36 Hours in Eze on the French Riviera

You’re more than 250 miles from the French Riviera and you have less than two days before your flight whisks you back home to the states. Is a spontaneous drive to the coast going to be worth your while in the heat and traffic of summer?

Villa & Gardens de Ephrussi de Rothschild

For us, the gamble — and the three-plus-hour drive — paid off.  But we took the road less traveled, choosing to spend the last 36 hours of our French vacation in Eze. With this stunning medieval village as our destination, our hope was to avoid the heavy summer crowds and insane traffic of Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Nice and Monaco. Eze is situated between the two latter cities, and it couldn’t be further away in terms of glitz and glamour.

Best known for its fortified 12th century castle (now in ruins), perched above the turquoise water, Eze will give you a taste of the French Riviera experience — the spectacular Mediterranean views, excellent food and great people watching — but without the intensity.

We stayed AirBnB in a modern apartment across from the ancient village. Arriving just in time to spend the afternoon at the Jardin Exotique d’ Eze, where the views over the tile-roofed villas are jaw dropping, we then toured the old village.

View from the Jardin Exotique d' Eze
View from the Jardin Exotique d’ Eze

Walking through the cobblestone streets, we stopped to peek into the many charming shops and restaurants. Making our way up the spiraling route to the top of the hill, arched openings in the ancient walls provided occasional glimpses of the cliffs and coastline below. We were so busy soaking it all in that we got lost as we navigated back down the road. No worries — there’s no better place to be lost!

The next morning we toured the Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild. The rose-pink villa took us back in time to French luxury in the late 1800s. Madame Ephrussi, daughter of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, is the woman behind this villa and all the artwork that it holds.

A real Nicoise salad
A real Nicoise salad

She was introduced to art through James de Rothschild’s collection, and in 1883, married Maurice Ephrussi to become part of a family of bankers and wheat exporters. And while the pale pink interior (her signature style) caught our eye, like most people, we sped through the villa and made a beeline for the water-front gardens. There are nine of them — all stunning — in a variety of themes including French, Spanish, Florentine and Japanese.

Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild

Dinner on the waterfront at La Vieille Maison (also known as Momo’s) was beautiful our last night in Eze. It’s a small and casual family-run restaurant with rooftop tables. Our seafood meal started with the most amazing Nicoise salad I’ve ever had. Apparently I wasn’t the only one impressed: come to find out, the New York Times thinks very highly of Momo’s too.

Eze is also known for the strenuous Nietzsche Path, a hiking trail that takes you from the upper elevations of the village, down the cliff to the coastal strip below. Short on time, we skipped the footpath, but did manage to take a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean. We were surprised to find the beach was quiet — once again reminding us that Eze is a rare gem in a coastal region made up of sparkling diamonds. For those looking for a little less glitz and a little more charm, it’s the perfect “French Riviera lite” experience.

Perfect place for a swim in Eze
Perfect place for a swim in Eze