sweet serendipity in the eagle’s nest of the côte d’azur

Anyone who visits me gets to see Èze.

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A vigorous, hour-long climb up and around a mountain rewards the casual hiker with a brilliant view of the Mediterranean from a postcard-perfect village.

 

I’ll break my rule and describe this hike as “breathtaking”–but only because you will not be able to breathe once you reach the top, I guarantee it. This hike is not for the faint of heart, and definitely not for people wearing Birkenstocks and swimsuits (not that I would know anything about that).

 

The trail takes you from Èze-sur-Mer–the part of Èze located on a stretch of coastline, accessible by train–to Èze Village, a medieval town perched high on a mountain. The trail is called Nietzsche’s Footpath, and the writer apparently found inspiration and peace on this very trail. Nietzsche wasn’t the first to frequent this trail: that honor probably belongs to hoofed creatures. Le Chemin de Nietzsche was originally a path for goats.

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If the views are fit for praises, the climb itself could only have been named for a nihilist. My last visit had my calves aching badly enough to wake me in the night two days later. And I only made the descent.

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The trail is rocky, an ankle-sprain warning zone. It’s easy to imagine a goatherd leading his animals up the mountain for cheese-making purposes. It feels wild and real, and the effort makes the payoff so sweet. After perhaps 50 minutes of hard work, you turn a corner and can see the village above, its cheery yellow clocktower like a welcome.

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I spared my parents (and Dad’s year-old knee replacement) from making the trek in the snow when they visited, but typically I consider Èze one of the most worthy day trips when visiting the coast.

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Last Friday was forecast to be beautiful, so I woke up with a goal: getting to Èze to visit the botanical garden at the top. I hadn’t seen the garden on my previous visits, instead choosing to save a few euros. Then I realized the garden is the only place you can get the full panoramic view from the village that calls itself “the Eagle’s Nest of the Côte d’Azur.” It was 4 euros to enter, the price of a cappuccino in Cannes. Suffice it to say: it was worth it. acs_0454

I wandered around with my camera for awhile and saw a girl around my age doing the same thing. She appeared to be alone too. We smiled at each other. I made another loop around the garden and noticed her again, speaking in English to another girl who appeared to be alone. Just for fun, I went up and introduced myself and asked them how they found themselves in Èze.

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Erika, originally from Japan, currently living in Kenya, was traveling alone on a Julia-Roberts-style solo voyage. Clarisse recently left her home in Brazil to spend a few months in Aix-en-Provence learning French.

We would travel together for the rest of the day, and my quietly spontaneous trip to Èze would morph into a fun, frenzied journey to three different cities (one of them a country, if we’re being specific). We would be climbing up a hill to a pink mansion, running to catch trains, eating gelato in Monaco, and falling asleep over a late dinner of pizza. I wouldn’t get home until after midnight.

If each of us started the day like something out of “Eat, Pray, Love,” we would end it more like the Cheetah Girls.

 

(But of course, I didn’t know any of that yet.)

 

How easily we might have missed each other! One minute, one hour, one delayed train. You can’t force serendipity: that’s what makes it so sweet. But you can improve your chances.

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I say: do what you want to do, alone or not. Take the train, take the hike, buy the ticket, and don’t be afraid to talk to strangers.

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Even if you don’t have company, you just might find some.

three-hour tour

I am lucky to live in one of the last true gardens in all of France.img_0714

Well, that’s what my landlord and neighbor would say. And did say, yesterday, on what ended up being an hour-long tour of the property followed by several glasses of Bourgogne.

Never did I imagine that gardening could produce such passion, such fervor, such urgency. And then I met Monsieur C, who, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, snuck onto someone’s property under the cover of night to snip off a branch of a prized cherry tree before racing away in his car. Hence the beautiful white blooms in my front yard.img_0748

He had been telling us for a week. You have to come see the garden! Now! Before it’s too late! 

My friend from the States, currently on a badass solo backpacking trip, was visiting for a few days. It seemed like a good way to show her la vraie France and le vrai jardin in one go. img_0702

Comment tu t’appelles mon petit ?! Monsieur C demanded. Je m’appelle Sherrell, she responded. Hein?! He looked to me. What’s the French equivalent? 

C’est pas très français, en fait ! I responded, repeating her name in a stronger French accent. After all, none of the sounds are foreign to the language. He shrugged it off. Hmm. I will call you…Suzanne ! He boomed. Anyway.

We followed him back to the garden.

So what exactly constitutes un vrai jardin? I wondered. There must be fruit trees, vegetables, and flowers! The flowers must be a certain distance from the vegetables! The fruit trees as well!  

He showed us around in what seemed a very intentional order, looking to me and Mary to translate to Sherrell when he said something he thought was particularly important. Here was the apricot tree, the apple tree, the white cherry tree that produces delicious fruit: filled with bugs. But c’est pas grave if you simply close your eyes!

Here are the tops of the garlic, the onions, the leeks that he keeps under a special screen to keep the flies away so that he can enjoy them for a longer season than anyone else.

He pointed out a baby pear tree with the fondness one reserves for a beloved pet.

He told us about the little birds–mésanges–that eat his asparagus, and about all the hacks he uses to avoid using chemicals in the garden.

With a kind of tenderness, he told us about his budding friendship with a crow he’s calling Coco.

We sat and had wine as he told us stories I tried to translate. Then it was time for his nap.

Au revoir Suzanne ! 

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