Cimiez may be slightly off the main tourist trail but is definitely one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Nice, located about 2 kms north-east of the Nice Ville train station on top of a small hill. This pleasant and upper-class residential district used to be the Roman settlement of Cemenelum before becoming in the late 19th century one of the favourite haunts of the rich and famous, notably British aristocrats, explaining the sumptuous Belle Epoque architecture. Queen Victoria was a regular at the Regina Palace Hotel, which still dominates the hill with its magnificent 200m wide façade, even though it is no longer a hotel, hence her statue at the entrance of the neighbourhood. Attractions include the Matisse Museum, the Roman amphitheatre and archaeology museum, a neo-Palatine Monastery and an olive-filled park where the famous Nice Jazz Festival used to take place every July until it sold out, became too commercial and was moved to the centre of Nice.
How to get there
Cimiez is accessible by bus line 15 (see timetables) from Place Massena in the city centre. Otherwise it is a pleasant and gentle uphill 20-minute walk from the railway station, through some lovely Belle Epoque architecture up Boulevard de Cimiez.
What to see
- The Matisse Museum is located in a beautiful 17th century mansion, with a more architecturally-debatable modern wing built underground next door.
Henri Matisse lived in Nice from 1917 until his death in 1954 (his apartments and workshop were actually in the nearby Regina Palace), so this museum comprises the major aspects of his work: sculptures, paintings, as well as the blueprints for the chapel he built in 1953 in Vence.
- The Franciscan Monastery, on the opposite side of the park, was built in the XVIth century in a rather extravagant neo-Byzantine style. Beautiful architecture but the main draw is the monastery grounds, with a splendid garden offering fantastic views over the city centre, the eastern hills of Nice and the Paillon river valley: this is where you can see how the city is completely encircled by mountains.
- The Roman amphitheatre and ruins are presented in the nearby archaeology museum, which, like most of the other museums in Nice, is free to access. The arena also used to be the location of concerts during the jazz festival and one of my major memories is of seeing the American trumpeter Roy Hargrove and the RH Factor at sunset in July 2003: the sweet blend of jazz and soul was totally appropriate for the setting.
- A walk around the neighbourhood, to sample to architecture, notably Boulevard de Cimiez and Avenue de Arènes de Cimiez. For an alternative return route, bring a map and turn right off Boulevard de Cimiez into Avenue du Prince de Galles, and walk through the elegant gate of the university campus in the beautiful Parc de Valrose which will bring you back down to the city centre.