We’ve recently been enjoying revisiting some of our favourite local villages. I first visited Eze, both the resort beside the sea (Eze sur Mer) and its ancient perched village, with a French girlfriend. New to the area, every Thursday, we would gird our loins and go for a hike. One sunny spring day, we decided to better investigate both Ezes using the Le Chemin de Nietzsche, which connects the two.
The route is named after the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who lived in the area in the 1880s. The environment had a profound and beneficial effect on him. He later recalled:
I slept well, I laughed a lot, and I found a marvelous vigour and patience.
He also found the inspiration for the third part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, much of which was composed in his head (so the story goes) while hiking the steep trail every day from the seaside to the medieval village. The route, once a goat path, is now known officially as Le Chemin de Nietzsche.
The start of the path down is well-marked, just below the entrance to the medieval perched village. Winding down the corniche and through a forested ravine, the trail lends itself naturally to quiet contemplation as the gravel path crunches beneath your feet. The views are spectacular. The path isn’t difficult but stout walking shoes are advisable. Despite the well-built and maintained stairs, there are also a few spots where the gravel is slippery. It took us about 40 minutes to reach the train station of Eze sur Mer and its thin strip of pebble beach which provides just enough room for a few seaside restaurants on the turquoise edge of the Mediterranean. We had a quick picnic lunch before climbing back up, which took us around an hour.
My beloved and I frequently ride past both villages but haven’t visited either for some time, particularly the medieval perched village – tricky to navigate with cleated shoes and bike! It’s perched in the hills between Nice and Monaco – closer to the latter – and like a phoenix’s nest rises 427 metres (1,401 feet) above the peninsula of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. This very mythical bird is depicted on the Eze coat of arms along with the motto:
Isis Moriendo Renascor (When dying, I am reborn).
This time we arrived by car and easily parked outside the village, where there was a small but lively Sunday market. We set forth to see dizzying views of the Mediterranean and a town as picturesque as a Walt Disney cartoon castle. No coincidence as Disney enjoyed visiting Eze and creating sketches for his future fairy-tale castles. But, as with all these medieval villages perchées, its history goes way back.
The village owes its name to the Egyptian goddess, Isis, in whose name the ancient Phoenicians, who colonised this area, consecrated their temple. Isis is one of the greatest goddesses, an Egyptian ideal of femininity and motherhood. She was a patron of the slaves and oppressed, but also listened to the prayers of the rich and famous – a veritable universal panacea!
It’s believed man first set foot here in 19-20th centuries B.C. Later, like everywhere else it was owned by the Romans and subsequently the Moors, though the town was mainly built under the reign of the Roman emperors Augustus and Flavius.
By 1383, Eze was controlled by the Savoy dynasty which secured the town with new fortifications. During the next few centuries, Eze survived numerous invasions with ownership passing from the French to the Turks in the mid-16th century. In 1706, Louis XIV completely destroyed its fortress walls during the Spanish Wars. Finally, in 1860, Eze officially became part of France.
The village is first mentioned in 4th century records as “ab Avisione”. Over the centuries its name took many different forms: Esa, Eza, Isia, Isie. Only once the territory was under the control of the House of Savoy, did it acquire its current name.
Before venturing into the labyrinth of Eze’s narrow streets, you pass through the double 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’s attack in the early 18th century.
These picturesque streets, a veritable cobweb, are lined with lovely handicraft shops, art galleries and perfume boutiques. They lead to the village’s highest point, where there’s another local landmark, an exotic garden built in 1949 on the ruins of an ancient castle. Its main attraction is a 13 metre (43 feet) cactus, which must weigh a ton. This giant plant overshadows the less colourful agaves and succulents but doesn’t detract from the magnificent view, a beautiful panorama of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and the coast.
The oldest building in Eze is the Genovese-styled Church of the White Penitents or the Church of the Holy Cross, built in 1306, the White Brotherhood helped the unfortunates, including lepers. Its other church is in the main square, the 18th century Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Notre Dame de l’Assomption). According to legend, this is where the Phoenicians built their Isis temple.
The ancient four hundred year old Château Eza, formerly owned by Swedish royalty, is located in the heart of the village and is now a small, boutique 5* hotel with a Michelin starred restaurant. But it’s not the village’s only star. There’s also the Château de la Chèvre d’Or that’s migrated from being a restaurant into another small 5* hotel and Michelin starred restaurant. Weve not eaten at either, something we should remedy.
It was so lovely wandering around in the warm sunshine with only a few locals for company. We’re definitely trying to make the most of this situation while it lasts.