The beaches of Nice are nice, but don’t forget to also head for the hills
So much of the French Riviera is about the water, and nowhere along the French Riviera is that more true than in Nice. Its seven-kilometer stretch of coastline along the impossibly blue waters of the Mediterranean is enough to keep you blissfully happy, end of story.
However, if you do want to explore more of the city, and/or if the day is too overcast for the beaches, then heading up to the suburb of Cimiez on the hill behind the city is well worth your time.
Head to the Hills of Nice: 5 Worthy Sites to See From the Top Down
EGLISE ET MONASTERE DE CIMIEZ (Church and Monastery of Cimiez)
A short bus ride from Place Massena on Bus #15 or 17 will take you up to the top of the hill where you can start your day at the 15th Century Franciscan Monastery of Cimiez.
It’s always lovely to walk into the churches of France, but here you can also visit the Franciscan Museum (it’s free), dedicated to the life of Franciscan monks past and present. You may catch a few actual monks walking around in real life there.
CEMETIERE DE CIMIEZ
Just next door to the church is a fascinating cemetery. It might seem strange, but cemeteries can be delightful places to visit when traveling. So elaborate, even artful, the tombstones, some with well-known names, are fascinating to read. Look for the tombs of painters Henri Matisse and Raoul Dufy.
Also notice the spectacular view for these souls resting in peace, which is the city of Nice far below.
JARDIN DU MONASTÈRE DE CIMIEZ
The Monastery is surrounded by lush, well-tended gardens. With over two acres of trees, flowers, walkways, and a bird’s eye view of the city, it is one way to escape the summer crowds on the beaches below.
MUSEE ARCHEOLOGIQUE DE NICE-CIMIEZ
From the gardens you can walk through the olive tree grove to reach the next stop for your day on the hill, the archeological museum of Cimiez.
Cimiez was once the Roman capital for this area of the Roman empire, conquered and annexed for Rome by Julius Caesar before Jesus was born. Most of the Roman city is buried beneath this modern, and upscale, suburb of Nice, but a few things remain: the ruins of the Roman baths and the Arena (think gladiators).
The Archeological Museum is close by the ruins, but bring your English-French dictionary.
But wait! There’s more! Besides the Monastery, the Cemetery, the Gardens and the Roman Ruins, all very worthy, you can also pop into the Matisse Museum.
Musée Matisse is housed in a rose-colored mansion with pale green shutters, and is home to “68 paintings and gouaches, 236 drawings, 218 prints, 95 photos, 57 sculptures and 14 books illustrated by Matisse, 187 objects that belonged to the painter, and prints, tapestries, ceramics, stained glass and documents.” That should keep you busy if you’re a fan of Matisse
On the return trip down the hill to the next stop, you will pass the exquisite Excelsior Regina Palace, once an exclusive hotel, but now private condos, where Matisse spent his last years in Nice. There’s a delightful café here near the entrance that makes a great stop for lunch.
“When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is.” Pablo Picasso
Your last stop on this tour of the hill, is the lovely, lovely, not-to-be-missed Chagall Museum, where you will most definitely fall in love with this painter and his work.
Each room of this small museum gives a different experience with Marc Chagall, the main hall showing off his large canvases: Adam and Eve being chased from the garden of Eden on the back of a red rooster, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God, and Noah gazing up at the Rainbow after the flood.
Be sure, if you go, to stay for the short film which is shown regularly in the stained glass chapel/auditorium. It tells of the life of Chagall through images of his childhood in a Jewish shtetl in Russia to his life as a young artist in Paris.
There is so much to see in this beautiful museum, and in just one of his paintings. I visit this museum on every trip to Nice.
You are going to be exhausted at this point, for sure, especially if you have taken in all these sites. Luckily, there is a little café on the museum grounds where you can have a well-earned glass of rosé or a coffee before heading back down to the city.
I actually like the walk back from here, which passes through working neighborhoods of Nice, where the locals live, eat and shop.
Practical Information For Your Day on the Hill
Getting there: Catch buses 15 or 17 from just behind the Galleries Lafayette near Place Massena [Cost €1.50]. If you’re not sure where to get off, just ask the driver, or follow the other tourists.
You can also catch an Uber, or if you’re up for a hike, it’s possible to walk. I did that the first time I was in Nice, when I didn’t know how to catch the buses. It’s a ways, though, and all up, so be forewarned. Maybe better to walk down afterwards.
Museums: Entrance fees are generally 10 Euros for adults, but be sure to check out the 24-hour and 7-Day museum passes for Nice. http://en.nicetourisme.com/Museums
Where to stay: We have 4 luxury apartments in Nice available for your consideration
Guest Post & Photographs by Seattle travel writer, Mary Kay Seales. Visit her website at: www.marykayseales.com