Villefranche-sur-Mer is definitely my favorite place on the French Riviera. The old village descends from the rocks straight into the bay, and the beach, although small, is covered with a fine gravel instead of stones.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is located next to Nice, in the direction of Monaco. During the 19th century numerous crowned heads and aristocrats from England and Russia came to the town to rest and relax. This is where the second most expensive house in the world stands – the Villa Leopold, built on the orders of the King of Belgium, Leopold II, and worth $500 million. And in the cellars of Villa Nellcote, the Rolling Stones recorded their famous album, Exile on Main St. Guitarist Keith Richards rented this villa from April 1971 to March 1972.
How to get to Villefranche-sur-Mer?
To get to Villefranche-sur-Mer, just buy a ticket for €1.90 (one way) and take the regional train from Nice, or take bus 100, or alternatively bus 81, for €1.50. The train takes only 6 minutes, while the bus takes about 15 minutes. And that’s all it takes to find yourself in a fairy-tale place. The railway station is located directly above the beach – heading to the right will take you to the Old Town, and going further up the hill will get you to the citadel where the town hall and a hotel are currently situated.
The citadel in Villefranche-sur-Mer (Citadelle Saint-Elme), built between 1550 and 1561, was to protect the war fleet of the Duke of Savoy, Emanuel Filibert (Emanuele Filiberto di Saboia). The structure was the most important element in the defensive system of the Sabaudia coastline in the Villefranche region.
When visiting Villefranche’s Old Town you can not miss the passage under the buildings. It’s a bit scary and has a medieval atmosphere. The entrance is right next to the La Mere Germaine restaurant. It’s also worth walking around the citadel along its walls, which are right by the sea. You will then reach the yacht harbor where there is an oceanographic observatory and the younger part of the village. A few centuries ago the harbor served as a port for the navy, and these historic docks are still used today.
The beach at Villefranche-sur-Mer
The beach at Villefranche is right next to the Promenade des Marinières, where you can also leave your car (payable). The beach is not sandy, but also not rocky as it is in Nice – instead there is a fine gravel where you can walk freely without special shoes. The same type of material is in the water. An additional advantage is the lack of waves, the water here is nice and calm. One of the attractions of the beach are the small fish that can be fed bread like doves ;) – just stand by the rocks and throw some food into the water.
It is worth equipping yourself with a mask, snorkel, and diving fins, because the waters of the bay provide excellent visibility down to the bottom. But you have to be careful – it gets deep not very far from the shore.