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Escape to Enchanting Eze on the French Riviera

09/21/2010 03:47 pm ET | Updated Jun 12, 2011

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Photos By ©Susan Fogwell

When visiting dazzling Monaco, the glitz can sometimes leave my head spinning, so I find jumping in the car and driving southwest to ancient Eze, the perfect escape. In a mere 20 minutes, I can be meandering on foot along the village's narrow cobblestone lanes originally built for donkey carts.

I discovered the tiny 9th century village, while my husband was driving and I was bracing myself in our Peugeot rental zipping along the Moyenne Corniche (RN7). The curvy road is located between Nice and Monaco-Menton and hugs the rocky coast high above the Mediterranean. A visible sign marked our arrival; otherwise we would have blown right past the hideaway perched on a rock 1400 feet above sea level.

We pulled into the parking lot at the base of car-free Eze and walked the short distance to the village entrance. Our first encounter was with Nani and Nina, two donkeys housed in a cozy and rustic, hay strewn stall with a "Bagagiste" sign dangling above their heads. This charming little setting turned out to be the 400-year old Chateau Eza's reception area. Later, I took a peek in the intimate 5-star boutique hotel as well as the comparable 5-star Chateau de la Chevre d' Or, both of which are irresistibly romantic; flipping a coin might be the only way to choose between the two.

We spent the morning walking past flower-decked crooked steps leading to secret entrances and strolling along circuitous paths and twisting alleys where we ducked into cave-like boutiques; some of which can only accommodate two or three people at a time. Shopping is a major draw; wall tapestries, landscape paintings by local artists and fine French linens are big splurge items, and spices, herbs, ceramics and olive wood cutting boards are among some of the must-have gift items.

Eze on the French Riviera

For us, the icing on the cake was climbing the steps to Le Jardins Exotiques. The small exotic garden provides a staggering panoramic view of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat's jagged peninsula and the Côte d'Azur. It is undoubtedly one of the best views of the French and Italian Riviera. (With our binoculars, we could even see Corsica.) The unpretentious garden was created in 1950 on the ramparts of a 12th century fortified castle and is home to more than a dozen contemplative statues representing earth goddesses. Each one has a name along with a dedicated poem in French and English. Agaves, aloes and cacti from Africa and America thrive in the year-round mild climate along with 400 species of exotic plants. On the opposite side of the garden's terrace, the limestone ochre-colored church, Our Lady of the Assumption, is a landmark as it can be seen from afar.

For an afternoon adventure, I highly suggest a hike up the Oppidum de Mont Bastide, a local Eze trail marked in yellow. We did it in an hour and a half and found a secluded spot for our picnic lunch with uninterrupted stunning views. (We could see the Nice Airport from here as well.)

Before leaving Eze, I always stop in L' Echoppe Provençal where I do my souvenier shopping. It's hard to miss the lemon-yellow awning and its convenient location across from the parking lot. A large assortment of pottery, lavender soap and sachets can be found there.

When planning a visit to Eze, keep in mind that it has become an extremely popular day tripper pit stop. The lovely lanes become choked with clustered groups of people. Fortunately, by evening, they are all gone and the village is quiet. My favorite time to visit is in late spring or autumn and I arrive when the shops open at 9am. For visitors who plan to stay one or two nights, your hotel will be your haven. The Chateau Eza and Chevre d' Or both appeal to discriminating travelers. Each luxury hotel has cliffside pools, discreet service and provides the utmost in privacy. Think James Bond.

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