The Village at the Top of the Riviera


Èze. I’d never heard of it before, wasn’t even certain how to pronounce it. We found it by chance, just by zooming in and out on an internet map of the French Riviera. The images that came up on the search looked lovely, and on a whim, we booked a hotel and eagerly awaited our trip.

When we arrived at the airport in Nice, we climbed into our little Fiat and drove, travel bleary and uncertain, on winding roads through Nice and up a sharp turn towards Èze – our mystery village. It wasn’t quite high season yet, so we relished the idea of having a little town mostly to ourselves.

We turned when we found the sign that declared “EZE VILLAGE,” and were confused for a few moments when the hotel sign directed us to a small building on the side of a terraced road. Surely, this wasn’t the hotel – this was tiny, and though elegant, didn’t have the views of Cote d’Azur that we’d expected (and paid for).

The tiny building wasn’t the hotel. It was the place you leave your car and your luggage before walking half a mile up, up, up into the medieval village, over cobbles and rocks and questionable stairs. Typically, we would have preferred to carry our own bags, but looking up, we realized that our jet lag had kicked in full strength, and it was a long, long way to the top.

The climb really was lovely, and everything in the village was from another time. So far above the blue waters of the Mediterranean below, ancient stones and pathways, all made for foot-travel. There were no motorized vehicles here, and modern noises and distractions were at a happy quiet. Just the occasional shutter of a camera, or the ringing of a cellphone that usually went unanswered. The hotel too, was perfect – unbelievably expensive, and if it hadn’t been a special occasion, we would never have sprung for it. (We found out later that the hotel we had chosen was a playground of Russian oligarchs, and had it been high season, we never could have hoped to stay there, at all). We were welcomed with a drink, and an ancient fortress-looking room with two fireplaces, stone walls with exposed beams and a balcony that looked out onto the coast.

On that first day, we explored the botanical gardens, walked the streets of the village, up and down and all around. We toured two well-known perfume houses that were based in the area, and walked the paths around the village, including the Chemin Frédéric Nietzsche which one can take all the way down to the water; but as that’s a very long walk, we only completed half before heading back up to dress for dinner.

It was lovely. Incomparably so. And the cobblestone village filled with art galleries and restaurants really was mostly ours alone. The down side? Since it was not high season, many of those galleries and bistros were closed. A lot of the quirky shops and local haunts were shuttered. Though we’d spent a day in bliss, we had another entire day to spend there, even though we’d already done it all.

We spent the next day gazing down at the water, drinking wine at 14 euros a glass and planned our escape from this gorgeous little prison of a town.

In the light of the next morning, we hauled our luggage down those same cobbled streets, in a rush to leave Èze (which I still don’t know how to pronounce), and discovered the rest of the Riviera.


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