Cagnes-sur-Mer Travel Guide
Cagnes-sur-Mer has two visitor-friendly centers. Perched on a hill overlooking the Riviera, Haut-de-Cagnes is one of the most stunning hilltop villages on the French Riviera. It’s quieter than Eze and is alive with flower-filled lanes and friendly alfresco eateries. At the foot of the hill is the working fishing port and beach resort of Cros-de-Cagnes, which lies midway between Nice and Antibes.
|This pleasant seaside resort town has three faces to it: the medieval town, the uninteresting residential area below, and the seaside area. |
Cagnes-sur-Mer is just southwest of Nice, about 15 minutes by car. It has a population of around 50,000.
Check our climate guide for details about the weather and sea temperatures.
Haut-de-Cagnes (the Old Town)
The old town is a hidden gem: a less-touristy and less-busy alternative to other medieval towns along the French Riviera, yet just as charming (albeit without the perfect views).
For years Haut-de-Cagnes attracted the French literati, including Simone de Beauvoir. Known as the ‘Montmartre of the French Riviera’, a colony of artists also settled here. Haut de Cagnes was the haunt of Modigliani, Soutine, Yves Klein, Bardot, Cocteau, and, most famously, Pierre Auguste Renoir, who claimed the village was “the place where I want to paint until the last day of my life.” His former home is the highlight of any visit to the area.
It’s easy to see why many famous artists lived or found their inspiration here, falling in love with the soft Mediterranean light and honest authenticity.
Haut de Cagnes was listed as a historical site in 1948 and still holds the calm, friendly atmosphere of French village life. It hasn’t been overrun by tourists the way that Eze and St Paul de Vence have. This is mostly because the area hasn’t been preserved the way those more popular towns were. Here, the views of the surrounding hills and the sea are not nearly as nice. They’ve been ruined over the years by overdevelopment and now feature far too many apartment blocks muddying the view.
Still, this charming perched village has much to offer, with its tiny Medieval streets (that French people actually live in!) that are flanked by bougainvillea and jasmine-embellished stone houses bursting with history. Look up and you’ll notice terracotta pots filled with flowering plants that reach down from windowsill gardens.
In the main square, Place du Château , you’ll find the entrance to the castle (the ‘Château’), which is now a uniquely charming museum. This is also the place to go for lively, friendly and casual restaurants and cafés. The town holds numerous historical cultural events and colorful festivals in this noticeably well-tended square. Surrounding the Château is a maze of little alleys with a refreshing village-like feel that will transport you centuries back in time.
Château Grimaldi (Castle Museum)
Crowning Haut-de-Cagnes is Château Grimaldi, a 14th century castle which was a residence for Monaco’s royal family.
The Château was built in around 1300 by Reinier Grimaldi, Lord of Cagnes and Admiral of France, to keep watch and defend the beautiful Riviera coastline. For two centuries it withstood sieges and assaults before becoming a stately home in around 1620. It was renovated and restored around 1873 and changed hands several times before being bought by the town in 1937.
The Grimaldi Castle became the Municipal Museum in 1946 and today it is a marvelous setting which houses the Olive Tree Museum, the Solidor Donation, the Modern Art Museum and numerous contemporary exhibitions.
From the top of its crenelated tower you can bask in views of the Mediterranean, Nice and the Alps, while the interior of the keep has a monumental double staircase and lavish baroque ceremonial rooms.
The reconstruction of an olive mill and exhibition highlighting the importance of the olive to the region can be explored on the lower level and from the top, an amazing panoramic view over the sea and medieval town below lies in wait.
Its Renaissance interior is a masterpiece with layers of arcaded galleries, vast frescoed ceilings, stuccoed reliefs of historical scenes and gorgeously ornamented chambers and chapels. The Donation Solidor contains a wonderfully selection of diverse portraits of the cabaret star, Suzy Solidor, whose career spanned the 1920s to the 1970s – she spent the last 25 years of her life in Cagnes.
On the second floor, there’s a modern art and ethnography museum, with a small but strong collection of contemporary Mediterranean art by Foujita, Jean Cocteau and Kees van Dongen. It has another small museum on the ground floor dedicated to olive trees (Museum of the Olives), its planting and cultivation. But the main attraction is the grand ceremonial room on the first floor, with a painted ceiling by the Italian Giulio Benso Pietra.
Open Hours: 10am to 12pm, then closed for lunch, open again from 2pm to 5pm every day, except closed on Tuesdays.
Website: You can find the official schedule and information on the tourism website
The Jewelry Museum: Espace Solidor
Espace Solidor has been the town’s center for promoting modern jewelry for over 20 years. It has a collection of 110 works, and it is the only public place in France featuring modern jewelry.
In 1960, the cabaret singer, actor and “most painted woman in the world” Suzy Solidor founded a cabaret-restaurant and café in Haut-de-Cagnes. This building is now the home of l’Espace Solidor, one of the world’s most famous jewelry museums, putting on exhibitions of contemporary jewelry. Its creation led to Cagnes-sur-Mer receiving the label “The City of Arts and Crafts.”
Open Hours: 2pm to 6pm Wednesday to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday).
Website: Espace Solidor
Cros-de-Cagnes (the Seaside Area)
This section of the town is a former fishing village and port. It’s a little hamlet of narrow streets with low houses, not far from the port but easy to miss because of all the ugly modern development that has sprung up around it.
Early in the 19th century, Italian fishing families settled by the water at what had been a marshy cove sheltered from the easterly winds. In 1866, the fishermen built the Chapelle Saint-Pierre (the patron saint of fishermen). The chapel, which goes by l’église jaune was designed to stand out and survived as the quarter’s main seamark. Some fishermen’s boats are still here, though most of them are now only for display because of their historical importance. It is, however, still an excellent place find seafood restaurants.
Along with the beach, this area is an hidden spot to have fun away from the crowds. Compared to others along the French Riviera, the beaches here will not cost you too much money but they still offer a comparable (although less crowded) experience.
Cagnes-sur-Mer’s pebbly beaches stretch up to 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) along the coast. The best place to start is at Chapelle Saint-Pierre , since this is where the cutest shops and restaurants are. There’s a parking lot behind the chapel.
If you’re in need of additional luxuries then Cagnes’ six private beaches offer parasols, sunbeds, restaurants and even waiter service. As with Nice’s Baie des Anges, the sea has an irresistible whitish glow when the sun catches it on windless days.
From March to December, the sailing center provides individual and group lessons, will let you hire your own vessel (if you’re qualified) but also rents out a range of other craft like paddle-boards, windsurfing equipment and dinghies. You won’t need a licence to go on jet-ski adventures to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat or the Lerins Islands, and there’s also a wake-boarding school where kids as young as three can have a go.
If you arrived by bus, or if you need to get to the beach from the perched village, you’ll be forced to cross through the modern atrocity that is Cagnes. You’ll find this ugly and congested area a short stroll down the hill from the old town, or inland from the beach. There’s no reason to visit other than to visit the Renoir Museum or food market, or to run errands such as stopping in at a bakery, supermarket, post office, etc.
The Renoir Art Museum
In 1908 Pierre-Auguste Renoir settled down in the Domaine des Collettes in Cagnes-sur-Mer with his wife Aline and their three sons: Pierre, Jean and Claude. This beautiful Neo-Provençal house was built for the ailing artist and his family in 1908, and has panoramas reaching down to the Cap d’Antibes. The home is furnished with two art studios and is still couched in the olive and citrus groves that attracted him to this spot.
It was luxuriously equipped with all of the most modern facilities available at the time, as well as his large artist’s studio, which faces the garden. His friends, Rodin, Matisse, Bonnard and Modigliani, all used to come here to visit.
Young housemaids from Cagnes-sur-Mer often served as models to the painter, who appreciated their round, sensual bodies and bright, radiant faces. It was here, in Cagnes-sur-Mer, that Renoir took up sculpting for the first time, assisted first by Richard Guino, and later, Louis Morel.
The house remains the same as when he lived there and contains paintings by Renoir that highlight the intensity of his work. There are 14 Renoir paintings inside, as well as numerous sculptures and touching personal effects, like photos of Renoir with his family, his furniture, and his wheelchair placed in front of his easel.
He spent the final 12 years of his life in Cagnes-sur-Mer, a time known as his “Cagnoise” period. Despite his severe rheumatic arthritis, Renoir kept on painting with passion until the last day of his life, the 3rd of December 1919. He was 78 years old.
Check out our guide to all the best art museums on the French Riviera.
Open Hours: From June to September: 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 6pm (gardens open from 10am to 6pm). From October to March: 10am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pm. From April to May: from 10am to 12pm and from 2pm to 6pm. Closed on Tuesday and on 25/12, 01/01 and 01/05.
Prices: Adults: €6. Under 26: free.
Double ticket (applicable to people wishing to visit the Renoir Museum and the Grimaldi Castle-Museum in the same day): €8.
Website: Official Information