Hiking in the South of France
Eze it may be, but easy it certainly ain’t.
In fact, the trail from Eze-sur-mer, the small town around Eze railway station between Nice and Monaco on the French Riviera, to “Eze village” up in the hills is just one steep stairway, up and up and up for well over an hour, with nary a landing to catch breath.
Eze Hiker, that would be Mrs Easy Hiker too, thanking me for having wreaked this experience upon her in language that is, frankly, unfit for a family audience.
The last husband who underwent a similar barrage of marital profanities probably stood at the foot of his wife’s hospital bed after 24 hours of a particularly protracted childbirth. So, if you are planning to do this walk consider carefully whether all members of your prospective “climbing party” have the required level of physical fitness.
Eze Hill may not be the Nanga Parbat, but neither is it an afternoon stroll in the park.
Be particularly careful if you are setting out in summer. We did the walk in March when temperatures were in the high 50s Fahrenheit (15 degrees centigrade) under “hazy-to-overcast” conditions and were nevertheless drenched in sweat when we arrived. Later in the spring, never mind the high summer, this must be a lot harder still.
Anybody still out there? If you have made it past the first couple of paragraphs and are still undeterred from undertaking the “Eze trail” on your own, you are obviously one of those intrepid souls who can look death and marital strife straight in the eye without blinking.
It is people like you who will understand when I say that the trail – like all “hardship” experiences – also carries its very own rewards.
It certainly gives you a feeling of superiority over all those who have done it the easy way, coming up to Eze Village by bus from Monaco or by car for a brief stopover on the Moyenne Corniche, the legendary coastal road above the Riviera.
When you sip your coffee or tuck into your well-deserved snack at one of Eze Village’s many cafes and restaurants (it is a pretty lively place), pick out those – with their overfed pet dogs – who would not have survived the experience of actually making it all the way up under their own power. They are the civilians, you are the soldier – and have the sweaty undergarments and dusty footwear to prove it.
To walk up to Eze Village from Eze-sur-mer, turn right out of the train station – the sea in your back – for about 200 metres until you spot the sign of the “Nietzsche trail”, named after the famously unhinged German philosopher, that will lead you all the way to your destination.
According to the sign, the walk to Eze Village will take you 90 minutes, but we found this a trifle generous: even we did it in less, and some of those youthful gazelles that kept sprinting past us must have made it to Eze in under one hour.
Once past the town gates of Eze Villages, you will be pleased to hear, more stairs are awaiting you. Eze, in fact, has been laid out in several layers around the peak with a castle on top.
The hilltop was used as a fortress for thousands of years, certainly by the Romans and probably by others (including Egyptians and Phoenicians) before them, although the oldest remains in today’s village are from the 14th century when the House of Savoy turned Eze into a major garrison to defend the near-by city of Nice.
The immediate surroundings of the castle ruins are now occupied by a botanic garden that offers splendid views across the Mediterranean. (You must pay to enter, but it’s well worth it.)
From one of the information panels in the garden we also learned that Nietzsche – they named the trail after him, remember? – only spent “a few days” in Eze, which I found rather disappointing. (Walt Disney was another famous guest of the town. A true pity that those two never met.)
We also found out that the Grand Duchess Anastasia came here to spend her sunset years after the Russian Revolution, only to die suddenly, aged 61, in 1922 – “probably by walking up the trail”, we agreed.
Finish your afternoon by exploring the dense maze of streets on the southern side of the castle.
It is a small village, but big enough to get disoriented, if perhaps not downright lost, simply because the streets are so narrow and the stone walls on either side of you so very high. Eze is probably the most claustrophobic village anywhere on the Cote d’Azur.
For your return, you can walk the same way down again, of course, but if you want to give your tired knees a rest, you can also take a bus to Eze station. Buses stop at the main road, the Moyenne Corniche, on the far side of the large parking lot to the north of the ancient city wall.
We will give you more travel tips in the French Riviera soon. Don’t miss our latest by following us on Facebook or subscribing to get them via email.