posted 28 January 2005

Last Sunday, we drove one layer of switchbacks up to the moyenne corniche, then east a few miles along to the coast to the famous "perched village" of Eze, which our friends the Leysieffers had said we must see and which is extolled, with good reason, in all the guidebooks.

The whole village is balanced on the top of a pinnacle about 500 m above the sea, and no cars are allowed because none of the streets is wide and/or flat enough--many are just flights of stairs. As a result, the three hotels have their reception desks and valet parking in little separate buildings at the town gates. You check your car and luggage there and then walk (or get carried in a sedan chair? who knows?) to your actual hotel. One hotel's reception area featured a display stable for a pair of Eze's famous donkeys, but they were off duty when we were there. All water, building materials, etc. were carried up the hill by humans or donkeys until running water was installed in the '50s; maybe you get to ride to your hotel on a donkey. Another of the hotels has a very highly rated restaurant (G-M 17/20), but it was closed for the winter--we'll have to go back in March.

Eze gardenEze sculpture

                                                       At the very top are the ruins of the castle that once guarded the village and this section of the coast from pirates, although it apparently wasn't very successful--it was taken by both the moors and the saracens at various times. A large area of the top surrounding the ruins has been developed into a spectacular "exotic garden" specializing in succulents. It's punctuated by slender sculptures of women, each inscribed with a short poem about her name.

Eze view

The place is picturesque beyond belief, even in the winter when little is in bloom, but the true glory of Eze is the view. On a clear day, Corsica looms on the horizon, and you can see all the way to Italy on one side and beyond Antibes on the other. If you go to the village's official website, at http://www.eze-riviera.com/emotions/page_accueil.html, you can see more pictures, download a map of the village ("Plan à télécharger"), and even see one of those 360-degree panorama photos of the view from the ruins (taken during some sort of theatrical production; it was empty when we were there). At the upper right, you can see the end of Cap Ferrat and the little "sub-cape" that juts out of its eastern side. Our résidence is about where the cape meets the mainland, out of the picture to the right. We couldn't see it from Eze because it's the far slope, but the lab was clearly visible, across the bay of Villefranche. And two days later, we could see the blanket of snow covering Eze from the stone dock at the lab.

Outside the village proper, both the Gallimard and the Fragonard perfume companies have "savonneries"--soap-producing operations. We toured both, though the soap wasn't actually being produced on Sunday. In fact, all these two places do is receive already-manufactured soap, in the form of small, snow-white, cylindrical pellets, from the soap producers of Marseilles; melt it down; tint it in a variety of colors; perfume it with fragrances produced by the two companies' actual perfume-making operations in nearby Grass; then mould it into decorative forms (dolphins, lemons, disks, flowers, little yellow ducks with hand-painted red bills) and package it for sale. All this processing is done with antique cast-iron machinery (a melter, a mixer, an extruder, and a stamper--the most interesting part of the tour) in a space about 4x4 meters, and the rest of the building is given over to packaging, displays about the perfume industry, and the vast gift shop. We did learn a good deal about how fragrances are extracted from flowers, wood, roots, moss, ambergris, musk, spices, etc. and transformed into perfumes, but none of that actually happens in Eze. Nephew Jeffery will be pleased to learn, though, that "savon de Marseilles" is still a prestigious designation--the best soap really does still come from there--and the "le Chat" brand (long commemorated in a charming poster of a cat on his bedroom wall) is still going strong. It now comes in the handy liquid form, and I have a pump full of it next to my sink right now.

previous entry     List of Entries     next entry