I snaked my way through the seductive streets of Vieux Nice
looking for -- of all things! -- a small and very old mansion-museum.
A bit eccentric, maybe …. but this is Nice, where normal people
spend lazy hours gazing at ripe tomatoes and kissable courgettes
on the famous Cours Saleya, the famous outdoor market.
There's no way to dismiss the undeniable lure of the Cote d'Azur.
It's a place to slip off your sandals at the corner café and
wiggle your toes, making your tall cool pastis taste all the better.
After all, this is the French Riviera -- where ocean breezes and
perfumed air make you ache for the excesses of immoderation,
its sassy and sunburnt great outdoors calling your name.
Though it may sound a bit sad to hang up your sunbonnet
on such a bright & sunny day, I was drawn to Nice's interior,
a place where Agatha Christie might spend her vacation, drawn to its
maze of alleyways that "read" like chapter one in a good whodunit.
And though I'm always game for checking out dark corners
and slightly strange places, I'm no Nancy Drew -- just a
curious traveler looking beyond the typical tourist path.
of musical instruments, many dating as far back as the 16th century.
Built in 1648, the townhouse we see today launched its rebirth in 1962,
a major effort that restored culture and pride to the streets of historic Vieux Nice.
Fast forward twenty more years and Palais Lascaris officially opened its doors
to culture and art-loving visitors who don't mind spending an hour or two
sequestered from Nice's famous sunshine.
The palace itself is reason enough to show up.
Its grand staircase and white marble balconies are in the style of old Genoa,
a reminder that Nice was once part of the Italian state.
Owned by the Vintimille-Lascaris* family -- the richest and most powerful clan
in 18th century Nice -- the old town treasure bears most of its original furnishings.
Tapestries, sculpture and a little family chapel lend an air of familial warmth.
*Vintimille is the French spelling for the Italian village we know as Ventimiglia,
just down the road, the first town you'll come to just as you cross the border.
Immerse your senses in this treasure; look up, down and every which way.
Architectural and style details are remarkable -- from intricate carvings to double
arched doorways, this little museum captures a real taste of what life must have looked like for the upper-class --- undoubtedly a binge-worthy setting
for some future version of an Emmy winning production on PBS or the BBC.
"What you have to understand about period drama is that it's 'history light'."
Julian Fellowes, English screenwriter/director, most famous for Downton Abbey
Pianos, harps, clavichords, guitars and horns -- produced by master
craftsmen -- have been carefully integrated into the elitist family home.
Whether stringed or wind, reed or keyboard, this congregation of
melody makers will both educate and arouse your thirst to learn more.
Occasionally, the museum hosts concerts -- perhaps the ghost of
Lascaris past returns to the family home for a little toe tapping distraction.
The marvelous collection came from a bequest in 1901 from a local music lover,
Antoine Gautier, a donation that came from his overriding love of music.
The city later returned the favor by naming a very lovely street
after the generous philanthropist.
Unique and farfetched pieces -- such as a tenor sackbut (the 1561 version
of a trombone) and saxotromba (similar to a French horn) -- make it
a fun walk on an ancient musical highway.
Look for the Pleyel piano (1863) and the cabinet filled
with baroque guitars that date from the 17th century.
Recorders, clarinets and harps mingle in a fascinating
medley of art, history and culture.
All in mint condition, these restored pieces are protected, cherished
today and well preserved for the next generation of music lovers.
Just the way we like it.
But they weren't always like that.
Back in the early 1960's, Vieux Nice was neglected and worn.
It wasn't the It Place you see today -- by a long shot.
Just a few blocks shy of Nice's winter resort style beach, the old town
was scorned as a den of thieves, beggars and drifters -- a place
where upmarket travelers didn't want to dirty their hands.
A superhero-worthy city rescue effort in the 70's and 80's
resuscitated the neighborhood.
These days, la Vielle Ville is the hot place to live, work and play.
so the young and ambitious started building downward toward the sea.
Following the lead of the rest of the much-bigoted pack (most of Europe),
the local government forced Nice's Jewish community to reside in a restricted area. Parallel to rue Droite where you have just discovered Palais Lascaris,
look for rue Benoit Bunico, the official street of the Jews -- the ONLY street
that sanctioned the long-suffering Jewish population.
Luckily though, many non-Jewish citizens of Nice banded together to
create a network of underground passageways so the "undesirables" could
break free from the "walls" of their street prison from time to time.
Today rue Benoit Bunico is filled with life -- shops, restaurants
and fun memories can be made here and all around the Old Town.
It's a taste of France like you've never before experienced.
An archaeological dig above the port discovered the city's first
"tourists" -- cave-dwellers who appeared year after year to hunt
wooly-mammoths some 400,000 years ago.
Today's visitors are more apt to hunt down socca stands and
restaurant terraces serving salade nicoise & legumes farcis (stuffed vegetables).
But much like those cave-dwellers, we keep showing up year after year,
still looking for -- and finding -- something good to eat....
Musical chairs was a mom's answer for hyperactive kids
bonking out on too much sugar.
The music would start and we'd quickly dance around the assemblage of chairs.
When the melody suddenly stopped, we'd scramble for a seat.
There were always more participants than chairs
so you got eliminated if you couldn't sit down.
I think Nice is the kind of place I'd choose to be first one out.
In a place like this, who wants to sit down.... with so many great choices
such as Palais Lascaris, there are plenty of reasons to get up and go go go....
Good travel planning is an exercise in choosing between multiple attractions.
Sure the beach is beautiful -- but for my money, I'll skip the tan lines
and place my bets on a place we can dive into culture and history --
Vieux Nice and its intriguing Palais Lascaris.
And one more important piece of advice:
DON'T FORGET THE GELATO.....