How to get there and what to do!
Reputed as one of the five most beautiful bays in the world, the bay of Villefranche is embraced by the Cap of Nice on the right and Cap Ferrat on the left. Summer or winter, sunshine or rain, Villefranche is a stunning place. The deep harbor created by the volcanic crater was once preferred by the likes of Onassis and Niarchos and the royals on their yachts. Today it is a privileged anchoring spot for the most prestigious cruise ships.
But it was artists and authors gathering at Hôtel Welcome who finely shaped the character and feel of the town, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh and Jean Cocteau, among the most famous residents. Jean Cocteau used to come to Villefranche to recover from the excesses of Paris life and his spirit is still very present even today. Enjoy a glass of wine on the terrace of the hotel to soak up the atmosphere of the old days.
Bus – there are two buses that go through Villefranche sur Mer. Bus number 100 direction Monaco/Menton that you can take from the Port of Nice or bus 81 direction Port de Saint Jean that leaves from the bus stop called Promenade des Arts, not far from the old town (behind the supermarket Monoprix on Place Garibaldi). In both cases the ticket costs €1.50 and journey takes about 20 minutes.
The trains leave either from the Gare Thiers or Gare Riquier regularly, one way ticket costs €1.90 and the journey takes only about 8 minutes.
Chemin De Ronde, 06230 Villefranche sur Mer
To protect the County of Nice from invaders, the Duke of Savoy had the Citadel built in the 16th century, together with the satellite fortresses of Mont-Alban, Saint-Hospice and the port of La Darse where the galleys were tied up. These constructions were assigned to Italian engineers who were architecturally well ahead of their time. Today, this remarkable complex (7.5 acres) accommodates the Town Hall, the Volti, Goetz-Boumeester Museums and the Roux Collection.
Beautiful and well maintained gardens with an open air theatre that hosts special events and turns into the cinema under the open sky during the warm summer nights. Free entry.
June – September 10.00-18.30
October – May 10.00-17.30
Closed Sunday mornings.
11 Place de l’Église, 06230 Villefranche-sur-Mer
Located in the heart of the Old Town, this Italian baroque style church was built in 1750 on the grounds of previously very modest village church. It contains an anonymous work by a galley slave of a recumbent Christ and the organs by Grinda Brothers from 1790 that are still in operation.
Quai Amiral Courbet, 06230 Villefranche-sur-Mer, Tel:+33 (0)4 93 76 90 70
This beautiful Roman-style chapel is dedicated to Saint Peter, patron saint of fishermen. First, a place of worship, it was left abandoned soon after St. Michel Church had been finished. Fishermen used the chapel as a storage for their fishing gear for a long time.
Jean Cocteau, “prince of poets” and a huge fan of Villefranche undertook a project to restore and decorate both the inside and the outside of the chapel in 1956. Frescos portraying life of St. Peter the apostle and scenes of Mediterranean life can be admired inside the chapel. He did a beautiful work creating a fusion between spirituality and art and a visit to this very unique place is highly recommended . There is a fee of €3 (under 15 years old free) in order to keep the place looked after.
Opening Hours :
April – September 10.00-12.00, 15.00-19.00
October – March 10.00-12.00, 14.00-18.00
Closed on Tuesdays and Public Holidays.
14th century Rue Obscure (Dark street) is located along the rampart just above the seafront with all the restaurants and bars. This 130 meters long street was originally uncovered and used as a defensive passageway that let the soldiers shuffle through the village with ease, with only the sky overhead as their ceiling. Due to lack of space and uncontrolled urbanization in 16th century onwards it was completely covered, townspeople used this dark place to shelter their goats and donkeys and as wine cellars.
Listed as Historic Monument, it was painted by Jean Cocteau. A replica of his painting can be seen when entering the street, exactly where the artist used to place his easel.
Guided Tour of the Old Town and the Citadelle is organized by the Tourist office every Friday at 10.00, departing from their office at Jardins François Binon (few steps from the bus stop where you descend). The cost is €5 per person and it lasts 1.5 hour.
Beaches in Villefranche
Beaches in Villefranche offer a much needed break from pebbled beaches in Nice. They are not really sandy but rather a sort of a mix of gravel and sand, comfortable enough to spend a half day even a day there. During the high season, the town and beaches get packed, especially on the days when cruise ships arrive so if you want to get a good spot, arrive early.
Marinières Beach on the Promenade des Marinières is the largest public beach, within a few steps from the Villefranche sur Mer train station. Located to the east of the city, it extends over 700 meters. There are several snack bars serving simple food, hot and cold beverages and in the summer this beach is equipped with anti-jellyfish nets and a lifeguard. Plenty of toilets and showers scattered on the promenade. There is no shade, so if sun sensitive, bring your own parasole.
Here, at the beginning of the promenade, there is also the only private beach club, Deli Bó. It has a very popular sister’s café in Nice and wait for it…sandy beach…so no wonder that during the summer you need to book at least a day ahead to get your spot. Serving an excellent and fresh food and cocktails, the loungers are just few steps from the cooling sea and the views are fantastic,so if you want a beach day with a comfort, this might be your choice. There is a play area for the kids as well. A lounger costs €20 per day, €6 extra for the umbrella.
For reservations call +33 (0)4 9362 9950.
Plage de la Darse
Not far from the Port de la Darse, a well kept secret, a “local” beach is hidden from the view. It is a discreetly sign posted pebbled stretch of beach that never really gets too busy. It has only one shower, no toilets and no lifeguard so bare that in mind before deciding to spend a full day here, especially if with kids. There are public toilets and several very casual, cosy and friendly restaurants in the Port de la Darse to break the day at the beach, we highly recommend La Baleine Joyeuse and Le Club de la Mer, both located on Quai de la Corderie and serving super fresh simple food and cold pitchers of rosé at very reasonable prices.
In general, there are some very good places to eat and enjoy a drink or two in Villefranche. The busiest are the restaurants on the seafront on Quai Amiral Courbet so if you fancy a lunch or a dinner with a view, head there early. Also note that most places open at noon and close at 15.00 and reopen for dinner service at 19.00. Two legendary restaurants to mention are Mayssa Beach – a rooftop restaurant overlooking the bay and Restaurant La Mére Germaine, famous for its seafood, established in 1938.
The Provençal Market is on every Saturday from 8.00 – 13.00 beside Binon Francis Gardens (where you get off the bus).
The ‘Flea Market’ with some antiques stalls is on every Sunday all day long at the Amélie Pollonais square and Binon Gardens.
“Amélie” Market – handicrafts, from 5 May to 31 October. Every Thursday from 8.00 to 19.00 and when there is a cruise ship in the bay at Amélie Pollonais square.