Riviera Sightseeing: 12 Must-See Historic Places on the Côte d’Azur

Riviera Sightseeing: 12 Must-See Historic Places on the Côte d’Azur

The Alpes-Maritimes is the second most-visited region of France. Its ritzy backstory renders it awash with cultural sights, several of them once the private villas of the ostentatiously loaded. Even Nice, France’s fifth-largest city, hosts more museums than any other French town outside Paris. Throw in historic hotels and art galleries, and you have an edifying panorama like no other. Even architectural gems from government buildings to banks and train stations (like the recently renovated Nice-Ville) have artistic merit.

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Cap Moderne

The recently reopened seaside homes of architects Eileen Gray (Villa E-1027) and Le Corbusier (Le Cabanon) highlight the avant-garde atmosphere of the 1930s and 1950s. Learn more in the exhibition area that opened next to Roquebrune station in 2016.


Cap Moderne

Cap Moderne. Photo: Manuel Bougot

Villa les Camelias

The suburb of Cap d’Ail was built as a ritzy French extension of Monaco. Villa les Camelias is a recently opened local history museum dedicated to les années folles. See photos, letters and even the casino chips of the jeunesse dorée.


Villa les Camelias

Villa les Camelias. Photo: CRT Cote d’Azur

Villa Santo Sospir

In 1950, Parisian socialite Francine Weisweiller invited artist Jean Cocteau to her Cap-Ferrat home for dinner. He ended up staying for 12 years, daubing the villa from head to toe in dreamy frescoes, which can be visited with the villa’s kindly housekeeper Eric.


Jean Cocteau frescoes at the Villa Santo Sospir

Jean Cocteau frescoes at the Villa Santo Sospir.

Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat

Luxury is served with a smile at this palace hotel on Cap-Ferrat’s sunny southern tip. A microclimate ensures its winter gardens sparkle with camellias, mimosas and flowering cactus.


Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat

Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat

Villa Paloma

The New Museum of Monaco opened in two historic villas to showcase contemporary art. The Villa Paloma was built in 1913 for one of Monaco’s scores of British residents, and boasts stunning ornamental gardens and sea views.


Villa Paloma

Villa Paloma. Photo: NMNM Paloma

Cocteau Museum

The new Séverin Wunderman wing of Menton’s Jean Cocteau Museum is a light-filled delight. Designed by the architect behind Marseille’s MuCEM, it hosts canvases, mosaics, sculptures and videos by the cultural polymath.


Jean Cocteau Innamorati

Jean Cocteau, Innamorati © Adagp, Paris 2011

Galerie des Bains-Douches

The ramparts that ring Antibes once housed bunkers, barracks and materiel. In 1935 a section of the vaults was converted into public baths, which later became a public gallery of regional contemporary art.


Galeries des Bains Douches

Galeries des Bains-Douches. Photo: Ville d’Antibes et Juan les Pins

Musée de la Castre

Cannes’ artistic pretentions are strictly limited: who needs culture when you can saunter half naked into Chanel? But the Musée de la Castre, located on the heights of Le Suquet, has a fine selection of Côte d’Azur scenes painted a century ago.


Musée de la Castre

Musée de la Castre. Photo: Ville de Cannes

Le Negresco

Designed by Édouard-Jean Niermans, this independently-owned museum hotel opened in January 1913. Now listed as a National Historic Building, it has amassed 6,000 artefacts including colourful life-sized artworks by sculptress Niki de Saint Phalle.


Hotel Negresco

Hotel Negresco

Musée Matissee

Henri Matisse spent over 35 years in his adopted home. This angelic museum, situated on the Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, hosts the finest output from his Nice period, including canvases painted from the windows of his cours Saleya apartment.


Matisse, "L'Odalisque au coffret rouge"

Matisse, “L’Odalisque au coffret rouge”

Villa Kerylos

Archeologist and statesman Théodore Reinach was a committed Hellenophile. Just over a century ago he built this replica of an ancient Greek mansion, with courtyards and sunken baths, on a finger of land that reminded him of the Aegean.


Musée Renoir

Musée Renoir

Musée Renoir

Until his death at the age of 78, Renoir worked in the rambling gardens, orange orchards and centuries-old olive groves of this Cagnes country estate. Visitors can also enjoy panorama views all the way to Cap d’Antibes.


From France Today magazine

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  • Mary Kay Seales
    2017-01-17 19:55:11
    Mary Kay Seales
    Great article! I'll add these places to my list and my book!