Friday already? Then it must be France on my blog!
Like to hike? From serious hiking to a pleasant ramble through an astonishing variety of landscapes, France is a country amazingly well-equipped. There are over 100,000 kilometres of walking trails criss-crossing the country in all directions. It’s like a national sport! Click here to go to an excellent website with maps and more detailed information.
The following is just one small example. (You can click on the photos to see them full-sized.)
A picturesque 40-minute drive east from Antibes, Eze Bord de Mer (also known as Eze Sur Mer) is one of the most accessible places on the Cote D’Azur as the rail, road and bus links all run along its length. They create a dividing line between the mountains and the sea. The thin strip of pebble beach provides just enough room for a few seaside restaurants on the turquoise edge of the Mediterranean. Typically the small town consists of everything from simple cottages to exclusive villas.
Approximately 500 metres (1400 feet) up the rugged corniche is the fortified perched village of Eze. With a history going back to 2000 BC, the current village dates to the 9th C. The stone structures and winding cobbled streets are well restored, with high walls and narrow paths. Today the town is full of small art galleries and boutiques and a couple of luxurious hotels as its setting, charm and ancient history make it a popular tourist destination. (But go early in the morning and you can have it to yourself.)The ancient alleyways wend their way upward to the well sign-posted Jardin Exotique Panorama. The plantings of cacti are spectacular and the view is one of the best on the Cote D’Azur, overlooking Cap Ferrat and on to Nice and Cap D’Antibes on a clear day.
These two communities encapsulate the best of both coastal and mountain worlds. Whether visiting the seaside part or the heart of the old town on the cliff, Eze offers a rich culture mixed with local traditions and a luxurious lifestyle.
The magical and unique ambiance of the town has an unforgettable appeal. But perhaps no one was more charmed by Eze than the tormented and controversial philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.
Though he spent only a short holiday in the area in the 1880’s, the environment had a profound tonic effect on the famously troubled philosopher. “I slept well, I laughed a lot, and I found a marvellous vigour and patience”, he later recalled. He also found the inspiration for the third part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, much of which was composed in his head (so the story goes) while hiking the steep trail from the seaside to the medieval village. The route, once a goat path, is now known officially as Le Chemin de Nietzsche or Nietzsche’s Path.
With my sister-in-law visiting us from her home in the south of Spain and our 28-year-old niece from Israel, I was eager to show them this beautiful area. Especially these two wonderful women who are always up for any adventure and turn everything into a laughter-filled event!
We took the train from Antibes to Villefranche Sur Mer and had a quick look around yet another beautiful town before catching the bus up to Eze Village. After walking around the town and taking photos at the castle ruin and the Jardin Exotique, we lunched on crepes and salad and then, water bottles filled, we headed down the Nietzsche Trail.
Winding down the corniche and through a forested ravine, the quiet trail lends itself naturally to contemplation. Birds chirped. Leaves rustled when gentle breezes made brief, welcome appearances. The gravel path crunched below our feet as the brightest yellow butterflies fluttered along with us. The sea washed the shore below, beyond the scent of pines and the many varieties of fragrant shrubs and plants that naturally fill these spaces. The clean, fresh air offered its own special brand of aromatherapy.
The path isn’t difficult but it’s not easy either. There are places where stairs have been built by France’s impressive sentier (walking trail) maintenance crews or possibly by local groups who take a keen interest in maintaining their trails. However there are also a few steep pitches and some spots where the stones or gravel are a bit loose and slippery if one isn’t careful. Faites attention!
It’s a quicker climb down than up, needless to say, and in 90 minutes, after a few brief stops to admire the changing views, we were back down in Eze Bord de Mer. We cooled our feet in the Med and savoured a refreshingly cold brew on the beach before taking the train home.
If you ever go, take the train to Eze Bord De Mer and the 83 bus (which only comes by once an hour) to Eze Village. Wear good walking footwear and take the path down. You’ll be very glad you did.
The suggested advice when the going gets strenuous on the Nietzsche Trail? Try repeating Zarathustra’s mantra from his own sojourn through the mountains: “You are treading your path of greatness: no one shall steal after you here.” Or take along good friends and laugh your way down.
If you have favourite places you like to hike, I would love to hear about them. The Bruce Trail? The Appalachian Trail? Whistler? Yosemite? Cotswold Way? Your own neighbourhood?
Tread your own path of greatness no matter where you are or what you are doing. Onward!