I never would have ended up in Èze if it hadn’t been for my brother and sister-in-law. I don’t recall how they found out about it – the hostel or people they met while traveling, perhaps? – but they told me about it. The views, the peace of the walk, the medieval village of Èze at the top. So I routed through Nice in order to visit this village I’d never heard of, but they enjoyed so greatly.
Nice is a beautiful, relaxed, charming, and friendly city, hot under the glare of the sun, but with such striking colors and a breeze off the water, it’s paradise. And it knows it. Palm trees line the streets, sidewalk cafes are bustling. The Marché aux Fleurs, a pedestrian area, with market stalls – and yes, a flower market – is also filled with outdoor dining options. Not impromptu tables dragged out, but restaurants that are truly outdoors. The mellow night air, people watching, long dinners… everything in July is languorous and dream-like. Wander the back streets of Le Vieille Ville, around Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate, and there are more restaurants, cafes, and bars – and Fenocchio, home of quite possibly the world’s largest selection of gelato. The charm of the city permeates the air.
And I was there because of Èze.
The funny thing is, I don’t know why I chose to visit Èze on a single recommendation. My roommates at the hostel were all enjoying a day on the beach or heading to Monaco. Why come here, just for an uphill hike to a medieval town? Those are practically a dime a dozen in France and Italy. Of course, the village does have a tourist draw to those who venture to this part of France – it’s perched on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, both romantic and bold. I wondered after the fact why I had ventured out to explore the trail and Eze, but at the time, it just seemed like that was the thing I was supposed to do that day.
So I took the bus out of Nice towards Monaco, and got off at a deserted stop alongside the road. One wrong turn, and I ended up on a private drive – no joke along the French Riviera, where private compounds are hidden behind forbidding gates – but a kind and slightly confused woman pointed me in the right direction, and I found the trail entrance, “Sentier Nietzsche,” or “Chemin Nietzsche” (yes, he hung out here too). The sign read 2120 m (approximately 1 1/3 miles), approximately 1 hour.
Those who read my post on Glacier are already familiar with my inability to mark time or distance while on a trail. This was no exception. It was brutally hot, and I was the only person insane enough to trek up. Because it is up. The entire way. Up and more up. 2120 meters never felt so far. I actually messaged my brother and sister-in-law at one point, after what felt like hours and was probably more like ten minutes. “Are you serious?” My brother texted back: “You just hiked the Inca Trail. You’re fine. Keep going.” Valid point.
Turns out, I made it to the top in about 45 minutes, and that’s with plenty of stops to read the signs and take in the views over the Mediterranean. And to catch my breath a little.
But what was at the top astounded me. I messaged them again: “Um, you forgot to tell me about the goddesses….”
Yes, the goddesses. Above the sea, below the sky, through narrow medieval lanes, you find yourself in an exotic garden, surrounded by statues of women with thoughtful countenances, accompanied by poetic riddles and philosophies. The Earth Goddesses, sculpted by Jean-Philippe Richard, reside as graceful sentinels in Le Jardin Botanique d’Èze.
“Vous m’avez reconnue…
Je suis la même
Et pourtant autre.”
“You have recognized me…
I am the same
And yet different.”
Isabeau, Margot, Mathilda, Justine or Isis, Charlotte
I wandered amongst them. I could have stayed up there indefinitely. The peace of the place, the striking beauty of the gardens, and the view over the turquoise Mediterranean conspired to create a dream world. I eventually made my way back down, to the church, Notre Dame de l’Assomption. On a side note, I swear I spotted an ankh, the Egyptian-styled cross, or key of life, in the church. The first sculpture encountered in the garden is has the dual name Isis Justine. Later, I found that the motto of the village is Moriendo Rensacor (“In death I am reborn”) and often includes “Isis” or a version of the spelling as well; its emblem is a phoenix. (Stay tuned for future blog posts on my interesting encounters with the goddess Isis in Egypt.) Exploring the village, I stopped at a few shops that hadn’t yet closed their doors for the evening, and finally rested at an outdoor cafe for a bite to eat, looking over the walls of the city, and along the coastline, hills giving way abruptly to the sea.
The trek down was much easier, and faster, and I found myself boarding the bus again… me, hot, sweaty, but existing in an introspective peace, amongst the fashionable beach goers chattering away on their return to Nice from Monaco. That night, I went to dinner with a new friend from the hostel. Sitting outside in a small square, bustling with people, sipping wine, and just taking in the scene, I couldn’t help but think this is what travel was really about. An uphill trek. Stumbling across a garden of goddesses bathed in a Mediterranean light. Sipping wine in a small stone square in the perfect Mediterranean weather. Sometimes, you don’t know why you’re going somewhere until after you’ve been there. Because I have no doubt I was most definitely supposed to visit the Earth Goddesses of Èze.
With curiosity and courage,
Wondering how to visit Nice, Eze, and the Goddesses yourself? Keep reading for the logistics!
Airport: Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport (NCE)
Transportation into city:
Bus #98 for Promenade des Arts, Beach Hotels, or Old Nice (*this is the one I took)
Leaves every twenty minutes, and has a transfer included, so you can continue on other bus or tram lines if needed. 6€ at time of writing.
Bus #99 to Gare SNCF (main train station)
Leaves every 30 minutes
There are other options, and the Best of Nice Blog is a great guide to assist in transportation and, well, everything else. Check it out, and get inspired.
I’m a Little Prince fan, so just the name of this hostel jumped out at me. Plus, it came highly recommended by people I trust. And it didn’t disappoint. From private rooms to double-digit dorms, the hostel offers a variety of accommodation, including all-female dorms and en suite bathrooms.
There are also a lot of perks: a cheap breakfast, a bar, gym, sauna, and a spacious common room with movie nights. The hostel caters to the more athletic as well – bike storage, adventure tours, and special meals are available. I was wanting to stay so much longer just to take advantage of all the trips they are connected with and promote! From water – diving, sailing, boating, water ports – to land – yoga, biking, canyoneering – there is so much to do!
Directions: From the #98 bus: Get off at the Albert 1er stop, walk up through Place Messena and cross Boulevard Jean Jaurès and Avenue Félix Faure/Avenue de Verdun. The hostel is a couple blocks north, and right across from Galeries Lafayette. Their website also gives very specific instructions on getting to the hostel from the #98.
What to Do
You’re on the Riviera. Soak up the sun and the surf!
A hostel mate took a walking tour of the city, and it was on her recommendation that we ended up in the area around the Cathédral that evening, discovering more restaurants, bars, and cafes, and the infamous gelato stand! Walking tours are a great way to get the layout of a city and not feel completely lost.
As mentioned above, the hostel I was had dozens of options and ideas for how to spend time in Nice, and if you’re there for some time, that can include some pretty amazing outdoor adventures. Along the beach, you won’t be at a loss – every sort of water and beach sport seemed to be present along the shores.
Know this though – the beaches, other than where sand has been brought in, are not sandy but rocky. Smooth rocks, but still – rocks. Sandals/flip flops or something of the sort will save your feet!
And if you enjoy shopping, restaurants, and cafes, Nice does not disappoint. It’s hard to choose restaurant recommendations because there are so many good ones, everywhere. Galeries Lafayette is incredibly central, and just strolling through the old city and main streets is surreal with little shops, perfect squares, cafes, and Mediterranean sun.
Nice is also amazing for all sorts of festivals. The jazz festival was wrapping up just as I arrived – don’t make the same mistake! Check out Time Out Nice for more information – to either help decide which festivals to plan a trip around, or if your dates are set, what might be happening along the Riviera.
Food and Drink
There are so many good options that it’s hard to choose just one. Instead, I’d recommend walking through a few areas, and choosing a place that with the ambience and cuisine you’re in the mood for, or asking for recommendations from the hostel/hotel, given your tastes. TripAdvisor will also help you narrow it down. The two main areas to start with are along the Marché aux Fleurs and Place Charles Félix (they run into each other), and the section of the old city just north of there, headed to Cathédrale Sainte-Réparte.
In Place Rossetti, the square outside the Cathédrale, is Fenocchio, an absolute must. Currently, they are open 9 am til midnight. I’d been addicted to a certain dark chocolate gelato in Florence (patience, I’ll get there eventually!) but this place was amazing for the sheer number of choices. Avocado? Rose? Chocolate Chili? You name it. Sorbets were also on the menu – Rosemary, Fig, Coconut, Cactus… every fruit you can think of. Such a great place to try, and so good – if you can choose!
Transportation to Èze-Sur-La-Plage and Sentier Nietzsche/Chemin de Nietzsche Hike: I took #100 bus from the port in Nice to Èze, along the coast. The bus stops near the train station, and walking a bit further east along the main road (Avenue Raymond Poincare/M6098), there is signage that will point you towards the start of the Sentier Nietzsche. Stop often and take in the scenery, as well as the writings of Nietzsche in French and with English translation, posted along the trail.
At the top of the trail, continue on up towards your left into the old city. I swung right and stopped at a little grocery for a bottle of water and some fruit, then continued back and up. The oldest section of the city is small, with winding lanes, all in stone. Wander and explore the medieval city, and then find the Gardens.
Transportation to Èze: If you don’t feel like trekking up – or back down – the trail, there is transportation directly to Èze Village on either the #112 or the #82. Here is a good account of transportation to Èze from Nice, sans trekking up the cliff. Bus tickets currently cost 1.50€.
The gardens are known by several names – Le Jardin Exotique, Le Jardin Botanique, Le Jardin d’Èze, etc. – but ask anyone for “le jardin, s’il vous plaît” and locals will understand. Winding paths, stunning views along the coast and out to sea, and of course, the Earth Goddesses, sculpted by Jean-Philippe Richard, and their accompanying messages. Venturing out of the more popular main area will bring you down to water elements, little falls and pools, and one will circle you down to the church that literally glows in the sunshine. For more on the Goddesses, see the last blog post on Èze.
The Medieval Village of Èze
There are boutique shops and a few places to eat and drink, but the feel of the village is what draws people in. The narrow, winding stone “streets” and the quiet, timelessness of this place makes you feel as if you truly have entered a different time. Outside of the walls, there are more restaurants and cafes. Take your time, and explore, then find your favorite spot to sit, rest, relax, and soak up the sun and the views.
Its rare to find such a combination in such a small area – the laid back beach scene, the lively bars and restaurants, the romantic cafes, the introspective hikes through nature, the peaceful quiet of medieval lanes, the adrenaline rushes of a wide range of activities, the vibrant colors that saturate everything with a joie de vivre. These few days stayed with me long after. Basking in the sun and brilliant colors of the Riviera, then finding such a restorative peace in Èze, made a lasting impression.