Hidden gems


THE STONE steps echo as you walk up them, and there are strains of harpsichord music from a room above. It’s bright outside, but in this 17th-century stone building, it’s chilly and a little gloomy.

There is something ghostly about the Palais Lascaris in Nice’s old town, something that evokes the spirit of the age in which it was built. And that makes it one of the most interesting, if one of the smallest, museums in a city rich with historic sights.

It’s named after the Lascaris-Vintimiglias family who built it in 1648. They built their palace on what was then Nice’s main street. It’s narrow and you can nearly reach across to the houses over the road. In winter especially, it feels a little like the Venice of the movie Don’t Look Now, all echoing footsteps. The Palais is discreetly signposted, so finding it feels like a discovery of your own.

Its great stone staircase, ornate and painted orange, looks down into two courtyards. The first floor houses exhibitions of musical instruments but it is the second floor that gives a taste of the splendour in which the Lascaris family lived: the main salon is mostly blue, hung with thick tapestries and a richly detailed ceiling fresco.

In the next room, portraits of various Knights of Malta hang on the wall facing an alcove where a four-poster bed stands behind a richly decorated arch. Next is the small glowing chapel, luxuriously decorated in the Baroque style of the period.

On the ground floor, quirkily, is an apothecary’s shop that has nothing to do with the Lascaris, but which dates from another town and another century.

The Palais Lascaris is beautifully restored and low-key: it has place for the unexpected, isn’t over- explained – and because of this, haunts the imagination when other bigger museums have been forgotten.

Palais Lascaris 15 Rue Droite in Vieux Ville, Nice is open daily from 10am to 6pm. Entry is free.