against Charles Quint and the House of Savoy. In 1592, Antoine Valperga was established as Count of Savoy and in 1611 sold the kingdom of Eze to Senator César Cortina Saint-Martin, whose descendants remained as Counts of Eze until the French Revolution (1789-1799).
But perhaps the cruellest blow was dealt to Eze in 1706: during the Spanish War of Succession, Louis 14th ordered the complete destruction of the fortifications and castle of Eze along with the castle of Nice and the Trophée des Alpes in La Turbie, in order to rid the towns of their military importance.
The oldest building in the village is the Chapelle de la Sainte Croix and dates back to 1306. Members of the lay order of the White Penitents of Eze, in charge of giving assistance to plague victims, would hold their meetings there. The shape of the bell-turret is an indication that the village once belonged to Provence.
It was in this very chapel that the people of Eze voted unanimously to be attached to France. Eze finally became part of France in 1860. The vote for its annexation took place on 15th and 16th April 1860 in the Chapel of the White Penitents. Out of 171 registered voters, there were 133 voters and 133 ballot papers marked “yes”.