There’s a legend in the medieval walled community of Eze, high on a rock escarpment overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, that speaks to the mystique of this ancient town.
The tale is about a Golden Goat, La Chèvre d’Or.
The streets of old Eze (pronounced EH-zeh) are too narrow for vehicles. Indeed, some are too narrow for two people walking shoulder to shoulder. The streets have names, to be sure, but labeling rubbly staircases can be confusing. No doubt that was true even in the 14th century, when these buttresses were raised.
A city in the sky inevitably draws attention to itself. Invaders from the Moors to the Ottoman Turks to Louis XIV himself assaulted the fortress. What a military treasure it might have been, with a view extending more than 100 miles across the deep blue Mediterranean waters and the myriad capes and inlets of the Côte d’Azur.
The goat, or so it is now told, did its best to thwart the intruders. So labyrinthine were the turns and passages of this cliff-side domicile that only a phantom creature such as La Chèvre d’Or could have misdirected the assailants so successfully, for so long.
The myth is brought to life today at Le Château de la Chèvre d’Or, a gloriously unique restaurant high on the cliff wall. Nearby is the Château Eza, a hotel that for 30 years (until 1953) was the private residence of Prince William of Sweden. But casual visitors to Eze are far more engaged by the warren of art ateliers and tiny cafes secluded in cobbled courtyards and natural caverns.
Eze is a half hour’s bus ride from the city of Nice (pronounced NEECE) on a switch-backing highway — the kind that Agent 007 so often drove in “James Bond” movies — which continues to the fabled principality of Monaco. The small village is a fascinating side trip for Côte d’Azur visitors, offering an unforgettable view across Cap Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer and the luxury yachts moored in their harbors.
Blessed with nearly a full day in Nice before beginning our “Hidden Harbors of the Côte d’Azur” tour with Windstar Cruises, we found Eze to be one of the highlights of the first 24 hours of our trip.
Our flight had arrived early on a Tuesday evening in this bustling city of 350,000, center of a metropolitan area of about 1 million people. An Uber driver took us to the two-star Hotel Parisien, a small, family-owned inn on Rue Vernier, just north of the city center. It wasn’t fancy and had no elevator, but our friendly hosts helped us with our bags to our second-floor room with private bath.
Once settled, we headed out to explore the town. We walked about a mile down Avenue Jean Médecin to Plâce Masséna, where a rock band was warming up the stage for a four-day festival that would begin on Thursday. Guitars and drums had local youth moving to the beat, but music was secondary to an impressive light show that colored the urban square with hues of magenta and teal and pistachio.
Just before sunset, we continued to the Promenade des Anglais, a broad walkway that extends for miles along the Mediterranean. Steps descend to a pebbly beach where, a couple of lifetimes ago, I plucked stones imprinted with military emblems. Now giggling children pulled their inflatable sea monsters from the rippling waves as dance instructors taught Latin swing in a seaside pavilion.
We found dinner nearby at a casual Basque seafood restaurant (on Rue de l’Opéra) called Peixes, or “Fishes.” It surpassed our expectations. Barb’s ceviche St.-Jacques burst with unexpected flavors of passion fruit on scallops, while hand-rolled gnocchi was a perfect complement to the smoked octopus tentacle in my meal. A bottle of crisp Loire Valley sancerre, France’s most perfect sauvignon blanc as recommended by our charming server, Lurie, made this an amazing meal.
Afterward, we wandered a few steps into the Vielle Ville, or Old Town district. Its narrow alleys, framed by medieval sandstone buildings, could have kept us captured for a week. Most galleries and antique shops were closed by this hour, but dozens of small cafes and bars had taken their places. Along the Rue de la Prefecture and intersecting lanes, like Rue Benoit Bunico and Rue Droite, jazz and blues clubs, tattoo parlors, pizza joints and hookah bars did brisk business, along with wine bars and even an Irish pub.
This morning, after le petit dejeuner (a simple breakfast of coffee, bread and jam) at our hotel, we returned to Old Town for a visit to the Marché, the daily farmers’ market. Colorful roses, zinnias, carnations and other blooms were coddled by the scent of freshly cut lavender in the floral section of the market, while orange squash blossoms and oversized heirloom tomatoes beckoned us to the vegetable stalls.
Enroute to the Eze autobus stop, we climbed steps past a performing-arts school where a trio of Commedia dell’Arte actors surprised us with their medieval masks, somehow not at all out of place in this curious maze. They were still on our mind (and in our photographs!) when we returned from Eze and collected our bags at our hotel.
We were welcomed aboard the Wind Surf, our ship, shortly after 4 p.m.
Next: A voyage to Corsica