The 9th century village of Eze ranks high on the list as one of the most popular stops for tour buses in the French Riviera. By ten am, tourists mob the narrow, cobblestone alleys; buying postcards, olive wood cutting boards and saffron in Ziploc bags.
|The village of Eze.|
My husband and I had reached Eze by turning our Hertz rental car north and climbing higher, higher up the torturous mountain road of switchbacks and vertiginous cliffs above Monaco. We pulled our car to a stop in front of Chateau Eza’s donkey stand and handed over the keys to the valet. No vehicles are allowed inside the village whose narrow lanes were built just wide enough for donkey carts.
The Danish valet pointed to the stone steps leading up through the village to our hotel and assured us our luggage would be delivered promptly. By donkeys, I assumed, since the animals are featured prominently in the hotel’s brochures. Ten minutes later, the out-of-breath valet passed by carrying our bags.
“Where’s the donkey?” I asked.
He grinned. “You’re looking at him,” he replied. I later learned the city of Nice had banned the use of donkeys in crowded Eze for fear the animals might hurt someone.
After a ten-minute walk straight up the hill, we reached the 4-star Chateau Eza. The general manager, Jesper Jerrik, greeted us with glasses of champagne and escorted us to our room. The chateau was once the former summer residence of Prince William of Sweden and now is a small, luxury hotel with a gastronomic restaurant.
We stepped out on our cliffside balcony hanging 1300 feet above the sea and stared awestruck at the scene before us. Le Jardins Exotiques, a cactus garden featuring 400 species of exotic plants with a 360-degree panoramic view of the sea and mountains, covered the hill to our right. To our left was an expansive view of the glittering Mediterranean Sea stretching from Italy to Saint-Tropez. A hawk soared eye-level mere feet from our balcony.
After the last tour bus crawled out of town, we set off to explore the 9th century village of Eze. The numerous crafts boutiques hidden in tiny caves dug out of the rocky hillside were closed, but we didn’t mind. The village takes on a completely different atmosphere at night; the torch-lit alleys are deserted and we had the village all to ourselves.
We returned to the hotel’s restaurant at sunset and were led to a private
terrace jetting over the cliffs. Far below, the lights of Monaco and St. Jean Cap Ferrat sparkled like a thousand jewels.
|Table with a view at Chateau Eza|
Our waiter convinced us to try the award winning chef Christophe l’Hospitalier’s degustation menu. We began with an aperitif concocted out of champagne, raspberry crème and one plump cherry. A flurry of courses followed-gazpacho, foie gras terrine with caramel sauce, Crème de Calvados roasted pigeon and chocolate soufflé.
The next day, we reluctantly left paradise and drove seven miles down the mountainside to the seaside city of Nice. My first impression was to throw the car in reverse and drive back to Chateau Eza. The city of Nice was hot, crowded and impossible to navigate by car. But since our hotel reservations were non-refundable, our only choice was to stay.
Lucky for us we did.
We parked the car, swore not to touch it until check-out, then set off down
the palm tree-lined Promenade Des Anglais stretching along the sea to find the heart of Nice. We located her soul inside the walls of the old city at Cours Saleya where the world famous flower market is held. The seductive aroma of flowers hit us first then we turned the corner to find an entire street filled with stalls of lush bouquets.
At night, the flower stalls disappear and outdoor restaurants magically emerge out of nowhere to take their place. The square bustles with a variety of restaurants offering Nicoise specialties of pan bagnat, salad nicoise, socca and fruits de mer (fruits of the sea).
The manager of Atmosphere Cafe enticed us to try his lobster paella and salad nicoise made with fresh tuna. The restaurant is one of the few in Nice holding the collective label “Cuisine Nissarde, le respect de la tradition”, which means they must offer at least three authentic specialties prepared the traditional way. The salad was outstanding and the paella, an enormous platter of lobster, squid, large shrimp and fish was a bargain at $14 dollars.
|Candle seller in Nice.|
After dinner, we browsed the craft market. I expected sticker shock due to the drop in the dollar, but found the prices to be reasonable. I bought an inexpensive picture and had turned to walk away when the female proprietor grabbed my arm.
“Where are you from?” she asked. When I told her the United States, she broke into a big smile. “I’m so happy to hear you say that,” she said. “We’ve heard so many bad things about Americans never coming back to France again. It makes us very sad.”
I assured her that was probably not the case and didn’t mention what we’ve heard about the French. We both agreed the problems between France and the United States were the politician’s battle to settle, not ours, and we parted as friends.
By the time we drove out of Nice the next morning, we were sorry to leave. We headed ten miles down the coast to Antibes Juan les Pins, two distinct towns that share a name. The French Riviera began in Antibes in 400 BC when Greek sailors discovered the protected cove, an ideal stopover in their long crossings between Corsica and Marseille.
We drove past the billionaire’s wharf of Port Vauban, named for the abundance of luxury yachts anchored there, took a wrong turn and ended up on Cap Antibes where the world’s most luxurious Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc is located.
Once we found our hotel, the Le Meridien, in Juan-les-Pins, we unpacked and headed to the beach. Rows of lounge chairs squeezed tightly together lined the small stretch of sand. My husband and I studied the situation then gave up trying to figure out the proper beach etiquette. Best we could tell, the front row of chairs closest to the water were reserved for the hotel’s VIPS and only the most attractive topless women. As you moved back from the water, your level of importance (and service) decreased.
|The beach at Juan les Pins.|
A continuous parade of people walked by selling an odd assortment of wares. Nigerians in native garments offered knock-off Rolexes for 150 euros, an Oriental man pushed binoculars, and a smiling, blonde French girl modeled bikinis for an upscale boutique.
As the day went on, money flowed like suntan oil. A dark-haired Italian family sat down on the front row and immediately ordered a succession of seafood platters, cocktails and espressos. After lunch, the women each enjoyed a mini-massage ($50 dollars for ten minutes). Then it was time to shop for watches, handbags and swimsuits. When they couldn’t decide between two items, they bought both while talking non-stop on cell phones. By the day’s end their family day at the beach had turned into a thousand dollar excursion.
Since English is not widely spoken in Juan-les-Pins we were a bit apprehensive about going out at night when the town evolves into wild party. As it turned out, we shouldn’t have worried.
Though our waiter couldn’t speak English, he summoned over someone who could to take our order. When my husband needed help in a busy supermarket, the clerk patiently took time to assist him. The French people were warm, welcoming and eager to help.
The owner of a street stand in Juan-les-Pins specializing in crepes made from Grand Marnier 150 said it best. “We love Americans here,” he said. “Go tell all your friends and come back again.”
You can be sure we will.
For useful information read on…
IF YOU GO:
06360 Eze Village
Telephone-33 (0)4 93 41 12 24
Fax-33 (0)4 93 41 16 64
E-Mail: [email protected]
The chateau offers ten individual suites and rooms featuring modern luxuries in a medieval setting. The hotel is not cheap with rates starting at $280, but the view alone is worth it for an once-in-a-lifetime stay. The hotel restaurant offers a three-course fixed price lunch menu for 45 euro. Dinner entrees start at 32 euros.
2 , rue Halevy
06000 Nice, France
Telephone-33 (0)4 93 82 30 88
Fax-33 (0)4 93 82 18 20
The hotel is located directly on the Promenade des Anglais with great views of the Mediterranean Sea. Double sliding glass doors block the sound of
traffic. Rates start at $126.
Le Meridien Garden Beach
15/17 Bd. Baudoin-BP 89
06162 Juan-les-Pins cedex
Telephone-33(0)4 92 93 57 60
Fax-33 (0)4 92 93 57 71
The hotel is located next door to the Eden Casino. The hotel offers 175 rooms and 17 suites starting at $150. It’s worth the extra money to book a sea view room since the garden view rooms face the busy street.
Rates begin at $375 per week, including all fees, taxes and collision damage waiver insurance.