Eze Village and its idyllic Botanical Garden: the true essence of the French Riviera

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The terracotta roofs of Eze Village looking south towards Corsica, note the tiny cross marking the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs (protective coating because it was still technically winter when this photo was taken)

The sparkling Mediterranean sea, blue skies, soaring mountains and beautiful colours – these all represent the true essence of the French Riviera, encapsulated by the stunning village of Eze. A few weeks ago, I decided to take advantage of a spectacularly sunny Sunday afternoon to take a short drive to Eze Village and especially explore the Botanical Garden at its tip, mainly due to the fact that I hadn’t been up there for a while. The experience was beyond my wildest expectations and I was truly overwhelmed by the beauty of the setting and the peaceful atmosphere that filled me with positive energy after an exhausting month travelling around Europe. I therefore figured that I would share with you my feelings, impressions and some photos of this magical afternoon.  This slightly more in-depth section on Eze Village can also be combined with the broader article I wrote quite a while ago about the Nietzsche trail so read on to find out more and live the dream, the French Riviera Dream!

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Transport on the French Riviera : a practical guide to getting around by train, bus and car

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Monaco’s spectacular railway station

I have always believed that one the greatest wishes that all frequent global travellers such as myself have is the ability to teleport in order to avoid the hassle of getting from A to B and just enjoying the stay in B instead of wasting time getting bored in some random means of transport without a decent wi-fi connection… Unfortunately at the time of writing, this is somewhat impossible (perhaps it won’t be the case in a few decades or so), so the best one can do is to try to optimise travel times and make the journey as smooth as possible!

The French Riviera is no exception: the destinations listed on my blog may be in a pretty small geographical area, but getting from, for example, Cannes to Monaco at the height of the summer might be a rather sweaty, crowded, time-consuming and unpleasant experience if you don’t play your cards right.

In this short practical guide, I would like to share my experience and tips on how to get around the French Riviera with as little hassle as possible (and even perhaps squeeze out just a tiny bit of enjoyment!) so that you can enjoy your time in the actual destinations that I describe elsewhere. I will cover the three major means of transport, which are the train, bus and car, but will leave out the snazzy methods such as water taxi, limousine and helicopter, which are reserved for the elite. The same applies for taxis which are a rip-off and therefore also an elite mode of transport unless there is no other choice.

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The Greek Villa Kerylos in Beaulieu sur Mer and a walk along the Cap Ferrat coastline

The lovely town of Beaulieu sur Mer is often overlooked, despite being exactly half way down the coast between Nice and Monaco, which is a shame as it has all the different elements that embody the charm of the French Riviera: beautiful and refined Belle Epoque architecture, spectacular mountains, pleasant beaches and luxuriant vegetation thanks to a very mild microclimate similar to that of Menton.

But the main draw for visitors is the splendid Greek Villa Kerylos, a villa built in the early 20th century in a strategic location by the sea, that is now a historical monument… One may wonder why there is a Greek villa on the French Riviera – the answer is particularly interesting, giving a real insight into what the Belle Epoque was like and this is what I will be explaining in this blog article, which also provides practical information and will take you on a nice walk afterwards along the coast of Cap Ferrat.

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Facade of the Villa Kerylos

This itinerary can easily be explored in half a day and combined with some of the visits described in other articles covering half-day excursions in the area, such as the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Cap Ferrat (you can buy a combined ticket for both monuments), the village of Villefranche sur Mer or the Nietzsche trail from Eze sur Mer to Eze Village.

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Villefranche sur Mer and its beautiful harbour in a one hour walking tour: so much more than just a cruise stop!

Villefranche lagoon (C) K. Hin

First impressions often count and for many cruise passengers visiting the French Riviera, the first glimpse of the region is of the beautiful fishing village of Villefranche sur Mer with its stunning ochre colours reflecting in the large bay, whilst others may wake up to a great view of the green peninsula of Cap Ferrat and its luxury villas with the rocky slopes of the Maritime Alps looming in the background.

Then after breakfast, they either take the shuttles to the cruise terminal and jump on a guided coach tour to “do” the French Riviera in a day with Eze, Monaco, Nice and perhaps Cannes (the mere thought of such a superficial visit makes me cringe), whilst the more independent minded walk straight to the train station and head off to Monaco or Nice. Of course, there’s nothing wrong at all with the second option, or even the first if you’re very limited for time and have deep pockets – however, Villefranche does have dollops of charm and is well worth an hour or two of your day to soak in the medieval atmosphere of the old town, explore the free museums in the imposing 16th century Citadel (castle), check out the surreal atmosphere of Jean Cocteau’s chapel on the harbour and especially enjoy the stunning views over the Cap Ferrat… All these added together make for a perfect French Riviera experience, so read on and follow my 1 hour whistle-stop walking tour to optimise your visit!

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Menton and the spirit of Jean Cocteau

The Old Town of Menton viewed from the Bastion

The Old Town of Menton viewed from the Bastion and the waterfront

When heading down the coast from Nice towards Italy, the last town you will encounter before crossing the border is beautiful Menton. Located in a stunning setting between the Mediterranean and the Southern Alps, the town has a distinct subtropical microclimate that keeps it warm and sunny most of the year and the wonderful old world atmosphere that still pervades the place makes it well worth a stopover if you are heading to Italy or wish to combine it with a trip to the hilltop villages of Gorbio, Sainte Agnes or Roquebrune Village.

Like in most towns of the French Riviera, there honestly isn’t that much to do in terms of pure sightseeing in Menton, but I’d advise you to take a couple of hours to wander around the old town, enjoy the delights of the waterfront, have a melancholy trip around the Old Castle cemetery and discover the Cocteau museum celebrating this multi-talented artist, all in a setting that already provides a taste of Italy with its warm colours, fresh air and greenery.

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Gorbio and Sainte-Agnès: the perched villages in the mountains behind Menton

Europe’s highest coastal village, beautiful Sainte-Agnès at an altitude of 800 metres, dominating the Mediterranean Sea

The further east you head along the coast of the Riviera towards Italy, the more spectacular the scenery becomes, especially once you hit the beautiful border town of Menton. The mountains just blend in with the Mediterranean Sea and the hills behind the town contain some spectacular treasures, in particular the gorgeous medieval villages of Gorbia and Sainte Agnes. Both of these are easily accessible from Menton, Monaco or Nice but a car is more than advisable to enjoy the scenery with maximum freedom – and I’d definitely advise you to visit them in this order. Also, both villages are ideal to be visited all year round as they are rarely snowed in during the winter and they offer a cooler alternative to the coastline in the summer, although some restaurants may be shut out of season.

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The perfume industry on the French Riviera and visit of Parfumerie Galimard in Eze Village

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The Riviera’s world-famous perfume industry attracts visitors from all over the globe – I recently learned a lot more about it, thanks to a visit to the Parfumerie Galimard in Eze, here’s some of the information I gleaned.

The perfume industry on the French Riviera dates from the 18th century, when Grasse, an inland town in the western part of the Alpes-Maritimes, became known as the perfume capital of the world. This was due to the splendid micro-climate that encouraged the culture of the flowers and aromatic plants like lavender and jasmine, among others, enabling the creation of top quality perfumes.

Nowadays, the industry is still thriving, and is a great draw for visitors to the Riviera – for example, there are almost 14.000 hectares of aromatic plants in the region. The main perfume producers, Galimard, Fragonard and Molinard, have large plants in Grasse which organise tours, giving the expression “smelling like a perfume factory” a new meaning when the tourists emerge from there! Another interesting and slightly more accessible centre for those based on the coastline and interested in perfume is Eze Village, already covered in a separate article.

I recently had the opportunity to explore this first hand when I visited the Galimard perfumery in Eze and created my own perfume, whilst having all the different steps explained to me by one of the master-perfumers.

Different notes of the perfume I was creating in three levels

I was brought to a room dedicated to the creation of perfumes and sat behind a desk with hundreds of small bottled full of extremely concentrated essential oils arranged in three rows. Each row corresponded to different notes: first, the base notes at the bottom, then the middle notes and finally the top notes, which provide the first impression when the fragrance is applied. After two hours of patiently sniffing and blending the various concoctions in three different steps thanks to the assistance of the master perfumer who guided my choices according to my preferences, I ended up being presented with my own nice-smelling personalised bottle of perfume and certificate.

Legend of the different types of scents

Legend of the different types of scents

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The final outcome after my 2 hours of hard work!

So it’s a very instructive experience which I would heartily recommend to anyone interested in doing anything a bit different on the Riviera. The package I took was the “Blissful Initiation” package lasting just over two hours, book in advance at +33 4 93 41 10 70. The Galimard perfumery is located at the foot of Eze Village, just across from the main car park. Free guided tours of the site are also available.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Cap Ferrat

The stunning Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Cap Ferrat

Cap Ferrat is one of the three major capes of the French Riviera and in my opinion probably the most beautiful. Like a long arm jutting into the Mediterranean, it separates the bay of Villefranche and that of Beaulieu, about half way between Nice and Monaco. It is also one of the most expensive parts of the coastline in terms of real estate, dotted with the exclusive and secluded Belle Epoque style villas of the rich and famous who first discovered the Riviera in the 19th century and found that the climate and scenery were so amazing that they decided to stay.

One of the most prominent of these villas and the only one open to the public is the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, built by Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, a very wealthy French socialite, between 1905 and 1912. She was lucky enough to be able to pick one of the best sites on the Cape, at the top of a narrow isthmus dominating the sea that provides stunning views both east towards Beaulieu and Italy and west towards the deep waters of the Bay of Villefranche and its ancient harbour. Upon her death in 1934, she donated the property to the Institut de France, who have maintained it to this day.

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Eze Village and the Nietzsche trail

Panoramic winter view of Eze Village and Eze sur Mer taken from the Fort de la Revère, at 700m altitude. In the distance you can see Cap Ferrat, the Bay of Villefranche and the Cape of Nice

Eze is one of the stops on the picturesque 40km stretch of railway line that runs east along the coast from Nice to Ventimiglia at the Italian border, passing through Monaco and Menton on the way. Listed in most of the guidebooks, the commune of Eze is structured on three layers up the side of a mountain and is famous for its eagle’s nest Village, perched at an altitude of 450m.

– At sea level, Eze Bord-de-Mer is mainly noted for a nice beach (rocky like most of the beaches in the area) with good surfing waves in the winter at the bottom of a beautiful bay surrounded by mountains. It is mainly a starting point for the hike up to Eze Village, as the train station is located there and the coastal buses pass along the main road.
– Eze Village is perched on a rocky promontory, just above the panoramic “Moyenne Corniche” road linking Nice to Monaco, at an altitude of about 430m.
– The Col d’Eze/Plateau de la Justice, located at 650m above sea level is a good spot for coastal hikes and picnics.

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Cap d’Ail and the Mala Beach coastal path

View near the start of the Mala footpath looking back towards Monaco

This is really one of my favourite walks down the coast from Monaco into the town of Cap d’Ail just west (in the direction of Nice).  This small and pleasant residential town, built in several layers between sea level and the mountainside of the Tête de Chien, is not just a dormitory town for people working in Monaco, even though it is only one station away by train: there are several noteworthy attractions, notably the nice beaches, Belle Epoque architecture and various rather luxurious villas with numerous famous residents over the years, such as Greta Garbo, Winston Churchill, Lord Beaverbrook, Sacha Guitry and the Lumière Brothers.  If you’re interested in this, I’d advise to check out the  Cap d’Ail Tourist Office website, which has quite a lot of decent information.  

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