A Wander through Èze, a 1000 year old medieval village that clings to the side of an ancient rocky mountain in Provence above the Mediterannean sea. A village that enchants all who go there…
On a recent family holiday to Cannes my mother in law Del insisted that we visit Èze. She became fixated with the notion. A friend of hers had told her of this magical place balanced on a rocky promontory and visited often by the great and glamorous. In her mind she was already there, in a wide brimmed hat, sipping chilled rosé with Nietzsche (who on holiday there found it to be the perfect tonic for his angst) and propelling him to whole new plains of thought. We assured her it would happen. It had to happen. However in the midst of managing small children, poor weather conditions and the kind of cataclysmic hangovers that only a family holiday can incite, it started to look all the less likely. Èze retreated ahead of us like a glittering yet seemingly unreachable pot of gold. By day six our collective conscience was ringing with all the flagrancy of an alarm clock. And so with Blyton-esque enthusiasm the decision was made. We would get our matriarch to the mountain.
The sun rose heavily that Saturday morning. Undeterred by the swathes of grey we set off. The drive in itself was a lovely thing. Cannes is undoubtedly the glossy leading lady, perched provocatively on the metaphorical bonnet of the Côte d’Azur. Look closer however and her background of supporting villages holds secretly more charm and appeal. The well-preserved village is what France succeeds in so, so well. We passed dozens of these stony communes. They were each oblique in construction and festooned with painted shutters, plenteous foliage and bygone shop-fronts. When we reached Èze (and we finally did reach Èze) it was no exception.
An early departure was in hindsight a wise decision. The parking spot we secured was at the end of our visit hotly contested by at least five truculent drivers. There is also the option of ascending via the Nietzsche trail, a precarious pathway that links Èze village with Èze-sur-Mer that he reportedly walked everyday. But Nieztzche was bonkers. And probably didn’t have wheels.
Èze is crowded. I can see why Nietzsche preferred the weaker draw of the winter sun. Making our way through the lollygag of tourists we set off to explore. Navigating Èze requires some serious muscle work. It spirals upwards as far as the clouds, like a crooked beanstalk but without the threat of giants. Although, judging by the average price of things I can assume gold-laying geese are on offer. However, the village is beautiful. Wandering through is like accessing a Tim Burton film set, all higgledy-piggledy and full of secret passageways. The shops are stocked with curiosities and their wares spill out onto the streets and hang from the winches amongst baskets of blooming flowers. The houses are gloriously faded, just enough to be charming but without looking dilapidated. Del and I ambled on, in search of somewhere to reward our exertion with wine whilst looking suitably glamorous. Or something like that.
We found ourselves at the golden gates of The Château de La Chèvre d’Or. A fleet of showy sports cars told us this was this place to accommodate our notions of grandeur. We caught a glimpse of an impeccably manicured yet vertiginous garden that seemed to be inhabited by a menagerie of bronze beasts. Giraffes, lions, deer – they were sculpted with such observant playfulness I can only imagine that come dusk-fall they came to life. I’ll never know. Crossing the threshold we were rugby-tackled by two lumpish men and told, quite brusquely, that ‘vous n’avez pas le droit d’être ici.’ I could be wrong but I’m not sure Walt Disney or Marlene Dietrich received the same complaisant welcome. We shuffled off, determined to find somewhere that would entertain such riff-raff.
It turns out Chateau Eza admit riff-raff. Chateau Eza clings to the rock like an eyrie and was previously the fairy-tale residence of a Swedish Prince. Now it is a luxury hotel famed for its Michelin star restaurant and it’s 280-euro breakfast menu. I presume at that price that along with your cornflakes they walk your dog, drop the kids off at school and cover your shift at work. Or at the very least there is vintage Champagne. We bypassed this option and settled for a glass of rosé on the terrace.
And this is where we uncovered the real magic of Èze: The view. It is at the same time tangible and so very, very vast. By now the grey had softened and retreated to a vignette effect and visibility wasn’t poor. The world stretched before us like a yet-unconquered land. A high altitude seems to lift you not just physically but supernally above any inconsequential woes. The sight of the Mediterranean Sea, so measureless and full of possibility allows you to breathe. And there we spent a pleasant hour in the clouds, asking the kind of existential questions that such a view can inspire. I’m not sure we had the answers. But we did have rosé. Maybe Nietzsche wasn’t so bonkers after all.
(Photos courtesy Chateau Eza, Eze)
Kirsten Mackintosh is from Scotland. She lives in Collioure with her husband , a winemaker and two children. She has an art studio and a very keen interest in food including a baking compulsion/addiction. Kirsten’s website: www.ateliermackintosh.com