High old times

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION EUROPE - BRIAN JOHN­STON

There’s a rea­son you’re of­fered a wel­come cock­tail (pros­ecco, man­darin liqueur and tonic wa­ter) on ar­rival at Chateau de la Chevre d’Or. It’s a nerve-steady­ing ne­ces­sity af­ter you have driven up from Nice on bends that aren’t so much hair­pin as pa­per­clip, dou­bling around on them­selves as they heave up the cliff.

Cap Fer­rat tilts far be­neath. Squint and you can spot Cor­sica, although a mo­ment’s inat­ten­tion might plunge you into the Mediter­ranean, which shim­mers be­low like a blue por­tal to an up­side-down heaven.

When your car reaches the edge of a walled precipice in Eze you can aban­don your keys to a valet. Your nerves will be bat­tered, but your rental car will reap­pear on de­par­ture, mirac­u­lously un­scratched and still sport­ing its wing mir­rors.

A tot­ter along a ver­tigo-in­duc­ing path to­wards re­cep­tion im­me­di­ately re­veals this ho­tel’s trump card. Eze has an am­bi­tious lo­ca­tion at­trac­tive to be­lea­guered medieval folk. The ho­tel oc­cu­pies half the vil­lage and eye­balls le grand bleu from al­most ev­ery win­dow. Sus­pended be­tween sea and sky, it feels as if you’re afloat. The panorama is dizzy­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing. You’ll be in the mid­dle of fork­ing up fish or ap­ply­ing sun­screen and suddenly get side­tracked into the grand au­dac­ity of that view.

Chateau de la Chevre d’Or is mis­lead­ingly named. It isn’t a chateau but a jumble of vil­lage build­ings, what Ital­ians call an al­bergho dif­fuso (scat­tered ho­tel). The vil­lage is mainly 14th cen­tury, though some star­tlingly ram­shackle walls be­low its Cafe du Jardin were built by the Phoeni­cians in 500BC. Greeks, Ro­mans, Moors and Savo­yards fol­lowed.

The well-pre­served medieval streets are low-key and al­most free of kitschy cafes and sou­venir shops, pre­fer­ring ate­liers and art gal­leries. This is an old-world re­treat, high above the glitz of the French Riviera and the ex­cesses of nearby Nice and Monaco.

The ho­tel has 37 gue­strooms and suites spread through the lower vil­lage in which cor­ri­dors have be­come cob­bled al­ley­ways. Each room is dif­fer­ent, but most fea­ture sturdy medieval stone walls, beamed ceil­ings and gen­er­ous dol­lops of con­tem­po­rary lux­ury.

Ser­vice is well-nigh flaw­less from the mo­ment im­pec­ca­bly dressed staff ap­pear, af­ter check-in, with bot­tled wa­ter, nougat and your suit­cases.

Few ho­tels have such at­mo­spheric pub­lic ar­eas, es­pe­cially in the evening af­ter day-trip­pers de­part; wan­der its pri­vate gar­dens, which plunge down­hill in a se­ries of ter­races to­wards the sea that glit­ters 400m be­low. Chateau de la Chevre d’Or lurches un­ex­pect­edly into kitschy whimsy here with a col­lec­tion of shrub­bery-lurk­ing Chi­nese war­riors, danc­ing-dol­phin foun­tains and gilded lions. The golden goat of the ho­tel’s name is an eye­sore pranc­ing on a rooftop.

Al­berghi dif­fusi are newly trendy in Italy, but this ho­tel is a mid-1950s found­ing mem­ber of the pres­ti­gious Re­lais & Chateaux brand, which is es­pe­cially noted for qual­ity din­ing. Its gas­tro­nomic restau­rant is an in­sti­tu­tion on the Riviera and has two Miche­lin stars.

View from Chateau de la Chevre d’Or, top; a gue­stroom, cen­tre; the name­sake golden goat, above; sculp­tures in the pri­vate gar­den, left

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