There are four routes from Nice to the town of Menton and the Italian border: The motorway and the three Corniches. I just need to decide which one to take. Having already travelled through the lower beach villages on the train to Monaco, I pass on the Corniche Inferieure, and the rain of the last few days has left a sprinkling of snow on the hilltops, so the highest route, the Grand Corniche, does not seem appealing. This leaves me with the Moyenne Corniche, the middle road. It’s not a bad choice as it offers splendid views along the coast and the opportunity to stop at the cliff top village of Eze.
The last time I visited Eze, I was only 12 years old and it was a glorious August day. I don’t remember much about the village other than the huge cacti in the Botanical Gardens and the huge number of stray cats. The cats have been replaced by Asian tourists and, as the weather is not that good, I refuse to pay and be surrounded by plants use to much hotter climates. However, by not visiting the gardens, I struggle to find a decent view of the coastline. I end up in the cemetery surrounded by neglected gravestones and peering through a wire fence on the edge of a precipice.
It’s in Eze that I meet a rather interesting chap called Andre. I first see him when I park outside his house, wedging Trixie between a pine tree and a group of large plastic bins. He is tall and slim, wearing jeans, a polo-neck and a leather jacket, with his silver hair tucked into a black woollen hat. He nods and smiles, then walks up the road towards the village. A few minutes later, I find him at the entrance to the old narrow streets removing a young donkey from a tiny stable. As I chat to him the donkey seems intent on pinning me to the gate with his lead. I extricate myself and bid both donkey and owner farewell in order to see the village.
Later, on my return, the donkey (Serge) has been moved down to Andre’s house while he cleans out the stable. We get talking again and he asks me about my motorhome. It seems that he works for the 5 star Hotel, Chateau Eza, and with the help of the donkeys, he transfers the luggage of the clients through the narrow cobbled streets. But there are no guests now and the hotel is closing for the winter. Andre’s contract, which includes his house and the stable for the donkeys, is also coming to an end and he is contemplating retirement. Soon, both he and his donkeys will be homeless, hence his interest in motorhome living. He hopes that he can find a place for the donkeys in the nearby village of Peille, where they have an animal rescue centre. Andre wants to talk more and asks if I would like to have a coffee at his house, but it is already 3pm and I need to push on to the Italian border. As I leave, I think it rather sad that a 5 star hotel in such a popular tourist location is prepared to lose such a charming man and such a traditional feature as donkeys for carrying luggage through the streets. I’m sure it’s not for lack of money. Perhaps they want to modernise and will buy an electric Twizy instead.