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Garden exploring in a medieval village near Nice.

Garden exploring in a medieval village near Nice

A medieval village between Nice and Monaco, Eze perches like an eagle's nest on a peak in the Maritime Alps 1,550 feet above the sea. The town's unique architecture --hewn of native rock and practically part of the natural environment-- attracts many tourists. But few of them venture to the very top of the village, where an exotic 37-year-old garden occupies 6 acres at the base of a ruined castle.

To climb the long, steep flight of stairs that leads from the village (signed Jardin Exotique), you need strong legs and a good heart. But after you enter this marvelous garden, one of the most breathtaking views in the region rewards you. You can see the entire Riviera; looking south in clear weather, you can see Corsica.

Plantings are composed of cactus and other succulents--mostly non-native, but very much acclimated to their sunny hilltop home. Many of the early-planted ones are now very tall or very large for their species. Unusual specimens include golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), Cereus peruvianus, and cholla cactus (Opuntia echinocarpa). They grow between rocks and form their own rugged composition.

At the top of the garden are the ruins of 14th-century Eze castle, destroyed by order of Louis XIV in 1706. The castle site was no doubt chosen for its strategic isolation as well as its view. Even in 1949, when the present garden was created, soil, plants, and tools still had to be transported uphill by manpower.

The Jardin Exotique is open every day in summer from 8 A.M. to sunset; October 1 to June 14, it opens at 9. Entrance fee is about 60 cents for adults and 40 cents for children under age 12; you pay at the garden gate.

To reach Eze from Nice, follow Highway N7--called the Moyenne Corniche-- about 8 miles toward Menton.

Photo: Garden gate opens to a domain of cactus and rocks. The sign, translating "Keep off the planting beds,' is quite unnecessary
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1986
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