Massena Museum in Nice, France


Massena MuseumMassena Museum, Nice, France 

Housed in a stately, 19th century villa on the promenade des Anglais overlooking the Mediterranean, the Massena Museum —the façades and roofs of which are classified by French Historic Monument Association—offers visitors a viewing of Empire Age salons and furnishings, tranquil English-style Gardens, and temporary exhibits, such as its current photography exhibit, Jean Gilletta et la Cote d’Azur, paysages et reportages, 1870-1930.


As the primary and inexhaustible landscape photographer of the Riveria, Gilletta documented its art and culture, commercialism, and tourism. According to Gilletta’s great nephew, “…nothing escaped his lens,” as he captured a time in flux, casting that lens on the modest and humble as well as the privileged. On construction sites, railways, and bridges. On market vendors, washerwomen, presidents and princes. He recorded rural life and the high life of Nice and Monaco among other sites. From fashionable spa towns, olive groves, and snow-covered mountain peaks to the 1887 earthquake, he was an exemplary reporter and witness for his times.

A 19th century Cartier-Bresson, Gillette preserved those times–forever gone or transformed–through at least 10,000 photos as he tooled around the Cote d’Azur on his three-wheeled, motorized bike—an example of which is on exhibit. In addition to snapping photos, he was also a prolific publisher of postcards and books.

Massena Museum Cut out photo 2The delightful exhibit opens with head cutouts of peasants of the day. Go ahead, stick your head though the opening slot and journey back in time. (I did; Noel was less enthusiastic.) The guards will take your photos. The balance of the exhibit holds numerous original photo prints of people at play and work along the seaside and in the country. The photographs are small and require time and close-up inspection, but to get a sense of the larger exhibit, the designers have created life-size impressions projected on the walls in each room recreating the ambience in which Gilletta worked. In addition to the photos, there’s a three-wheeled, motorized bike that Gilletta tooled around the Cote d’Azur setting his sights on images to snap. A large box camera he used is also on view.

The show recalls an insouciant time along the Cote d’Azur through five principle themes: Nice the resort capital of France, Nissa la Bella (Nice the Beautiful–the city’s unofficial anthem. Listen on YouTube:, By the Mountains and the Valleys, Under the Azure along the Coast, and The News in Pictures.

The exhibit closes March 5, 2018.

The Museum’s permanent collection displays the history of Nice from the 19th century up to the end of 1930s. Highlights include Napoléon’s death mask and Josephine’s tiara with its glittery gemstones, gold, and pearls.

Massena Museum view from window

Practical Info

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11-6, winter; 10-6, summer.

Closed Tuesdays and certain holidays

Tickets: 6 Euros or buy a 7-day pass for 20 Euros (Access to all 12 municipal museums and galleries for 7 days in Nice)

Location: 65, rue de France (ticket entrance)

Photos from VilleFranche-sur-mer


Well, I wonder, is my French any better after two weeks of intense immersion at Institut de Francais in VilleFranche-sur-mer on the French Rivera? Happily, it is, but I’m far, far from fluent—a distant goal. The key is to retain what I’ve learned. But now, in English, a recap with recommendations for visiting:

If you want to learn French, the Institut offers opportunities and challenges. Great teachers, international classmates, breakfast, lunch, lodging options, and an inspiring location, but there’s also a daily language lab that can leave your head spinning.

Housed in a Provencal villa, the school rests high on a winding hillside with views of the Mediterranean, Cap Ferrat, and distant mountains. The grounds are lovely, surrounded by a terraced garden and dotted with orange and lemon trees. Not a bad place to be immersed. I had a wonderful apartment (arranged by the Institut) overlooking the bay and a ten minute climb to the school grounds—86 steps to the back garden gate and another 66 to class (there is an easier way around, however).

The port village of VilleFranche-sur-mer looks as if it were chiseled out of the mountains, a politically strategic position for keeping enemies at bay. Remnants of a 15th century Citadel, the ancient fortification, partially surround the old city.

With the weekend off I toured the Citadel, now a museum and well worth a visit to see the sculpture and sketches by 20th century artist Antoniucci Volti (, permanently housed there. Don’t miss the chapel Jacques Cocteau decorated. When he was in residence at VilleFranche, he painted the interior too, but it was closed for the season.

After five days of seating in class, wandering around the gardens of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Cap Ferrat—perfectly perched on the hillside with the Med all around—was a treat. Rich people certainly knew how to live during the Belle Epoque! But hiking the Peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat to the lighthouse was a highlight. Would have traversed the entire route, but the daylight was dimming.

For exercising body and soul, meander along the rocky and wild coast of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat: Follow, if you can, the Sentier de pietons signs (warning: the French and their signs or lack of them, don’t make it easy), for awe-inspiring views —akin to the CA coastline from LA to SF.

Back in VilleFranche, there’s a fruit and veggie marche along the quay on Saturdays and a small brocante market on Sundays. Pretty much all that’s happening this time of year. February is definitely off-season; the town is quiet, no tourists in site. So the local merchants are happy to see the students, and speaking to the vendors is an easy way to practice French. If you want more action, a 45-minute walk or a 1 Euro bus ride will get you to Nice, where you’ll find larger, bustling markets.

Restaurant recommendations in VilleFranche:

Cote Jardin—Delicious salad and fish. This is where the Institut holds a special dinner during the week. Pleasant outdoor and indoor dining in the old city.

Rue de Poilu


Le Serre –reasonable French cuisine and a pleasant staff; probably need reservations during tourist season.

16 Rue May,

phone: 04 93 76 79 91

Chez Betty for coffee at the bar. Just wander in. The staff is friendly and happy to speak French to you. This is also where the Institut leaves your apartment key if you arrive on a Sunday.

2 Avenue du Maréchal Foch  Phone 04 93 01 70 91

After tackling language school for two weeks that included giving a 15-20 minute talk in French and answering questions, I realize that I should have stayed for an entire month. But alas, there are other things to do, such as playing tennis on red clay courts in Nice where I continue to practice speaking French.  And, there’s always next year in VilleFranche.