All Images credit Chateau Eze
Thousands of years ago, the Normans built castles and strongholds along the Mediterranean coast. Many places were chosen for their strategic location high up in the mountains and difficult to approach yet giving commanding views for miles and miles away. Today one such medieval village has been well preserved in turned into a 1000 year old fairytale-like tourist attraction drawing curious travelers from around the world. Tucked in between Nice and a stone’s throw away from Monaco is the village of Eze and its most tony boutique hotel, the Chateau Eze.
The first thing that most guests will mention about a visit to Eze is the walk to get there, which is actually more like a hike. More than a walk, it takes a hike to reach Chateau Eze. That is just the point, as this is a medieval village built upon the rugged and winding hillsides and in places too narrow for a mule to pass through let alone a car. In the village, tough-hewn walls and walkways lead the way past souvenir shops and clothing boutiques from Cote d’Azur’s local designers. In between, there are cafes and restaurants to tuck in for lunch.
But the effort is well worth it and soon forgotten. High atop a mountain looming over the Mediterranean Sea, the panoramic views from this little village leave one in awe. The small villages’ terracotta rooves adds to the charm as does the vibrant bougainvillea, pencil pines trees, and orange and lemon trees. Throughout the village, there is a wide variety of dramatic cacti, and gorgeous gardens bursting with color, flowers, and fragrance. From this vantage point 1,400 feet above sea level, the colors of the sea appear as the deepest blue, turquoise and cerulean. The views of the horizon beyond at any time of the day stir the soul.
Built 400 years ago in the Middle Ages, Chateau Eze was once the home of a prince. Known until 1976 as The Prince of Sweden’s castle, the royal stumbled upon the ancient city of Eze while boating with his father. Thought-out the Chateau are remnants from that regal time with period pieces, priceless oil paintings, mementos, and craftmanship from an era long since gone.
Over the years, the castle fell into disrepair and was sold off to local residents. Fast forward to 1976 and visionary and wealthy diplomat, André Rochat, became aware of the condition of the property as well as its historical value and potential. He went about repurchasing the available private units of the area. What followed was an extensive renovation to restore them to their former luster and prominence and those units and the main building comprise the castle hotel.
Eze is as incredibly old as it is charming with Medieval architecture, ancient façades, and buildings hewn from limestone all of which are connected through a labyrinth of ancient stone-paved lanes. The well-preserved and restored details of the village make it all the more enchanting with centuries-old stonework, wrought-iron street lamps, with colorful window shutters that add character. In the village guests see plaques, mosaics, and carvings of historical figures from the area.
The hotel is spread out through but not too far from the main castle. During the day and especially during the summer and peak holiday season, the laneways that cross your apartment can become busy and even crowded with tourists coming to visit for the day. In the early evening, after most of the shops close and only a few cafes and bars remain open, the streets of the village are less than crowded giving the feeling that you have the entire village all to yourself.
Chateau Eze is not your typical boutique hotel by any stretch of the imagination. The hotel consists of only 14 accommodations, each unique and, like the monarchy, range in size, configuration, and amenities from fit for a nobleman to ready to receive his or her royal highness. The units are located in the villagers’ renovated homes from the past millennium where a step through your ancient fortress-like door leads to and maze of walkways outside. Other rooms are hidden away in the castle-esque main building.
Behind the one-foot thick exposed rock walls are rooms with fireplaces with rustic mantles, stained-glass windows, carved wood paneling. exposed oak rafters, and rich parquet floors. Rooms vary in décor from Louis XIII period design to contemporary with all the modern amenities and latest technology expected of the seasoned traveler. Guests will enjoy the four-poster beds, period oil paintings, and antique furnishings as well as the lavish bathrooms with marble floors and many with hydromassage showers and Jacuzzi bathtubs.
Six suites sit 350 meters above the Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula and offer gorgeous views of the Esterel Mountains and the Gulf of Saint Tropez. Guest will spend time mesmerized by the view from their balconies that range from petite julienne balconies large enough for a bistro table and chairs to terraces that double as outdoor living spaces with chaise lounges and Jacuzzi large enough for four.
Look no further than their fine dining restaurant for another serving of the royal treatment. This is arguably the crown jewel of a stay at Chateau Eze, an haute degustation dinner set against the backdrop of the twinkling lights along the coastline of the Cote d’Azur. Guests dine indoors in the gastronomic restaurant on the romantic candlelit tables with the floor-to-ceiling glass doors open for fresh air and endless 180-degree vistas of the coast. It couldn’t be more romantic and creates the perfect setting to ‘pop the question’.
Of course, the setting and ambiance are sublime but it is the cuisine that steals the show. The menu features innovative French and Mediterranean cuisine with haute presentation that could be defined as nothing less than culinary art. The degustation dinner features eight dishes; plate after plate with one more decadent than the next. Expect to dine on seasonal dishes made from the finest French ingredients. The cuisine is flawlessly paired with wines from their extensive wine list and a cellar overflowing with regional and international wines. Expect dishes such as the marinated Mediterranean blue fish with sea foam and seaweed butter, and, for the main, roasted veal with pumpkin stuffed with quinoa and argan oil. The meal is made all the more sublime with their professional yet friendly staff as well as their extremely well-versed sommelier.
Most guests will spend their days exploring the village, getting lost in the labyrinth of ancient walkways. The shops feature the works of local artists, regional fashion designers and of course there are plenty of souvenir shops and cafes to visit. Just a few steps away is a botanical garden that is a must-see attraction while in the area. Le Jardin Exotique d’Eze is worthy of a few hours exploring the indigenous and foreign fauna and their extensive gardens of exotic cacti, kiwi trees, aloe vera, and cypress trees set around the ruins of the old castle. This is found in the highest point of the village so the views over the coast are even more dramatic. Beyond the village of Eze, Nice and the port villages of the Cote d Azur are nearby as is Monaco, a short drive to the west.
When we travel, we seek to create memories that we will cherish long after the luggage is unpacked back home. Chateau Eze is such a place. To call it unusual would be an understatement, set high upon a mountain in a medieval castle overlooking the Cote d’Azur. The setting, accommodations, and dining experience create the perfect backdrop for and sublime holiday in the South of France.