Summer time will certainly be busy in the South of France, along the Côte d’Azur…
There are many cities to choose from that have, hiking, private beaches, Provençal food, and French wine. You might be thinking of Nice, since it is the entry city from international airports such as New York, London, and Paris. Yet, there is a lesser known, picture-perfect village just east of Nice called, Villefranche sur Mer, and this elegant town has it all.
As you leave Nice…
…and make the curve around Mont Boron along the Basse Corniche, you can see a spectacular view of Villefranche. At the lowest level is Old Town, huddled near the harbor and distinctively marked by the orange-tiled roofs. It has old world charm with slated streets, quaint passageways, pastel villas, and steep staircases that descend to the port. The railroad tracks are just above the beach and are lined with purple bougainvillea.
Villefranche is the most picturesque village along the French Riviera.
Rick Steves says, “one of the most delightful spots on the Riviera to spend a summer’s evening while dining on the quai.” This unpretentious, seaside village still retains its unique atmosphere with a touch of romance!
Villefranche was created by Charles II of Anjou, Count of Provence in 1295.
Although, legend has it that Hercules opened his arms and the Villefranche harbor was formed. Yet another story says that he stepped into the bay, and that’s why it is so deep—320 feet
The main street in Old Town is rue du Poilu, which runs parallel to the waterfront and ends at the train station. At water’s edge is the long curving beach area with several restaurants and cafés.
In the nineteenth century, the harbor was an important Russian Navy base, and from 1948 – 1966, it was used as a base for the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet. Local pleasure boats and cruise ships now occupy the harbor.
The historic Port de la Darse harbor is rich in maritime history and has a real working shipyard. Here you will find the sixteenth-century citadel, built by the Dukes of Savoy when they were at war with France. This local port also houses the famous Observatoire Océanologique de Villefranche and other geo-scientific and biological research centers.
There are several restaurants along the quai in Old Town Villefranche with a great view of the harbor, but they can be pricey. When I go out I eat at Loco Loco, or a cozy restaurant called, Le Serre, there is no view and it is less expensive. Besides, the harbor and the sea will be there after my meal.
Locals will be here at Loco Loco, and I can practice my French with ease. They have a great list of mussels, and the fries are cooked bien-cuit just the way they should be. When winter comes, they close, and everyone sorely misses them.
Villefranche sur Mer
…is a small town, but there is plenty to do here as well as many landmarks to visit. The 16th century citadel is rich with museums that are free. Le Musée Volti, Le Musée Goetz-Boumeester, La Collection Roux, the 24th BCA room of Alpine Hunters, a light infantry of Napoleon III – Collection of Battalion items displayed. Chapelle de Saint Pierre des Pecheurs, Port de la Darse.
Don’t miss the stunning natural harbor which connects to the Cap Ferrat peninsula. Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, coastal walks, sandy beaches. Bars, restaurants and cafés abound.
Chapelle de Saint Pierre des Pecheurs
Local fishing boat
Fort du Mount Alban
La Citadelle Saint – Elme
View of Villefranche sur Mer waterfront as seen from the Moyenne Corniche
You will fall in love with this unspoiled, well-preserved town, (as I did). Villefranche is the pearl of the Côte d’Azur. I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of my refuge…away from the maddening crowd. There is a fabulous apartment in this picture, with a million-dollar view, ready for your very own wonderful vacation.
Movies filmed here: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Never say Never Again, Killers. Ronin had scenes by the waterfront in Villefranche.