Update for 2021: An earthquake in 2018 badly damaged the structure of the new Jean Cocteau Museum, which is still undergoing repairs years later. In the meantime, the small Jean Cocteau Bastion Museum and the Marriage Hall are still open.
For Jean Cocteau fans, Menton is Mecca, with a huge museum dedicated to the unpredictable artist, plus 2 other nearby sites. Then head down the coast to see the remarkable Tattooed Villa and then the Fishermen’s Chapel in Villefranche-sur-mer.
How to get to Menton: From Nice, take bus 100 to Menton which will cost 1.50€ and take around 90 minutes (but the scenery is superb), or take the coastal train for 6€ which will take 50 minutes. The museum is on the seaside.
The Jean Cocteau Museum in Menton is the newest major museum (2011) and one of the most architecturally stunning museums on the Cote d’Azur; the unusual design being inspired by Jean Cocteau’s iconic work. (I guess it was a little too unusual, as it was vulnerable to damage by a 2018 earthquake, and has been temporarily closed ever since.)
Jean Cocteau Bastion Museum
The tiny nearby Bastion Museum was a dilapidated ruin until Jean Cocteau got a hold of it and completely restored it inside and out, turning it into his own museum. Whimsical paintings grace the arches and alcoves, and the outside is lovingly decorated with mosaics made of thousands of local pebbles.
Hours: 10am-noon and 2pm-6pm, closed Tuesdays and holidays.
And as long as you are in Menton, why not make it a Cocteau triple-header…
The Menton Marriage Hall
The decor of the Marriage Salon in the Menton Town Hall (Hotel de Ville) is also a gift to the city by Jean Cocteau, and everything you see in the room was designed and signed by the artist. It’s decor makes it a favorite for Riviera weddings, and it’s definitely worth a peek. Click here for a excellent explanation of the meanings and symbolism of the artwork (in English).
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30am to noon and 2pm-4:30pm, except for one hour on Thursday afternoons at 2:30pm, when it’s closed for a guided tour sponsored by the Menton Tourist Office (which you can get in on if you speak French, and sign up at the tourist office in advance…) Closed weekends.
Tickets: 2€ for adults but only 1€ for students, teachers, seniors over 65 and free for children under 18 and handicapped persons.
…And on the way back to Nice…
VILLA SAINTO SOSPIR in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
Update: closed for renovations until at least June 2022
The fantastical Villa Santo Sospir is known as ‘The Tattooed Villa’ because Jean Cocteau methodically covered every surface with his boundless creativity. When a young socialite friend invited Jean Cocteau to spend a few days at her recently acquired villa, he came and …stayed for 11 years! Made restless by the newly painted white walls, he first made a drawing over the fireplace. Then he couldn’t stop, eventually covering every surface in the villa. Click here for the full story by Margo Lestz.
How to get there: If you are coming back on bus 100, get off at the Pont Saint Jean stop and cross the street to transfer to bus #15, which comes every 20 minutes; here’s the schedule, but this bus only takes you half the way there, then it is a 25 minute walk. Or… walk down by the Royal Riviera Hotel to catch the gorgeous paved path to the Village of Saint Jean (15 minutes), and from there it is another 25 minutes to walk to get to the villa, which is on the tip of the presque-isle, near the Grand Hotel Cap Ferrat. Or …just take an Uber, the address is 14 avenue Jean Cocteau.
JEAN COCTEAU FISHERMEN’S CHAPEL in Villefranche-sur-mer
And to complete your Jean Cocteau experience, on the way back stop in Villefranche-sur-mer to see the wonderful little Jean Cocteau Painted Fishermen’s Chapel. This 16th century chapel was dedicated to Saint Pierre, the patron saint of fishermen, but was being used to store fishing nets during the period when Jean Cocteau was a regular visitor to the village. He decorated it inside and out, and when he was done he dedicated his gift to his friends, the local fishermen.
How to get there: Take bus 100 which will cost 1.50€ (or just 1€ if you have the discount 10-trip card) and take around 20 minutes from Nice, or take the coastal train (which will take 5 minutes and cost 1.80€ from Nice), where you will arrive at one of the most beautiful train stations on the French Riviera. The chapel is right on the bay, you can’t miss it.
Hours: 10am-noon and 2pm-6pm in winter, and 10am-noon and 3pm-7pm in summer, closed Tuesdays plus mid-November to mid-December and Christmas day.
Tickets: 3€ for adults but free for children under 15.
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