Located just down the road from Nice is an enchanting medieval village perched high on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. As you look to the left from this “eagle’s nest”, you get a glimpse of Italy in the distance. To the right, the Rothschild’s estate stands out on Cap Ferrat and, beyond that, Mont Boron. Meet the medieval fairytale village of Eze, an easy day trip from Nice.
Now meet Friedrich Nietzsche, a famous German philosopher with mental issues. Who the hell is Nietzsche? (I didn’t know either so I Googled him.) Nietzsche based himself in Eze back in the 1880’s and referred to it as “the fabulous place” where he finally calmed his troubled mind and wrote some of his most prolific stuff. There is now a trail named after him, the trail where his mind was calm, thoughts formed, and words flowed. This trail runs from Eze-Sur-Mer (Eze by the sea) up 1400 feet to the medieval village of Eze, perched high on a hill.
So, there are two ways to get to Eze Village: the easy way (by bus) or the hard way – by Nietzsche’s trail. One day, I decided to take the hard way, just to see if Nietzsche’s juju would rub off on me. I wanted to calm my mind and come up with some profound, mind-altering stuff to write about.
Sadly, there’s no mental shift, but it’s still amazing hike!
Experiencing Eze on a day trip from Nice
The easy way: Bus #82 departs from Vauban bus station. If you’re coming from Old Town, catch the bus along Rue Barla one block south of the tramline. Bus fare: 1.50 EUR.
The hard way: Train from Nice to Eze-Sur-Mer. Then hike “Nietzsche’s Path” to Eze Village. Train fare: 2.90 EUR.
I’ll tell you more about getting to Eze the hard way, but first a brief history lesson. Eze is one of 16 “perched villages” (built-on-a-rock) scattered throughout the Cote d’Azur and was first populated in 2000BC. In the late 1300’s, Eze was ruled by the House of Savoy and, like Nice and neighboring Menton, was caught in many political battles before becoming part of France in 1860. The oldest building in town is Chapelle de la Sainte Croix, dating back to 1306. (That’s pretty damn old!) Also, legend has it that Walt Disney used to hang out here.
This seaside village is located 3 train stops from Nice Riquier train station (about 10 minutes) and is my jumping off point for the trek to the top. I exit the train station under the tunnel leading toward the sea, eager to check out the beach. Sadly, the beach isn’t very impressive. For better beaches, exit the train in either Villefranche or Beausoleil.
Eze-Sur-Mer village is a sleepy seaside town, very sleepy on a Saturday early afternoon. Not much action. No little convenience store to stock up on hiking supplies. And since there’s not much to see, I go in search of the trail. Just outside the train station, I glimpse a sign pointing to the right: “Trail to Eze Village 1.5 hours”.
The trail is quite easy to find from the train station, located just up the street to the right with plenty of signs.
Walking Nietzsche’s Pathway
I choose to hike this trail from the bottom to the top for two reasons: to save my knees from abuse and to get the feeling for how difficult it must have been to build a village on top of a rock. Kind of like taking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – it gives you a whole new perspective and appreciation for the difficulties of inhabiting such a place.
I find the beginning of the trail and notice a few groups of hikers arriving from Eze Village. One German couple reports that the trail is full of loose stones and slippery areas and it took them about 50 minutes to get to the bottom. So, I hit the trail and find the beginning of the trail mostly paved with a nice, even stairway. Although I normally listen to music while hiking alone, this time I choose silence and listen to nothing but the birds, the sound of trains arriving in the distance, and my heavy breathing. I’m still hopeful that some “Nietzsche magic” may alter my mind.
About 20 minutes into the hike, the trail becomes rough with the loose stones and uneven steps the German couple had warned about. It actually seems easier hiking up than coming down, although my lungs would disagree. The sun beats down and there’s no breeze. It’s only about 75 degrees but feels much hotter and I sweat profusely.
Finally, some profound thoughts start to flow: “Why didn’t I bring more water?” “Am I sweating all my sunscreen off?” “Where’s a 7-11 when I need one? In Taiwan, there’d be a 7-11 here.”
I continue on, resting when I find shade and savoring the remains of my small bottle of water. Silently, I curse myself for not bringing more water or even a granola bar.
And then I round a bend and find a tree canopy covering the trail. It’s quiet and shady, so beautiful and peaceful here. I imagine Nietzsche calming the voices in his mind by listening to the quiet on his trail, becoming inspired to create profound stuff to write.
A few switchbacks later, I come upon a house. An actual house! WTF? Then the profound thoughts flow like a river: “Do they have a mule to haul groceries from town?” “Maybe the local shops in Eze deliver?” “Or maybe they’re rich enough to have supplies dropped from a helicopter!” I ponder the possibilities.
Up the trail from the mystery house, I rest in the shade under a tree canopy and encounter the first hiker going in my direction. He’s a friendly old French man who speaks no English and is outfitted for a hike in the Swiss Alps, complete with ski poles. I briefly consider begging him for a sip of water but he wouldn’t understand anyway. He moves on and I follow shortly.
Finally, about 50 minutes into the trek, I spot Eze Village perched high up on the hill! I can see the end, but can I get there? Gratefully, I drag myself into the village just over an hour after leaving Eze-Sur-Mer and head straight to a snack bar and some water.
(Trail summary: I’m old and reasonably fit but moved at a snail’s pace, stopping for tons of photos. It took me just over an hour.)
Nietzsche’s Pathway Hiking Tips:
Wear proper hiking shoes. Running shoes are fine. (I actually saw a few women in flip-flops.)
Bring water! There is no 7-11 in Eze-Sur-Mer and no snack bars along the trail.
To save your knees, hike from the bottom to the top.
Hike from the top to the bottom if you’d rather save your lungs.
Start the hike early in the day or pick a cool, partly cloudy day.
Wear sunscreen and a hat!
The Nietzsche Pathway meets Eze Village right next to the deluxe 5-star hotel Chèvre d’Or. Heading up the stairs to the left, you pass through a stone tunnel and into the enchanting medieval village of Eze. The streets are narrow, built that way intentionally in an effort to provide shade and make inhabiting the top of this rock a little more comfortable in the hot summers. Ancient stone doorways line the narrow cobblestone streets and house boutique shops, art galleries, and quaint cafes.
Jardin D’ Eze – The Garden
As you wind through the small village, keep walking in the direction of the sea and you’ll stumble upon the most amazing botanical garden. On my fourth trip to Eze, I finally pay the 6 EUR entrance fee into the garden and am not disappointed! It’s a MUST SEE for any visit to Eze!
The garden is built into the hillside on the ruins of a medieval fortress and offers the most stunning views over the red-tiled roofs. In the distance is the coastline of Cote d’Azur with Cap Ferrat, Mont Boron, and Antibes visible in the distance. The view is breathtaking and well worth the 6 EUR entrance fee!
Goddesses of the Earth
Scattered throughout the botanical garden are 15 sculptures, “Goddesses of the Earth”, created by French artist Jean-Philippe Richard. Each one has a plaque with her name and a quote (maybe his vision of what she’s thinking?) encouraging you to stop and meditate. So I did – on a bench right next to a small waterfall with an amazing view!
Continue up the steps to the very top of the garden and you’ll find the remains of Sainte-Croix Chapel built in 1306. Information plaques are scattered around the edge of the remains and tell the fascinating history of the chapel and the village of Eze. They also provide insight into questions such as “How the hell did they build this village on a rock?” (Interesting historical fact: the chapel was used to care for victims of the plague way back when the disease ravaged much of Europe.) Amazing how much you can learn from reading plaques.
Nietzsche is said to have used Eze as his inspiration for writing one of his most famous works “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. The only inspiration I managed to get out of hiking his pathway was this deep and insightful blog post.
Hope you enjoy!