Distance: About 4.2 kilometers round trip (not counting a visit to the village of Èze)
Difficulty: Somewhat difficult, the first half is straight up, but it’s not that long
Approximate Time: Around 3 hours for the entire hike, including a bit of time in Eze village
One of the first “perched” villages I discovered in France was Èze. Built atop a high, rocky spur next to the Mediterranean Ocean its location gave it security and protection from the invading hordes in the middle ages. Less than 10 miles away from Nice, Èze is a popular tourist destination these days. It’s a beautiful, well preserved village with steep winding streets, narrow passageways and lots and lots of charm. It’s full of artists, arts and crafts, shops, boutiques and galleries. There are two very famous, very expensive hotels in Èze, so if you have a little extra money, you might consider staying for a night or two. During the “high” season it can be quite busy. I tend to avoid the spots here in the south of France that are so full of tourists, but I will always make an exception for Èze. If you go early in the morning, especially during the “off” season, it’s a quiet, peaceful, magical place. A few years after Carole and I visited Èze for the first time I discovered that there is a path that runs from Èze-sur-Mer (the small little town on the seashore) up to Èze Village (the ancient village at the top of the cliff). It’s a fantastic hike that I have now made countless times. Not too hard, not too long. With a visit to the village at the top it makes for a perfect morning or afternoon adventure.
[more info after the photo gallery]
Friedrich Nietzsche, the great German philosopher, composer, poet and scholar, arrived in the French Riviera in December 1883. He was at a low point in his life. His health was failing, his friend Richard Wagner had died a few months earlier, his lover Lou Andreas-Salomé had left him and his books were no longer selling well. It was during this time in the Côte d’Azur that he began to rediscover and rekindle his creativity. He found that walking helped him to create and he loved to climb from Èze-sur-Mer up to Èze village. It was on these climbs that he composed the third part of his work, “Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra,” or as we know it in English, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” He described the trail as, “…a most painful climb from the station to the wonderful Moorish village of Eza, built in the middle of the rocks.” He would continue to visit the Riviera each year for the next five years and many years later the trail would be named in his honor.
Where To Start
We begin this hike at the Èze-sur-Mer train station, which is where you’ll also find the Office de Tourisme. If you arrive by car, which I would suggest if at all possible, there’s plenty of parking around the station. The drive from Nice or Menton, or really from anywhere along the coast, is just spectacular and you won’t regret a single minute of it. If, however, you are without a car, just take the train to the Èze-sur-Mer station. It’s also possible to get a bus if you prefer that route. It’s certainly possible to do this hike starting in the village of Èze, hiking down to the sea and then back up again, but I think it makes a lot more sense to get the climbing out of the way at the beginning.
You’ll see a small wooden sign next to the short steps that take you up the road from the train station which says, “Village d’Eze, Par Sentier – 1h30 – Ch F Nietzsche.” The estimate of one hour and thirty minutes for the hike to the village allows for plenty of time. In reality, it usually takes me around 45 minutes, even with frequent stops for photos.
Cross the street and walk a few steps to the east and you’ll see another sign, nestled into the leaves, pointing up the small road that begins the trail. You’ll pass a huge, beautiful villa and make a sharp turn. At this point the trail is paved and fairly steep. It begins with asphalt and then turns to concrete. As with most “official” trails in France you’ll find paint markings along the way to make sure you stay on track. They are yellow along this trail and you’ll find them mostly on rocks and trees. It’s a very well trodden trail, quite wide in many places and you really shouldn’t have any trouble at all staying on the path. It’s very hard to get lost on this hike.
The concrete paving ends after about one-half a kilometer, after which the trail is mostly dirt and loose rock. In sections where the climb becomes a bit steeper steps have been created using large rocks.
Along The Trail
As you continue the climb you’ll find fantastic panoramas of the Mediterranean Sea and the Côte d’Azur in both directions. The view of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is quite stunning as you continue to gain height. I really can’t tell you how beautiful the views are. Even on a cloudy day it is really something to see, but I would encourage you to try to hike on a day full of sunshine to get the best experience. I’m always amazed at how blue the water is here along the Côte d’Azur, it really gives the phrase, “the deep blue sea,” special meaning.
The trail is pretty straightforward as you make your way up to Èze. Not a lot of switchbacks during the first half of the trip as the path winds its way up the side of the corniche along a steep ravine. If it is a clear day be prepared for lots of sun on your head and shoulders. There are a shaded portions, but you will be in the sun quite a bit. Wear a hat! The trail alternates between patches of arid, almost desert-like terrain, and lush vegetation with trees and plants all around you. Along the way you’ll also find some signs with quotes from Nietzsche.
Èze Village and the Jardin Exotique d’Eze
At about 1.7 kilometers into the hike you’ll pass a residence on the left and if you look up you’ll get your first glimpses of Èze village. From this point it’s only about another one-half kilometer to the top. Once you arrive in Èze you can walk just a bit more up to the entrance of the old, walled village. I would really encourage you to plan enough time into your trip to visit and explore the village. There is a lot to see, and a leisurely visit is a real treat. If you only have limited time, the church is definitely worth a visit and there is also a fantastic, award winning garden at the very top, the Jardin Exotique d’Eze. It costs about 5€ to get into the garden, but if you have the time, you won’t regret it. You’ll see the last remaining portions of the castle built at the very top of the rocky outpost and the garden features numerous species of succulent plants from every continent. Highly recommended.
The trip back down is pretty quick, it shouldn’t take you much more than half of the time you spent coming up. If the sun is still up and weather is warm take a swim in the Mediterranean, as there is a very nice beach at Èze-sur-Mer. For me, it’s the perfect way to end a day of hiking and exploring.
Important Notes: This trail is steep. If there is any sign of rain I would suggest leaving the hike for another day as many parts of the path will be slippery. As always you’ll want to make sure you have good hiking boots and plenty of water. I would suggest at least one liter of water for this hike, more if you are hiking in the heat. You will normally be able to get food and water at the top of the hike. The best time to make this hike in the summer is early in the morning when it’s the coolest, the best time in the winter is early in the afternoon when things have warmed up a bit. You’ll probably want a hat and sunscreen no matter what time of the year you go. You might be fine in just a t-shirt during most of the year, but if the weather is cool you’ll want to consider bringing a light jacket. If the weather is colder you might even want gloves and a hat. You should always hike with a first aid kit, a good knife, a raincoat, a flashlight and a whistle. If you are hiking alone make sure someone knows where you are going and what time you should be back. I always wear an identification bracelet that I got from Road ID.