Cemeteries usually aren’t at the top of any travel itinerary, particularly not one for the French Riviera. Beautiful beaches? Check. Decadent seafood dishes and gelato in every flavor? Check. Winding streets and bright colored buildings? Check. Ancient graves and tombs? Not so much.
No doubt there is an abundance of things to do in Nice, France and the surrounding seaside towns. Checking out les cimetières du Château de Nice, however, can give you a rare glimpse into centuries of life in Nice. The family tombs hold generations, dating back to the early 1800’s. If you’re seeking a quiet refuge from the hustle and bustle of Old Nice or a break from the crowded beaches, wander through the cemetery nestled on Castle Hill.
The history lesson is worth it in itself. Graveyards can tell stories that the living can’t—and encourage you to make up your own. Reading the tombstone of a family who lost several small children in the late 1800’s made me wonder about the leaps we’ve made in modern medicine. I also realized that many of the young men who died between 1914 and 1918 or the early 1940’s were most likely victims of the World Wars. While reading tombs can be somber, it can be moving—like the tomb that held three generations of clearly loved fathers and brothers, from 1900 to 2007.
The cemetery gives you a peek into many facets of French culture, particularly religion and family. The cemetery is separated into Catholic, Protestant and Jewish sections. It’s interesting to see the differences between the large, ostentatious Catholic tombs and the simple Protestant tombs: the ideologies of both faiths are also reflected in death rituals.
All Souls Day, known as La Touissant, is dedicated to praying for the souls of the deceased as well as cleaning and replacing flowers on graves—and is still widely practiced in France. Most of the graves are extremely well cared for, with an abundance of fresh flowers. It’s lovely to see that the departed haven’t been abandoned—and also speaks to the generations of Niçoise that remain in Nice.
Once you’ve had your fill of the cemetery, you’re in the perfect spot to look down on the brightly colored buildings of Old Nice and the imposing structure of the Modern Art Museum. Directly across from the cemetery is a gorgeous view of the city of Nice. Stroll through the shade to the other side of Castle Hill to check out a waterfall, beautiful gardens and mosaics, a children’s playground and an amazing panoramic view of the Mediterranean. Bring a picnic and take advantage of the sprawling grassy areas and scattered benches.
To reach the cemetery, climb up the Montée Menica Rondelly from Place Ste. Claire in Vieux Ville or wander over from the Montée du Château. The cemetery is clearly marked next to the colline du Château on a city map of Nice.
Christine’s first trip to France was at age 11, where she fell in love with pains aux chocolat, modern art and Galeries Lafayette. She blogs at C’est Christine.