Èze is a page from a medieval fairy tale. A mountaintop castle on the rugged French Riviera, with exotic gardens overlooking a sweeping landscape that tumbles into the azure Mediterranean Sea. Ochre and stone buildings cling to the mountainside, while pathways wind through, around and up to the summit. Every crack and cave turned into a shop, a restaurant, a home. The only open space, the courtyard of Chappelle de la Sainte Croix overlooks the valley below and the approach into the city.
If it sounds like the setting for a Disney fantasy, it’s a case of art imitating life. Walt Disney spent considerable time in the village of Èze, and you should, too. Easily the most picturesque village on the Côte d’Azur, Èze is a short trip from both Nice and Monte Carlo. Within 30 minutes, you can be climbing the village’s stairs and slopes. And you’ll be climbing a lot of them, but the village rewards you with quaint shops, galleries, and cafes, and some of the best views on the Riviera.
Èze in History
The hilltop hamlet is obviously old. The church was built in 1764, though the original chapel dates back to 1306. Even that is relatively new. A stash of Greek coins found in Èze in the 19th Century are from the 3rd Century BC. (Those coins are now in the collection of London’s British Museum.)
Evidence suggests the area was first settled around 2000 BC. In the centuries since, it has been part of many empires: Greek, Roman, Ottoman, and French. The area was ruled by the Moors, the Republic of Genoa, and the Turks under Barbarossa. The House of Savoy built the village into a fortified stronghold in the 1300s, and the Bourbon King Louis XIV tore it down in the 1500s. Finally, in 1860, the people of Èze voted unanimously to be French.
The village is famous for its view over the Mediterranean and for being strikingly photogenic itself. Although it was once difficult to approach, today it’s very easy to visit. As a result, it’s a popular day trip for cruise ships along the French Riviera, and for tourists visiting Nice, Monaco, and the Cinque Terre region of Italy.
The view might bring you to Èze, but it’s the village that leaves an impression. Walking up from the tourism office and shops at the foot of the hill, you’ll first pass the Château de la Chèvre d’Or, usually with an assortment of expensive Italian sports cars out front. (The village is pedestrian-only, so guests must park here.) The 5-Star luxury hotel has beautiful gardens, and a wonderful, if not pricey, restaurant. (Make reservations in advance if you plan on dining here.) You can see some of the hotel grounds from farther up in the village, but it’s worth a wonder through to see the statuary and gardens.
Walkways wind up the hillside between what were once houses. Today, they are filled by galleries and shops that are a delight to explore. Around every bend, though, you will be tempted to stop for pictures. Bougainvillea cascading down walls, dramatic cliff-top outlooks, and charming covered walkways compete to be your favorite photo op of the day.
The Gardens of Èze
At the center of the village is Notre Dame de l’Assomption. The unassuming church perched on the mountainside was built in the 18th century, on the ruins of the original 14th century chapel. It is open to the public, with beautiful frescoes and paintings inside, but it is an active church. Walk across the courtyard for access to the cemetery and the gardens beyond. Water splashes unexpectedly in a small grotto, and the path winds around for spectacular views of the valley and coast.
The hilltop peaks at just over 1,400 feet (429 meters) above the sea, where you’ll find the Jardin Exotique d’Èze. It’s the only attraction in the village with an admission charge; €6 will get in you, and it is well worth it. The gardens were established in the castle ruins atop the hill after World War Two, and are one of the village’s enduring landmarks. Designed by Jean Gastaud, who built the exotic garden of Monaco, the gardens feature many species of cacti and succulents. Men carried sacks of soil and rocks up the mountainside to build the gardens. Later, a collection of statues, the Earth Goddesses by artist Jean-Philippe Richard, was added. The Goddesses’ view from hilltop is perhaps the best to be found on the French Riviera.
Eating & Staying in Èze
Climbing the stairs of Èze is sure to build your appetite. There are a few options in the village besides the hotels. La Taverna serves Italian dishes from €15-25. Le Nid d’Aigle (appropriately, the Eagle’s Nest) has a varied menu with everything from Fish & Chips and Ravioli, to escargot and Boeuf Bourguignon with relaxed outdoor dining tucked into garden settings. Prices range from €12 to €30. You will find more restaurants in the area surrounding the village. For something simple, Creperie le Cactus is a favorite (€7-15).
There are two luxury hotels in the hilltop village of Èze: the Château de la Chèvre d’Or, and Château Èze. More options can be found in Èze-sur-Mer, which seems close. Being directly downhill from the village, they are accessible by the steep Nietzche Path, or a fairly long (10km) drive around and up the mountainside. (There is no direct route up.) As mentioned, the village is very convenient to Nice and Monaco, with more lodging options.
Getting to Èze
There is a train station in Èze-Sur-Mer but, as noted, it’s not easy to get up to the village without a hike. It is faster and easier to drive or take the bus. Èze is located on the Moyenne Corniche, almost halfway between Nice and Monte Carlo. It’s a simple and direct route, and should not take more than 30 minutes from either city. If you drive, limited parking is available at the entrance to the village.
Taking the bus is quick, easy, and economical. From Nice, Buses #82 and #112 will take you to Èze Village, and Bus #112 continues on to Monte Carlo. (For times and bus stops, visit Lignes Azur.) Conversely, from Monte Carlo, take Bus #112 to Èze Village. Bus #100 also goes between Monte Carlo and Nice, but through Èze-Sur-Mer and not the hilltop village. Buses #82 and #112 stop near the tourist center just outside of the village. The fare should be under €2 each way. (Note: Bus #112 does not run on Sundays or holidays.)
Have you been to Èze, or is the scenic village on your bucket list? We’d love it if you would share your memories or plans with us in the Comments! Meanwhile, enjoy a few more pictures from charming Èze!
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