From the Man-in-the-Iron-Mask to shipwrecks to grottoes to mysterious stone-age rock engravings, these three museums and sites are a bit of an effort to get to, but make for wonderful day trips.
The Saint Cezaire Grotto is more of a tour than a museum, and you’ll need a warm jacket and tennis shoes; there are 123 steps down (and of course, back up!)
Located 40 meters underground, this wondrous grotto in the hills above Cannes was discovered by a farmer in 1890. Its many well-lit chambers are cavernous, not claustrophobic, and are filled with fascinating natural formations which vary from gallery to gallery: spectacular stalactites and -mites, majestic drapery, luminous star-shaped and jellyfish formations, fountains, organs, and even a mini-concert played on musical stalactites. The tours take about 45 minutes, and most of the guides are bilingual.
How to get there: For this one you need a car, it’s about 30 km/18 miles from Cannes, past Grasse. Follow the signs towards Grasse but before entering Grasse itself take the D2562, direction Peymeinade. Follow the turnoff signs to St Cezaire.
Hours (open 7 days a week)
- Spring (February – May) 10am-noon and 2pm-5pm
- Summer (June – August) 10am-6pm
- Autumn (Sept – November 11) 10am-noon and 2pm-5pm
- Winter (Nov. 11 – January) Closed
Tickets: Adults 9€, seniors over 60 are 8€, and children 6-12 are 6.50€. Not suitable for children under 6.
The Musee de la Mer on Sainte-Marguerite Island, off Cannes
The Museum: The Musee de la Mer or
Museum of the Sea resides in the former prison where the infamous ‘Man in the Iron Mask‘ was held. You can visit the lonesome prison cells, including the very one with its famous occupant, then visit the extensive shipwreck collection, a really well-displayed exhibit on the ancient Roman shipwrecks found in the bay, what they were carrying and why, where they were coming from why they sank, and the drama of the recovery efforts.
- Summer hours (June-Sept.) 10am to 5:45pm 7 days a week.
- Spring hours (April/May) 10:30am-1:15pm then 2:15pm-5:45pm, closed Mondays and May 1.
- Winter hours (Oct-Mar) 10:30am-1:15pm then 2:15pm-4:45pm, closed Mondays, the week of November 1-11, and Christmas day.
Guided Tours: From June 15 – Sept. 15, the daily guided tours (in French) of the Fort complex are free with your admission ticket, and go several times a day. Here is a little historical summary in English that will make the French tour a little easier to follow.
Tickets: 6€ for adults, and 3€ for those under 26. Free for children under 18, students of any age with student ID under 26-years-old,
Free day: In the winter (Nov-March) free for everyone the first Sunday of each month!
The Island: Just 15-minutes by boat from Cannes, Ile Sainte-Marguerite is the larger of the two islands, and is covered by a Eucalyptus forest and crisscrossed with walking trails. In Roman times it was a military outpost and fort, guarding the Bay of Cannes and the Monastery on the neighboring island of Saint-Honorat (see below) from sea-attacks. After visiting the museum, you can explore the extensive ruins of the Roman fort, walk around the island, and have a little bite to eat in the little restaurant or snack bar. The island also has a little youth hostel for a low-budget getaway.
How to get there:
- From Nice: The Trans-Cote d’Azur boat from Nice to St Marguarite Island runs from the end of May to the end of September on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and 7 days a week during high season in July and August. The cost is for 38€ round-trip for adults, 28€ for children 4-10. The scenic boat ride takes an hour, leaving Nice at 9am, and returning at 7pm.
- From Cannes: Slightly less expensive is to take the train to Cannes for 14€ round-trip from Nice, and then from Cannes the 15-minute Trans-Cote d’Azur boat ride to the island is just 13.50€ round-trip (9€ for children). This boat leaves on the hour (every half-hour in summer), so you can spend a few hours on the island instead of the whole day.
The Musee des Merveilles in the charming mountain-side village of Tende, is a free museum inspired by the strange stone-age rock carvings, or petroglyphs, found all over Mont Bego, and why this area is called the Valley of Marvels. This well-presented multi-lingual museum is a surprising little gem, and covers not only the mysterious engravings, but also geology, prehistory, and a bit on the local wildlife as well.
How to get there: Take the Train des Merveilles from the main Nice train station, which will take about 90 minutes and cost 27€ round trip. Click here for more info on the mountain trains with pass options to get the cost down, schedule links, and info on other little towns that you might want to stop at as well.
Hours: Summer (May to mid-Oct) 10am to 6:30pm; closed Tuesdays, but in July/Aug/Sept open 7 days a week. Winter open 10am-5pm, closed Tuesdays. Also closed March 12-24, November 12-25, plus May 1, Christmas and Jan. 1.
Tickets: Free admission! But if you want to rent an audioguide in English it’s 6€/1€ for children and teens.
- Back up to main History Museums page
Photo credits: Fort Royal de l’île Sainte-Marguerite, Cannes par Museesc, the Grotto by the Grotto of St Cesaire, licensed under Creative Commons.