Today we visited Èze (pronounced “ehz-ay” – not “ee-zee” per the common cruise ship shore excursion joke). Èze is actually two villages. There is Èze-sur-mer (Èze On the Sea) and Èze Village. I have no idea how they are connected politically or even historically, as the history for the local region is very lengthy. The area has been inhabited (according to what I read) for thousands of years before the Romans and was once a Roman outpost. Today, the Èze-sur-mer village is just one more beautiful Côte d’Azur seaside town with mega-yachts bobbing in the harbor.
Èze Village, by contrast, is a fairy-tale remnant of a medieval village that has been locked in time seemingly unchanged (except for the touristy boutiques and restaurants) for eight hundred years. Èze Village, which lies about 2300 feet nearly straight up from the seaside Èze-sur-mer was our day-trip destination for today. We were told (and we verified on the internet) that there is a hiking trail linking the two villages, so Rich and Henry Warner decided to take the train two stops from Villefranche-sur-mer to Èze-sur-mer and hike up to the medieval town for a workout. Jill and Dawn, on the other hand, decided to pass on the hike and elected to take the bus.
The path connecting the two villages is somewhat curiously named Sentier Nietzsche (Nietzsche Pathway), as the philosopher purportedly spent some time in the villages in the late 1800′s and traveled the pathway up and down. I use the word “curiously”, because it seemed to me that the path must have been in existence for many centuries before Nietzsche happened by. Perhaps even Greek/Phoenician/Roman/Moorish invaders trekked the path in pursuit of the meaning of life long before Nietzsche.
Nevertheless, the entry to the Sentier Nietzsche is well marked and quite easy to find, roughly 200 yards east of the Èze-sur-mer train station. The first hundred yards or so of the climb are disarmingly gentle and even paved, then the trail quickly settles into a seemingly endless series of steep switchbacks and rocky steps. Just as quickly, the view towards the sea turns magnificent. Looking backwards, one can see all of the harbor and the entire Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula – not to mention way too many giant mega-yachts at anchor in the harbor. Surely most of the world’s billionaires are all visiting France this July.
The sign at the bottom of the pathway advises that it is a one hour hike to Èze Village from the trail head. One other website we had viewed prior to embarking had advised that it would take well over an hour for folks in our age group to make the climb. Ha! Rich and I finished the hike in about 50 minutes. And that included plenty of water and picture-taking breaks. This is not to say that the the hike is easy. It’s not. You will be sweating profusely and your cardiovascular system will be getting a good workout. Do not attempt to make this hike in flip-flops or other sub-standard footwear. One post I read claimed the poster had broken an ankle and had to be evacuated. There is probably a greater risk of something like this happening going down than up, though. On the way up, all you will need to worry about is a heart attack.
While the climbing views were spectacular, the views were naturally even better from the summit. The medieval village is perched atop a rocky pinnacle surrounded on three sides by nearly sheer cliffs. It must have been quite defensible in its day against low-grade attacks, but the city was occupied by various different conquerors over the centuries, so it certainly was not invincible. Most of the village can be experienced free of charge except, of course, the public toilets and also the chateau ruins and garden located at the very peak of the hilltop.
The admission price to the chateau ruins and garden is 6 euros per adult, which wasn’t too bad for the value. The garden is mostly desert plants, which reminded us quite a bit of Arizona, but it was well done and scenic. There are only a few partial walls remaining of the medieval chateau, as a plaque indicated the castle and surrounding walls had been demolished at the order of Louis XIV in 1706. I read that this was because he wanted to remove a possible point of resistance between Villefranche and Monaco at that time. Such a pity that he wasn’t thinking about all the future tourists back then!
The view from the top at the chateau is absolutely magnificent! One feels like one is practically looking straight down into the sea. There is a 360 degree view which stretches along the coast from the last bend in the road before Monaco to the east, all the way westward to the airport at Nice. One can also see stretches of the the three Corniche roads – so called because each is built at a different level into the mountainous hillside.
The Basse Corniche (or Corniche Inférieure) hugs the seacoast and links the sealevel villages. I would have thought that this would have naturally been the most ancient route, but I read that this road was built in the 1700′s by the ruler of Monaco. The Moyenne Corniche (or Middle Corniche) is built about halfway up the cliff-like ridge and was not constructed until the 1920′s. The Grande Corniche (or Upper Corniche) was completed by Napoleon, but actually follows the ancient Roman route known as Via Julia Augusta.
We strolled the medieval village a bit more, visiting a few shops and buying a few items, then had lunch at a restaurant downhill from and outside the medieval village proper, as the selection was more appealing and the prices more reasonable. Rich and Henry Warner had had enough of a workout, so all four of us road the bus back to Villefranche-sur-mer. Jill had done an excellent job (of which she is a master) figuring out the bus routes, stops and pickup times so with two transfers we made it back to Villefranche-sur-mer in about an hour and half, counting the transfer waits.
We got home just in time to catch the last hour of the eighth stage of the Tour de France, which has become a daily ritual. While we all enjoy watching the riders and the beautiful scenery, Rich has pretty much memorized the position of all 180+ riders and how they each did last year. So he can tell us that rider so-and-so is X seconds behind rider such-and-such and doesn’t stand a chance of catching him, for example. Rich loves to ride his bicycle and every year he takes a half-dozen or so week-long riding trips that cover hundreds of miles and tens of thousands of feet of elevation change. His idea of a fun bike ride is the Washington state RAMROD (Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day), which is a 154 miles with 10,000 feet of elevation change, all done in one day. Not bad for a 66 year-old!
For the evening meal, we had made reservations for four paella dinners at the Barrio Libre restaurant in Villefranche-sur-mer. We did not check reviews before eating there, but did so afterwards. It has 20 reviews in Tripadvisor, nineteen 5 stars and one 4 star. We agree!
We ordered a bottle of Château des Monges wine from the Languedoc region of France for only €19, which we all agreed was the best wine we have had so far during the trip. So we ordered another.