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, another village perché near Monaco, and is alive with flower-filled lanes and 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.
For years Haut-de-Cagnes attracted the French literati, including Simone de Beauvoir. A colony of painters also settled here, most famously Pierre Auguste Renoir. He 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. Renoir was joined by a long list of artists, including Modigliani and Soutine, and the many ateliers in the old town point to a creative community.
Through this travel guide, Iconic Riviera will give you the information you need to acquaint yourself with this delightful resort town in the French Riviera:
|This pleasant seaside resort town has three faces to it: the medieval town, the newer town 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. Known as the ‘Montmartre of the French Riviera’, Haut de Cagnes was the haunt of Renoir, Modigliani, Soutine, Yves Klein, Bardot and Cocteau. 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. Combined with a refreshing international mix these days – this fairytale village enchants and delights.
This charming, perched village has much to offer, with its tiers of tiny streets, climbing soft stone walls and colorful houses bursting with history. Its tiny squares are carefully tended and decorated with terracotta pots of flowering jasmine, geraniums, fig trees and wisteria – that overhangs tantalizingly from roof gardens.
On the main street and Place du Château, there are plenty of bustling restaurants and cafés plus numerous historical cultural events and colourful festivals are held during the year. Around the Château is the town’s medieval center, filled with secret squares and a maze of little alleys. Its distance from the congested town at the foot of the hill lend Haut-de-Cagnes a refreshing village-like feel.
A short stroll down the hill will bring you to the town of Cagnes, which provides all amenities such as a boulangerie, a patisserie, a supermarket, post office, the main bus square and a wonderful covered food market. Close to the town centre lies the Renoir Museum, the Hippodrome for horse racing and Cros de Cagnes – the seaside resort of Cagnes sur Mer with its private and public beaches.
Grimaldi Castle Museum
The original Grimaldi Castle tops this enchanting town with gorgeous views over the diverse Côte d’Azur landscape encompassing the Alps, the Mediterranean, its pretty inland villages, Nice and Cap d’Antibes.
Crowning Haut-de-Cagnes is a 14th century castle, which as the name will tell you, was a residence for Monaco’s royal family. A long line of Grimaldi’s lived here from 1309 up to the Revolution when they were forced out of the town.
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. 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 venue 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.” It has a collection of 110 works, and it is the only public place with modern jewelry all over France.
Open Hours: 2pm to 6pm Wednesday to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday).
Website: Espace Solidor
The Renoir Art Museum
In 1908 Pierre August Renoir settled down in the Domaine des Collettes in Cagnes-sur-Mer with his wife Aline and their three sons: Pierre, Jean and Claude. The house he had built was equipped with all of the most modern facilities available at the time, as well as the large artist’s studio facing the garden. Rodin, Matisse, Bonnard and Modigliani all used to come here to visit.
Les Collettes was Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s home. He spent the final 12 years of his life in Cagnes-sur-Mer, a time known as his “Cagnoise” period. 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.
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. 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.
Landscapes, portraits, nudes, still life paintings and sculptures reflect the Cagnes-sur-Mer period in Renoir’s activity. The collection of 14 original paintings, numerous sculptures, artist’s studio and furniture, as well as the garden planted with ancient olive trees constitute the perfect testimony of Renoir’s creative universe and every-day life.
The house remains the same as when he lived there and contains paintings by Renoir that highlight the intensity of his work. The home is furnished with two art studios and is still couched in the olive and citrus groves that attracted him to this spot. There are 14 Renoir paintings inside, as well as sculptures and touching personal effects, like photos of Renoir with his family, and his wheelchair placed in front of his easel.
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
Le 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 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 de Saint-Pierre (St Peter being the patron saint of fishermen). The chapel, which goes by ” l’église jaune” was designed to stand out and survives 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 still an excellent place find seafood restaurants. Along with the beach, this is an hidden spot to have fun away from the crowds. Compared to others in 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 beaches stretch up to 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) along the coast. A large part of the beach is pebbly, and much is open to the public. If you’re in need of additional luxuries then Cagnes’ six private beaches offer parasols, sunbed hire, 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.
The full length of the beachfront is bordered by a newly regenerated promenade, pushing cars back from the waterfront and letting you wander beneath the palms fronds instead.
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.