Sitting on the hill of Mont Gros behind Nice in a typical Provençal landscape, scattered with olive trees, a visit to the observatory offers unique views over the alluring Côte d’Azur. Opened in 1878, it is still a working astronomy laboratory. You might recognize it from the opening scene of Woody Allen’s 2014 movie – Magic in the Moonlight.
The design was a masterpiece of two masterminds of their era – Gustav Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame and Charles Garnier who designed the Monte Carlo Casino and Paris Opera.
The actual building was designed by Garnier while Eiffel tackled the sophisticated floating system allowing the enormous telescope (76 meters in length!) to be mobile by filling a small manmade lake with magnesium chloride water. This system allowed the 92-ton dome that was built on a floating platform easily spin into whatever viewing position was required. These days the telescope and the dome are maneuvered by hydraulics, but you must give a credit to such an ingenious idea!
The 2-hour tour is in French only through 2 kilometers of forest trails surrounding the scientific compound, allowing you to appreciate the richness and beauty of both the architectural and natural heritage of the Mont-Gros site as well as the exceptional panorama of the Bay of Angels. At the end you finally reach the dome. Even with basic French, the tour is still fascinating and a rare opportunity to get inside an observatory and look through such a special telescope.
As for January 2018, the major restoration work on the dome has stated and is planned to last at least 14 months which prevents visitors from entering the building during weekly guided tours. Instead, in the “Grand meridian circle” room you will discover how gravitational waves are detected, how a planet is formed and how the gigantic Gaia satellite that is currently recording 1 billion stars works.
How to get there:
Take a bus number 84 leaving from outside of Riquier train station (not the main train station) and get out after approximately 15 minutes at the bus stop called Observatoire. The bus leaves every 30 minutes and the schedule can be checked at Lignes d’Azur website.
96 Boulevard de l’Observatoire, 06304 Nice, Tel: 04 92 00 30 01, www.oca.eu
Opening Hours – 2.45pm every Wednesday and Saturday only.
The number of visitors is limited, please pre-book on www.observatorium.oca.eu/visites.php. There you can see how many places are left for the certain date.
Admission – 6 EUR per adult, 3 EUR per child