Yesterday, D and I decided to leave the warmth of our apartment for a little neighbourhood sightseeing. Our destination? The Roman ruins of Cemenelum.
It was a great afternoon for a walk. It had rained earlier in the day but, by 3:30 pm, the sun had made its presence known. We grabbed our Nice map, plotted our route, and off we went.
It was an easy walk and, given the time and day, there wasn’t a lot of traffic on the road. This was a good thing, too, as we had to walk on the street for a little stretch and the drivers who passed us had obviously missed the signs with the posted speed limit of 50 km/h. Peu importe, on we went.
The ruins are in the hills of Cimiez, an upper-class neighbourhood of Nice. Along the way, we passed several beautiful villas some of which now are multi-family dwelling or medical buildings. In keeping with the swanky neighbourhood, it was no surprise to learn that Queen Victoria stayed in the area and that her statue stands at the top of boulevard de Cimiez.
Perhaps the most impressive residence in the neighbourhood is the former L’Excelsior Régina Palais. The palais was built between 1895 and 1897 in the belle époque style by architect Sébastien Marcel Biasini. Getting there today is fairly easy but back in the 1860s, after the annexation of Nice to France, the route to the hills was non-existent. By the late 1870s, however, this area was picking up and investors were catching on to the financial benefits of owning real estate in the hills. A road from Desambrois, just north of downtown Nice, to les arènes was opened. The farmlands were quickly replaced by villas, estates, and hôtels de luxe. These same investors also envisioned a grand palace and with Queen Victoria’s promise that she would stay there, providing her requirements were met, the vision became a reality. Reportedly, her requirements included: electricity; central heating; tout à l’égout (sewer system) etc. And they call me a princess…! Queen Victoria stayed at the palace during her spring visits to the region between 1897 and 1899.
During WWI the palace was transformed into a military hospital. In 1920, the palace was purchased by a real estate company that eventually declared bankruptcy after the 1929 stock market crash. A new real estate company purchased the building in 1937 and transformed the 400 rooms into 98 apartments.
East of the former palace you will find both the Musée Matisse and the Musée d’Archéologie. Our first stop was the Musée Matisse.
We had left home without money/wallets so we were pleased to learn that entry to the museum was free. If you are a Matisse fan then this is the place for you. The museum houses some of his paintings, sculptures, and gouaches. You can also see the plans for Matisse’s 4-year long project for the Chapelle du Saint-Marie du Rosaire. This includes designs for the interior of the chapel, decorations, and stained glass windows.
As the sun was getting ready to set, D and I decided to head to the Musée d’Archéologie which is immediately south of the Musée Matisse. Our lucky day again as entry was free. We skipped the interior of the museum as we wanted to take a walk through the ruins. The ruins include the remains of three thermal baths which were used daily by the Romans. Up until 2010, the ruins were also the site of the Nice Jazz Festival. (As of 2011, the festival will be held in the heart of Nice in the jardin Albert 1er.)
Despite the chilly weather, the destination was worth the walk. D and I already have plans to revisit the Musée d’Archéologie next year when the weather is warmer. The grounds of both museums are a fantastic place to roam or to have a sit and chat. Or, if you feel up to it, you can join the locals in a game of pétanque!