Chateau Isa, the castle above the Cote d’Azur

All photos credit Chateau Eze

Thousands of years ago, the Normans built castles and strongholds along the Mediterranean coast. Many of the places have been chosen for their strategic location high in the mountains and difficult to approach but offer great views for miles and miles away. Today, one of these medieval villages has been well preserved and turned into a 1,000-year-old fairytale-like tourist attraction that attracts curious travelers from all over the world. Between Nice and a stone’s throw from Monaco lies the village of Eze and its most luxurious hotel, the Château Isa.

The first thing most guests will remember about visiting Eze is the walk to get there, which is actually like a walk. More than just a stroll, it takes a stroll to get to Château-Eze. That’s just the point, because this is a medieval village built on rugged, winding hillsides and in places too narrow for a mule to get through let alone a car. In the village, strong carved walls and lanes lead the way past souvenir shops and clothing stores from local designers on the Cote d’Azur. In between, there are cafes and restaurants for lunch.

But the effort is well worth it and soon forgotten. High on a mountaintop looming over the Mediterranean, the panoramic views from this small village leave one in awe. The clay roofs of the small villages add to the charm as do the vibrant bougainvilleas, pines, and orange and lemon trees. Throughout the village, there is an assortment of dramatic cacti, and wonderful gardens full of colour, flowers and fragrance. From this vantage point at 1,400 feet above sea level, the colors of the sea appear as the deepest blue, turquoise, and blue. The views of the horizon beyond it at any time of the day stir the soul.

Constructed 400 years ago in the Middle Ages, Chateau Isa was once the home of a prince. It was known until 1976 as the Prince of Sweden’s castle, and the king found the ancient city of Eze while on boats with his father. Although the palace is a relic of that royal time with pieces from the period, priceless oil paintings, memorabilia, and craftsmanship from an era long gone.

Over the years, the castle fell into disrepair and was sold to the locals. Fast forward to 1976, wealthy diplomat Andre Rochat becomes aware of the property’s condition as well as its historical value and potential. He proceeded to buy back the special units available in the area. What followed was an extensive renovation to bring them back to their former luster and prominence, and these units and the main building include the Castle Hotel.

Eze is incredibly old as it is charming with medieval architecture, ancient facades, and carved limestone buildings all connected via a maze of ancient stone-paved lanes. The well-preserved and restored details of the village make it even more charming with centuries-old stonework, wrought iron street lamps, and colorful window shutters adding character. In the village, guests see paintings, mosaics, and sculptures of historical figures from the area.

The hotel is spread out but not too far from the main castle. During the day and especially during the summer and peak holiday season, the hallways passing through your apartment can become crowded and even crowded with tourists coming to visit during the day. In the early evening, after most shops are closed and a few cafes and bars remain open, the village streets are less crowded giving you the feeling of having the whole village to yourself.

Chateau Isa is by no means your typical boutique hotel. The hotel consists of only 14 accommodations, each unique in its kind, and varies, like ownership, in size, configuration and amenities from fit for gentlemen to ready for His Royal Highness. The units are located in villagers’ homes that have been renovated from the last millennium where a step through the old castle-like door leads into a maze of corridors outside. The other rooms are hidden away in the main building of the castle.

Behind the one-foot-thick exposed rock walls are rooms with fireplaces with rustic coverings, stained-glass windows, and carved wood paneling. Exposed oak beams and rich wood floors. Rooms vary in decor from Louis XIII period design to contemporary design with all modern amenities and the latest technology expected of an experienced traveler. Guests will enjoy four-poster beds, antique oil paintings and antique furniture as well as luxurious marble-floored bathrooms, many with hydromassage showers and whirlpool bathtubs.

Six suites are located 350 meters above the Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula and offer fantastic views of the Esterel Mountains and Saint Tropez Bay. Guest will spend time mesmerized by the views from their balconies that range from small Julian balconies big enough for a small table and chairs to terraces that double as outdoor living spaces with lounge chairs and a Jacuzzi large enough for four.

Look no further than their fine dining restaurant for another meal of the royal treatment. This is arguably the crown jewel of a stay at Château Isa, a sumptuous dinner set against the backdrop of twinkling lights along the Cote d’Azur coast. Guests dine indoors in the gourmet restaurant at romantic, candlelit tables with floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening to fresh air and endless 180-degree views of the coast. It couldn’t be more romantic and creates the perfect setting for it ‘Request to marry’.

Of course, the place and ambiance are great but it is the kitchen that steals the show. The menu features innovative French and Mediterranean cuisine with a refined presentation that can be defined as nothing less than gastronomy. A tasting dinner featuring eight courses. Panel after panel with one more decadent than the next. Expect to dine on seasonal dishes made with the best French ingredients. Dishes are impeccable with wines from the extensive wine list and a cellar overflowing with regional and international wines. Expect dishes like Mediterranean marinated blue fish with seaweed butter and seaweed butter, and roast veal with pumpkin stuffed with quinoa and argan oil. The meal was most exquisitely prepared with their professional but friendly staff as well as a very experienced sommelier.

Most guests will spend their days exploring the village, getting lost in the maze of ancient lanes. The shops feature the work of local artists, regional fashion designers and of course there are plenty of souvenir shops and cafés to visit. Just a few steps away is the Botanical Garden which is a must-see while in the area. Exotic Eze Garden Well worth a few hours to explore the native and foreign fauna and its vast gardens of exotic cacti, kiwi trees, cacti and cypress trees scattered around the ruins of the ancient castle. This is at the highest point in the village, so the views on the coast are more dramatic. Beyond the village of Eze, Nice and the port villages of Cote d Azur are nearby as well as Monaco, a short drive to the west.

Whenever we travel, we strive to create memories to cherish long after we’ve unpacked back home. Chateau Isa like this place. To call it unusual would be an understatement, as it is located on top of a mountain in a medieval castle overlooking the Cote d’Azur. The setting, the accommodation and the dining experience create the perfect backdrop for a wonderful holiday in the south of France.

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