Our second day on the French Riviera started bright and early again. Our first stop was the village of Éze. From Cannes, we took the Moyenne Corniche to Éze village, which gave us amazing views of the coast along the last part of our route. Éze is yet another village perché, about 1,400 ft above the sea, that is very popular with the tourist crowd. Cars are not allowed into the village so one has no choice but to park the car and hike up into the village. The tiny carpark was almost full even though we got there early, and we were very fortunate to get one of the last few available parking. Like most tourist destinations in the Côte d’Azur, parking is not free. In fact, you could even say it is rather pricey but since you don’t have any other parking options, you just pay the parking fee, which is precisely what we did.
Before we began the steep hike up to the village, we stopped by the Tourism Office. There is a discount coupon you can pick up for free from the Tourism Office which gives you a 10% off purchases at any Fragonard store in France and I was keen to take advantage of that.
I personally liked Éze more than St-Paul-de-Vence. The two villages had many similarities but I found Éze just a bit more picturesque and less pretentious compared to St-Paul-de-Vence. While I had read that the climb up to the vllage was very steep, we didn’t find it anymore so than St-Paul-de-Vence. By then, my parents were getting rather adept at walking uphill (poor things) and we rather enjoyed our walk through the village. There was so much to see, and the views of the coast that peeked through the buildings were amazing.
Still, you’d best be wearing your best walking shoes as the footpaths are not too easy on the feet. Like St-Paul-de-Vence (maybe it’s a trend in these touristy villages), the streets are paved with tiny pebbles.
But the beauty and charm of the village is so worth it. Everywhere we went, we were struck by the beauty of the place. Postcard-worthy courtyards, the brilliant blue of the sea, tiny hidden lanes and shops with beautiful goods for sale greeted us at every turn. There was also an abundance of art galleries and studios.
It is definitely a village that I would like to live in. I would have loved to stay at one of the few hotels in the village, waking up to the beautiful views in the morning, or enjoying a good cup of coffee in one of the many sunny courtyards. However, on checking out the price as we were passing one of them, I almost had a heart attack – 360 euro per night for a standard double room at Château Eza during off-peak season. The prices were even crazier than the prices in Paris. Oh well, maybe if I win the lottery one day…
For now, I had to be content with soaking up the atmosphere and the beauty of the place. To be honest, I’m not even sure the photos does it justice.
We finally made our way right to the very top of the village. The Jardin Exotique is right at the very top. While I personally had not much interest in the different varieties of cactus found there, the view was so worth the 4 euro you have to pay to get in. There is also the ruins of a 12th century fortified castle on top of the hill.
The view of the coast from the top of the village was breathtaking. It is said that on a fine day, you can see out as far as Corsica.
Leaving the village, we decided to have an early lunch. We found a little restaurant at the foot of the village called Le Pinocchio. It was another sunny day, although there was a little chill in the wind, but we still decided to sit outside. The meal was pleasant enough and surprisingly not as pricey as I expected. Being a tourist trap, some of the restaurants we saw inside the village had rather expensive menu prices on their doors.
On the way back to our car, mum and I decided to stop by the Fragonard store. It was a great place to pick up little souvenirs for friends and family and the 10% discount card I picked up at the Tourism Office definitely came in handy. I even bought a bottle of perfume for myself aptly named Maman Chérie, a great souvenir to remember this wonderful trip I took with my mum.
The drive to Monaco was rather tedious. Traffic was heavy, and the people who told me that Monaco is a nightmare to drive in was right. Poor hubby did really well with the driving even though my navigation skills fell really short. The densely populated high-rise buildings blocked the signal for my iPad. Even though I had mapped the route out with viaMichelin, the confusing turns and routes were rather disorientating and we ended up in Fontvielle instead of Monaco Ville. We decided to take the first carpark we could find instead of trying to find our way back to Monaco Ville. It meant that we got to walk along the harbour.
We began the trek to the Palais Princier. It was a fairly long walk, with a steep climb up the hill to get to the royal palace. Along the way, we walked past the Terraces de Fontvielle, which had an exhibition of HSH Prince Rainier III’s collection of vintage cars. Hubby and mum expressed interest in the exhibition, while dad and I were just glad to be heading into an air-conditioned environment. At 6 euro entry fee, it was not bad, although I personally would have preferred the Oceanographic Museum. Hubby was quite happy snapping away with his camera, and mum was delighted to come across a section devoted to her favourite F1 team – Ferrari.
We walked up rather long flights of steps to get to the top of the hill where the Palais Princier sits. Truth be told, I found the palace rather drab and disappointing. I’ve read that the interior boasts fabulous furniture and decorations but it is only open to the public in summer. At least being on the top of a hill gave us a great panoramic view of the city.
Trying to beat the traffic – Monaco comes alive in the evening, when it becomes a playground for the rich and wealthy – we decided to head back to Cannes. We were hoping to drive through Villefranche-sur-Mer and St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and manage a quick visit to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild before they closed at 6pm. Sadly for us, the iPad navigation failed us once more and we ended up heading into Nice (with its nightmarish one-way streets) instead, right smack in the middle of peak hour traffic. I felt bad for poor hubby, who was stuck behind the wheel. Realizing we were never going to make Villa Ephrussi on time, we decided to just head back to Cannes. Somehow we ended up on the famous Promenade des Anglais. While the drive along the coast was nice, I did not get what the fuss is all about. Maybe for me, a pebbled beach just doesn’t look right, and the endless rows of resorts and hotels lining the beachfront just reminded me of any other beachfront popular with the tourist crowd. I didn’t find it any different to Surfer’s Paradise here on the Gold Coast in Australia. At least, Surfer’s Paradise has a beautiful sandy beach.
It took us over an hour to get out of Nice, before we were back again on the autoroute heading to Cannes. I had booked us dinner at a restaurant at Le Cannet to get us away from the hustle and bustle that is Cannes. The restaurant Café de la Place had good French reviews on the internet, and they seemed very friendly when I emailed them to make a reservation.
We got to Le Cannet a little earlier than expected. With the traffic situation (yes, there are traffic jams in Cannes during peak hour), there didn’t seem to be any point heading back to the apartment to get changed and freshened up. The restaurant was just setting up for dinner service but mum and dad had had just about enough walking for the day. The restaurant staff very kindly showed them to our table even though technically, the restaurant was not open yet. Hubby and I decided to explore the streets. By then, pretty much everything was closed, but there was an eclectic mix of shops on rue Saint-Sauveur. We found the neighbourhood quite charming.
The restaurant opens out on to a terrace, which I’m sure is amazing in summer-time. However, we were there mid-September and the nights, while still pleasant enough had a slight chill in the air. Living in a tropical country his whole life, my dad is not a fan of the cold. (He sometimes feels the need to turn the heater on here in Melbourne, right in the middle of summer). We still sat outside for our dinner, but we did not have the terrace. Our table was underneath an awning of sorts, which provided some shelter from the chilly night breeze.
We were starving so we were ready to order as soon as the kitchen was open. The menu was simple and unpretentious, with emphasis on fresh seasonal produce and French flavours. Soon, the restaurant began to fill-up with local patrons. The atmosphere became warm, cozy and lively, with animated French chatter and conversation overflowing from each table. Every table was filled and there was not a single vacant seat in the house. (Good thing I made reservations.) It was clearly obvious that this restaurant is a local favourite. In fact, I think we were the only tourists there. Sitting on my seat, with my glass of wine, enveloped by French conversation and laughter emanating from tables around me, I thought this was the perfect way to finish a long, tiring day of sight-seeing.