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Laidback, chilled and taking it easy on the French Riviera Gillian Thornton travels east from Nice to explore three contrasting coastal communities Villa Ephrussi © Thomas Dupaigne Stand amongst the cacti and exotic blooms of Les Jardins d’Eze and you’re treated to one of the most glorious views on the French Riviera. From this hilltop garden high above the Mediterranean, I’m looking westward over the stone walls and terracotta roofs of medieval Eze towards Nice. On a sparkling morning like this, breath-taking doesn’t even come close. And with 300 sunshine days a year, it’s a view that can be enjoyed all year round. Villas tumble down the steep hillside in front of me and beyond a wooded headland, the slim peninsula of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat marks the eastern boundary of Villefranche Bay, the pretty resort tantalisingly hidden from view. The city of Nice is out of sight too behind the southern tip of the Alpes Maritimes, but its coastal airport is clearly visible in the far distance, a reminder that UNESCO’s ‘Winter Resort of the Riviera’ is only a bus ride away. Take a city break in Nice and it’s easy to spend your time exploring the quaint streets of Vieux Nice, the Baroque churches, tempting boutiques and eclectic mix of museums. But the Greater Nice area includes a huge variety of picturesque locations from the mountain villages of the Mercantour to a clutch of coastal communities that lie east of the city. A stunning combination that just begs to be explored. Easy in Eze Classified as an elite ‘Jardin Remarquable’, the Exotic Garden of Eze features succulent plants from arid areas across the globe, the cacti, aloes and agaves dotted with sculptures in terracotta and bronze. This magical plot stands at the highest point of the medieval village, 1400 feet above the modern town centre at sea level. Today, the steep streets of the showpiece village are beautifully maintained and manicured, popular with cruise ship passengers and for the atmospheric accommodation that includes three 5-star hotels. For a special occasion, treat yourself to a meal at La Chèvre d’Or restaurant with its two coveted Michelin stars. But it’s still easy to feel the atmosphere of ancient stones in Eze, especially if you can visit early or late in the day, or in low season. There’s a real sense of time gone by as you pass beneath medieval gateways, walk beside walls that date back to the Bronze Age, and contemplate the Riquier Mansion, home to the powerful Lords of Eze from the 12th to 15th centuries. It’s also easy just to soak up the view over a refreshing glass on a café terrace, but to see a different side of the village, take one of the marked hiking routes along winding paths fringed with bougainvillea and jasmine. There’s plenty of Riviera fragrance to be had too on a free tour and workshop at Parfumerie 72 | The Good Life France The Good Life France | 73
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