Saturday, June 21, 2014

France 2014: Coastal Drive to Èze

After our two days in Nice, we wanted to spend the third day of our weekend road trip in Monaco, but it was prohibitively expensive to stay overnight there.  Using our usual accommodations website, the cheapest rate we found was over 600 Euros for one night while others were over 1000 Euros!  Instead, we stayed at a roadside hotel called Hotel Panteri just outside the centre of the village Èze for 98 Euros, and were still a mere 15 minutes away from Monaco.  Our room was pretty small and rudimentary and we couldn't get the air conditioning to work, but for one night just to sleep, it was fine.  And how can you complain about a room with a view of the Mediterranean on one side and the mountains on the other?  The hotel had an elegant dining room and menu, but we were so tired from our time in Nice that we opted for getting a sandwich and some fruit from the grocery store to eat in the room before going to bed.

During the drive to Èze, in order to force our GPS to stay along the coastline for as long as possible, we programmed interim stops at the coastal villages of Villefranche-Sur-Mer and Beaulieu-Sur-Mer.  Although we have seen many beautiful coast, sea and beach views in our previous road trips, what was particularly striking this time were the gorgeous bright purple flowers that were prevalent throughout this area.

As we got closer to Èze, the terrain changed to our left.  It was thrilling to drive by gigantic cliffs that were dramatically monochrome in colour, and then through a series of deep tunnels carved into the stone.  This was a good warm-up for the even longer tunnels that we found in Monaco.

After resting a bit at our hotel, we decided to drive into Èze, which we could see in the far distance, perched up on the top of a cliff, 427 meters above sea level.  This was not nearly as high as some of the villages that we previously visited, like Bargeme or Chateaudouble, but it felt quite high up since we started our drive from Nice at sea level.  The medieval village of Èze is shaped like a pyramid, with cobble-stoned streets spiraling upwards until you reach the highlight at the pinnacle–the Jardin Exotique.

As we wandered around the streets of Èze, we spotted a gorgeous white Neo-classic Zimmer Golden Spirit all decked out as a wedding vehicle with pink flowers on the hood.  A bit further up, we saw the bride and groom headed for their reception at the luxurious Chateau de la Chèvre D'or.  It must have been quite a swanky wedding given the location (room rates start at 560 Euros) and the number of valets jockeying a fleet of large black limousines.  Higher up in the village were plenty of shops and art galleries.

Finally at the top, we reached the Jardin Exotique d'Èze, modeled after the one in Monaco which I visited many years ago.  Both gardens are situated on steep terrain, contain a wide variety of species of exotic plants including cacti, aloes and agaves, and provide fabulous views of the surrounding area and the Mediterranean Sea.

The garden in Èze is enhanced with beautiful sculptures by Jean-Philippe Richard of "delicate, sensual and mysterious earth goddesses", some positioned to look wistfully out over the horizon.  The sculptures each have very feminine, French first names, such as Céline, Mélisande, Barbara, Isabeau, and romantic little sayings or poems.  The one for  Mélisande was translated as "Who has dreamt me? Who has created me? To whom have I said yes?".

The garden was built in the 1940s, on the site of a chateau, whose ruins can still be found at the top level.  There were breathtaking views all the way along the garden, and through a very clever idea, we did not need to take "selfies" of the two of us.  Instead, strategically placed camera stands allow you to use the timer function on your camera to get a nicely framed photo.  I wish all tourist sites had this available!

From the top, we could see panoramic views of Èze and the neighbouring coastal villages that we had passed through and probably Monaco, although we didn't think to specifically look for it at the time.  We did see the village's Notre Dame de l’Assomption Church, a picturesque bridge and a villa that had a large swimming pool decorated with a mosaic dolphin.

We had originally planned to visit Èze just as a strategic overnight stop in preparation to visit Monaco, but ended up being one of the highlights of our trip, due to the amazing Jardin Exotique.

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