•Alpes-Maritimes (06230) • Population: 8,080 • Altitude: 20 m
Villefranche-sur-Mer is a very picturesque Medieval beach village on the Mediterranean coast just a few km east of Nice. Once a fishing village and deep-water harbor, Villefranche retains its pastel colored buildings and narrow streets, along with long sandy beaches, terrace cafés and restaurants and an active yacht basin.
From the main road above, you can look down across the red tile roofs of the old town, with the distinctive church and bell tower in the center. Like the medieval villages of the "back country", the narrow cobblestone and bricked streets slope steeply down (in this case towards the sea) or traverse along the slope, with vaulted passages beneath the houses. There's quite a medieval feeling here, with just the many little restaurants to remind you you're in tourist country. There are also quiet little squares, like the Place Félix Poullan beside the church, and the Place de l'Eglise just below, with a bench circling a beautiful big tree.
The most extreme example we've seen anywhere of a vaulted passage is the Rue Obscura, a street about a block in from the seafront that's completely covered for about half its length. Lighted only by white, wire-gridded lamps in the roof, the "obscure" street reminds you of the days when the town's population sheltered here from bombardments. Cross streets open out onto the sunny upper village or the even brighter seafront below.
The focal point of Villefranche-sur-Mer is the quai, where a line of terrace café-restaurants face the yacht harbor and out across the blue Mediterranean, backed the lovely village houses. Villefranche was once a fishing village attached to the town of Nice, and you can sometimes see some of the little pointu fishing boats in the harbor.
Robert De Niro sat at one of these cafés, as Sam in the movie Ronin (1998), amidst action and car chases across the South of France. [We sat at a café here in June 1998, but must have missed the filming.]
The 16th-century military fortress, Citadelle Saint-Elme, sits at the south edge of Villefranche-sur-Mer, in easy walking distance from the port. The citadel was built in 1557 to protect the this port as well as the towns along this part of the Mediterranean. The fortress worked in conjunction with Fort Mont Alban (on the hilltop between Villefranche-sur-Mer and Nice), a defensive tower at Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and the military battery at Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
Citadelle Saint-Elme was occupied by the famous French mountain troups, Chasseurs Alpins until 1958. The site now hosts the Town Hall (Mairie) and some museums. Entry to the site is free, to walk around the fortified interior, visit the museums, and a very nice and shady park.
Among the glitterati of the region, Anna Mae Bullock (better known as Tina Turner) has a palatial villa here, at the peak of the Colline du Vinaigrier. She's in residence about one weekend per month, which is pretty frequent considering her schedule.
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History of Villefranche-sur-Mer
First record, 12th century: Castrum de Montolivo; 1295: Villa franca
Prehistoric--Roman: Iron-age and Gallo-Roman pottery shards and other artifacts were found at Mont Leuze, overlooking the current seaside location. The ancient Montolivio was also on the hill set back from the sea.
Medieval: The port was created in 1295 by Charles d'Anjou. The Rade de Villefranche (the protected deep-water bay) is the best on this part of the coast, and was the most important port until port of Nice was opened in the 18th century.
Located in the corner of a lovely little park, beside the main N7 road.
Tel : 04 93 01 73 68; Fax: 04 93 76 63 65
Brocante: Every Sun
June (End) - Fete des Pêcheurs - Fishermens' Festival
Sep (End) - Fete Patronale de la Saint Michel
Oct - La Resquilhada - Fishing-Boats fete, a regata of the little "pointus" boats.
• GPS: 43.714175, 7.310058
IGN (1/25,000) #3742 OT "Nice-Menton"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #26 "Pay d'Azur"
Parc de la Justice Hiking
The Parc Départemental de la Justice is on the Plateau de la Justice (about 550 m altitude) between the coast at Villefranche-sur-Mer/Beaulieu-sur-Mer and La Trinité to the north. It's 2-3 km north of Villefranche-sur-Mer or Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
The southwest corner of the hiking area is on the Moyenne Corniche (the D2564 road) at a junction called Col des Quatre Chemins. A small road goes northeast from that junction, about 2.5 km, to the parking area La Plana, where there are picnic spots and a sports-walking course.
A 7-8 km loop hike around the high plateau can be started at the southwest corner (on the D2564) or in the park area at the La Plana parking.
The Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat Hike is a 3-1/h hour hike along the coast around the Cap Ferrat peninsula, just to the east of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
The GR51 Balcony of the Cote d'Azur trail passes through Drap, about 5 km north of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Contributed by Robert from Canada
We were in VilleFranche "Pierre & Vacances" March 6th to April 4th 1998.
They have a wonderful resort very reasonable i.e 2 weeks for approx
5,000 FF; 2 1/2 apartments fully furnished, maid service included;
from November to April 4th. This is for 2 weeks and a bonus of 2 weeks
In the old village of VilleFranche we had the most delightful meal at a tiny restaurant called the "L'Echalote" rue de l'Eglise, if you happen to be in the area, please try them out...
Villefranche-sur-Mer is on the main Nice-Monaco-Menton-Ventimiglia line, with frequent service. The rail line curves around the edge of the bay, running just above the beach to the east of town.