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Hiking in FranceLike to hike? From serious trekking to a pleasant ramble through an astonishing variety of landscapes, France is a country amazingly well-equipped with opportunities.

There are over 100,000 kilometres of walking trails crisscrossing 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.

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. Go early in the morning and you can have it to yourself.

Eze Bord de MerThe 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.

While he lived 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 marvelous vigor 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 every day 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.

Hiking in FranceThe beginning of the path down is well-marked, just below the entrance to ancient village. The other option is to climb up from Eze Sur Mer. I prefer walking down.

Winding down the corniche and through a forested ravine, the quiet trail lends itself naturally to contemplation. Birds chirp. Leaves rustle when gentle breezes make brief, welcome appearances The gravel path crunches below your feet as the brightest yellow butterflies flutter along. The sea washes 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 offers 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 brief stops to admire the changing views, you are back in Eze Bord de Mer.  Cool your feet in the Med and enjoy a refreshing brew on the beach before taking the train home.

As an alternative to driving, take the coastal train to Eze Bord De Mer and the #83 bus (which only comes by once an hour) to Eze Village. Be well armed with heavy-duty sun block, hats, and mist-spray water bottles (LOVE these!) as well as drinking bottles.

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.