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!