The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.
Today I'm taking you to a funny little museum all about shells, le Musée des Coquillages, in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, near Nice. Last week's Museum Monday post toured the Picasso Museum in Antibes: the subject a world-famous artist, the setting a striking castle. This time it's a personal collection of shells in a tiny little space on the port in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat: from the sublime to the ridiculous you might say! I did warn you I'd be visiting all sorts of museums on the Côte d'Azur, not just the well-known ones.
I've also come to the conclusion that visiting and writing about a museum a week is too much for me and this blog. Looking back on this month's posts, it's too dominated by museums; they are not the main focus of this blog but if you were visiting for the first time you might think otherwise. I wasn't really thinking when I rashly announced this would be a weekly thing. So from now on Museum Monday will be an occasional series, if and when I have a museum to write about. I will aim for 2 a month and we'll see how it goes.
So back to the subject in hand: shells! This little museum is the personal collection of marine conservationist and shell enthusiast extraordinaire Jean-Pierre Sidois, who travels the world looking for specimens, and among his collection of 7000 he has many world records (400 or so). Particularly impressive is the record for the world's smallest shell - smaller than a grain of sand (1/10th of a mm) that can only be seen under a microscope.
The museum is unique in Europe for the size and importance of its collection, particularly of shells from the Mediterranean. The only other collection of significance is in the British Museum but it is not open to the public. It is also a reference for shells from Mauritius, where Jean-Pierre began collecting over 45 years ago and among the collection are some specimens that are now extinct.
The visit to the museum begins with a 6 minute introductory film (available in English) and then you are free to peruse the collection, organised into exotic shells on one side and Mediterranean shells on the other. There are also land shells and fossils all attractively and prettily laid out. Some shells are so brightly coloured they don't look real, while others are huge, minute or just downright bizarre; I really had no idea there was such a variety of shells in the world! Monsieur Sidois is available to answer questions (in French).
I must admit, we went to this museum almost as a joke as we love seeking out museums with what we consider funny or unusual collections, even if we don't actually go in. When cajoling the kids into enthusiastic sightseeing we often challenge each other to come up with ideas for names of silly museums such as "le musée du slip troué" (holey underpants), the shoelace museum or museum of ashtrays. It was in this frame of mind that we decided to pop into the musée des coquillages when visiting the lovely port of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat recently. But we (JF, the little kid and I) were pleasantly surprised and found ourselves being sucked into a magical undersea world of unbelievable colours and delicate shapes.
Despite our original scepticism we enjoyed the museum and at the symbolic price of 2€ for adults and 1€ for under 15s I reckon it was money well spent. It turned out to be of particular interest to our 10 year old who loved using the microscopes to examine the miniscule shells and got very enthusiastic about shells in general. There is a reasonable selection of souvenirs and apparently you can take shells in to be identified and valued.
I think this museum would be suitable for children from about the age of 4 or 5, it's colourful and small enough to capture their attention without boring them, and being so cheap it doesn't really matter if you only stay a few minutes. We spent about half an hour (maybe a little less) though of course real shell enthusiasts may well want to take longer reading all the labels in detail. It was enough for us just to admire the multitude of colours and shapes.
While this museum probably isn't worth going massively out of your way for (unless you adore shells!) it's fun enough to visit after another activity in the neighbourhood such as a hike around the Cap or spending some time on one of the lovely beaches on Cap Ferrat. There are numerous cafés and restaurants in the port area to make a day of it.
The museum is located on the quay in the old port in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, easy enough to find if you go down the steps on to the actual seafront but hidden from view if you stay up on the road level. If (during opening hours) it appears to be closed you just need to ask at SOS Grand Bleu next door (an association for the protection of Mediterranean whales also run by Jean-Pierre Sidois). It is open Monday-Friday 10-12 and 2-5.45pm, weekends and public holidays 2-5.45pm. (It doesn't have a website).
What do you think? Do you like visiting quirky little museums like this?
Please PIN it for later!
Love this page! Do you happen to know when this little gem of a museum first opened? I'm writing a book in which I'd like to use it for a setting in 1942.
Hi Pam, I don't know exactly when it opened but as it's a private collection run by a man who's definitely not old enough to have been born in 1942 I can say for sure that it wouldn't have been around then I'm afraid. I think (but not totally sure) it opened around 2002-3.
Please write about the museum of holey underpants!!! This little gem you've found is a place of beauty, though. We never leave a beach without a collection of shells - our family would love a rummage round here, to see what we could winkle out (sorry.......) Thanks for linking up with #CulturedKids
I think this sounds great - always enjoy discovering the more unusual museums around. And we love shells! Went shell collecting last spring in Sanibel, FL which is known for its shells. There is a shell museum there too but we didn't have time to visit as it was a day trip so we'll have to go back. #culturedkids
Shells and museums both big favourites of mine, so a shell museum sounds excellent. Mind you we have picked up so many over the years that we might have enough to open our own!
This looks wonderful! I much prefer finding obscure curiosities like this than the big heavily-marketed tourist attractions. I don't care how small it is, my kids would probably spend all day in here. A great find - thanks! #CulturedKids
What a lovely day out, mine love finding shells so would love it here
It definitely appeals to young kids Clare.
Some stunning shells there, will have to remember this little quirky museum next time we visit Nice!
It's a fun little visit if you're n the area Oana.
What a fun discovery! On a quirkiness par with the volcano place in Reykjavik that I seem to remember you describing in an earlier blog. I hope you do keep up a supply of museum episodes, even if only now and again.
Indeed Richard, similar in that both are private places to indulge a passion and both are rather odd. Good memory! I will try to keep up the museum visits....
oh I love that shell display! The colourful ones are so beautiful x
The girls would probably enjoy it but I don't think it's really my thing!
Even with your name "Shell" Louise???!!! Lol!
I think it looks brilliant! My son would definitely enjoy learning more about shells, he's got a huge collection he's very proud of
He'd really love it then as it's amazing just how many different shapes and sizes there are!
I absolutely would visit somewhere like this - world record seashells - my boys would love this! I never knew they were in so many colours!
Nor did I Sara-Jayne
Love this and love the fact that your family is as silly as mine, coming up with daft museum names. We used to visit art galleries and create alternative names for paintings, according to what we saw. Doesn't take much to amuse us!
I love to hear that Trish! Great minds....
My daughter would love this as she loves shells and unusual rocks - she has a box full of her 'special' ones ;-)
So does my son, though most don't seem to actually be in the box but next to the front door step!
I actually rather love the sound of this - is it terrible that I'd rather go there than to the Picasso museum? I think my daughter would love it too, she's fascinated by shells and these look gorgeous. The idea of looking through the microscope is great for older ones. I had no idea there was such a variety! Thanks for linking up with #citytripping
It's not terrible Cathy! Each to his own as they say. It's such a surprising place.
Lovely to re-read this for #culturedkids
What is a collector of shells called Lou? Is it a shellologist? Sweet little museum. What will you find next?
You are so funny Hiham! You'll just have to wait and see what "Lou" gets up to next!
Now that is a lot of shells. We used to have a house here nicknamed the shell house and it was covered from head to toe in shells. Sadly it has gone now but I loved visiting
That sounds amazing Kara, what a pity it doesn't exist anymore.
I've heard so much about the French Riviera. I'd love to go. The shell museum there looks pretty fantastic! One question – If the museum is hard to find from street level, how did you discover it? Did you read about it before you traveled?
Hey Mandy, I've lived in the area for 9 years and have been running a gite for 6 of those, so I'm forever on the lookout for original or different things for my guests (and my family) to do. I think I first came across a brochure in a tourist office a while ago, but if you were just strolling along the water's edge at the port in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat you'd notice it too.
Oh wow what an amazing collection of seashells. I would love to visit this x
Aren't they pretty?
It's funny how sometimes the most random museums can turn out to be pleasant surprises! At first glance, the shell museum doesn't seem overly fascinating but I find that once I learn more about almost anything, I can get interested into it... at least interested enough to enjoy a museum on the topic!
I agree Elizabeth, I never thought I'd seek out shells other than on the beach but it really was an interesting little place.
Such a different thing to do and I love how the shells are all different and so very pretty, some of the colours and patterns are incredible x
Yes they sure are.
The entry is really low so it sounds like a good value trip. The crab on the rock is fabulous too!
I liked the crab too!
Oh yes I love a quirky museum and I really love shells. Bite size museums like this are my favourite because as much as I love a bit of culture, I get culture fatigue quite quickly. I love how you share so many unique things to do in the South of France
Thanks Katy, glad to hear you like this sort of museum.
I've never heard of a shell museum before. the different shapes and sizes are amazing and I love the colour variations in some of them. A real gem of a place you found there and no hardship stopping for lunch on the water front after.
Nor had I and I really was pleasantly surprised Fiona.
Oh that looks like a fun museum. Sometimes the ones you have no expectations of are the best,
Always nice to find something a bit different, and I do love shells as it happens.
Thanks for sharing and for your visit to mine.
I agree, it's fun to seek out the unusual.