Located midway between Nice and Monaco on the south coast of France, this town of 5,000 inhabitants has a more relaxed vibe than its more glamorous Riviera neighbours. The deep waters of the picturesque harbour make an ideal port of call for both large cruise ships and luxury yachts.
The best spot in town to watch the comings and goings of the port is from one of the balconies of the Welcome Hotel. You can spot the hotel in films like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Never Say Never Again.
|Hotel Welcome, Villefranche-sur-Mer|
|Our Room at the Welcome Hotel|
|The View from our Balcony|
This clean, comfortable hotel (a Rick Steves recommendation) is located a stone's throw from the water, close to restaurants and shopping. It overlooks the cruise ship terminal, the Gare Maritime, at Port de la Santé. There's also a seasonal tourist office and ATM nearby. The Casino market was a handy place to pick up a bottle of wine to enjoy on our balcony (and they also had Camargue salt, which I'd neglected to buy while in Aigues Mortes a few days earlier.)
The top sight in Villefranche is the town itself, a scattering of colourful buildings tumbling down the hillside, its narrow streets ending up at Quai Amiral Courbet and the sparkling azure waters of the Mediterranean.
|Streets of Villefranche-sur-Mer|
In the 16th century the Duke of Savoy built a citadel at what was once an ancient Roman port. Today the fortress houses the Town Hall and four museums.
|Footpath to Port de la Darse|
|The Citadel Wall|
Evidence of the town's Italian heritage remains in the colourful building facades, the delicious bowls of pasta found on restaurant menus, and several gelato stands. (I had the best chocolate gelato at the place across from the hotel – rich, chocolatey, and not too sweet.)
|Bell Tower of St. Michael's Church|
|Pesto Pasta at Le Cosmo|
You can't miss the sunny ochre facade of the tiny Chapel of St. Pierre, decorated by artist, author and filmmaker Jean Cocteau and dedicated to the local fishermen. Cocteau was a frequent guest of the Welcome Hotel. Unfortunately I left my visit to St. Pierre until my last day in Villefranche, a Tuesday, and it was closed (as was the gelato stand).
|Chapel of St. Pierre|
Next to the hotel and across from the chapel is Place Amélie Pollonnais, where a market pops up when the cruise ships are in port. There are a number of restaurants on the square including Le Cosmo, where I had a lovely salad of tomatoes, melon and prosciutto concealing an impressive serving of fresh mozzarella.
|Place Amélie Pollonnais|
|La Brasserie Le Cosmo|
|Assiette Italienne at Le Cosmo|
|The Hidden Mozzarella|
Or you can enjoy a pizza lunch at Achill's while you watch the cruise passengers lining up to be transferred back to their ship.
|Lunch at Achill's|
Rue Obscura (Dark Street) is an unusual covered street that runs along the original perimeter of the town's 14th century ramparts. It found use as an air raid shelter during World War II.
With its refreshing sea breezes the town of Villefranche-sur-Mer is a lovely place to pass a hot summer day, but its location also makes it the ideal base for day trips to such nearby must-sees as:
* Nice, the Riviera's largest city (and location of the nearest airport);
* the principality of Monaco;
* the hilltop town of Eze; and
* the Cap Ferrat Peninsula.
The Beach of Villefranche-sur-Mer
Evening in Villefranche-sur-Mer
Eze: Perched Village of the Côte d'Azur
Saint Jean Cap Ferrat