Villefranche-sur-Mer, Côte d’Azur, France
Villefranche-sur-Mer panorama, including the rail station (with concealed steps down to the beach), a small chunk of the Basse Corniche on the right and silouette of Mont Boron and Fort du Mont Alban as a backdrop.
Why visit Villefranche?
• it’s easy and cheap to get to (less than 2 euros) from Nice by both train (1 euro by bus). Accessible by foot also on two sentier littorals – there’s a 100m gap between the two requiring a walk up, along a short section of the Basse Corniche above Palais Maeterlinck, and down the other side. More sentier information.
• it is rimmed by a long, curved sandy beach – Plage de la Mariniére – unlike Nice beaches which are pebble dashed. The beach waters are also generally calm thanks to the bay’s protective ‘horns’. However, there are a fair number of mega yachts parked further out so water quality is clear but not necessarily pure.
• La Citadelle is worth a visit, offering a curious mixture of 16th Century medieval defences packed with some very odd post-modern sculptures, many of them nude and female.
• the little Chapelle Saint-Pierre interior is entirely covered with extraordinary murals by Jean Cocteau.
• You might bump into some of the better-known residents, Elton John, Tina Turner and Keith Richards.
The Citadel St.Elmo
Villefranche-sur-Mer Citadel tunnel sculptures.
Villefranche Citadel exterior.
Villefranche-sur-Mer’s 16th century Citadel is nicely located on a hill overlooking the town and bay. It offers a modestly interesting collection of sculptures scattered throughout the fortress and a lovely panoramic view over to Cap Ferrat but is short of real information and coherent attractions so it is not worth a special trip unless you’ve already visited the region’s real must-sees of Eze, Monaco, Nice, Antibes and Cannes.
Villefranche-sur-Mer view from the Citadel of a typical visiting cruise ship and across to Cap Ferrat.
Villefranche-sur-Mer Old Town
Villefranche-sur-Mer Old Town is certainly old and quite pretty, but very small – entirely walkable in about 15 minutes, Citadel excluded.
Villefranche-sur-Mer port area view (La Darse) with the town’s primary adult activity well under way – afternoon drinkies. The stunning little Chapelle de Saint-Pierre is just a few steps behind the camera.
Chapelle de Saint Pierre
Probably the best sight in Villefranche-sur-Mer is Chapelle de Saint Pierre des Pecheurs, a small church decorated with murals by Jean Cocteau.
This little chapel just beside Villefranche port is totally covered with brilliant murals by Jean Cocteau (circa 1957-67) combining Bible stories with sea life. It is well worth the 3 euro entry fee even if photography is prohibited. The picture above is a photo of a postcard. Actually the paintings around the altar are better but the postcard was much worse! The Chapel is marked on the map.
Villefranche-sur-Mer main beach, Plage des Mariniéres. This beach is very popular with Niçoises families as it’s a short bus or train ride from Nice and offers calm and protected waters and quite soft sand. It’s marked on the map.
The Côte d’Azur has no shark problems but does get occasional drift-by-stingings in the summertime. The culprit is pelagia nocturna, a small purplish jellyfish (Medusa in French) with a painful but non-deadly sting, not unlike a wasp sting.
Villefranche has anti-jelly netting around the section of the beach pictured, tho’ it doesn’t always work, possibly because baby pelagia are small enough to get through the net. More jellyfish information
Villefranche-sur-Mer coastal path to/from Nice
Villefranche to Nice coastal walk (sentier). Well, not exactly because the Palais de Maeterlinck gets in the way.
Find the path by walking past Villefranche port, staying as close to the water as possible. Go past apartment blocks until you see a very square mini-fort with a colourfully tiled roof. That’s the start of the sentier proper.
Basically Villefranche to Maeterlinck takes 45 minutes but beware, the path is occasionally interrupted by steep steps up and down, as well as some rough and rocky path sections. At Maeterlinck the path rises to the Basse Corniche from where you can either take a bus to Nice (#15 from Hopital Anglais stop to Promenade des Arts or #100 to nearly Port Lympia).
Or you could walk back to Nice on the new and very pleasant Sentier Cap de Nice by walking past Maeterlinck and taking the first steep descent left until you stumble upon the path beside the sea. 20 minutes should get you to Coco Beach. Once there your choice is walk via the port back home or jump a bus from nearby.
Of course you can walk in the reverse direction too. And/or make a detour up to Mount Boron and its fort if you are very fit!
Villefranche-sur-Mer map by Google, with additions by Bugbog.
The very pleasant beach of Marinieres is visible at the top, as is the rail station that will get you cheaply back to Nice or on to Monaco. Fort du Mont Alban is also there and way down the bottom is the coastal walk to (nearly) Nice. Basically to find the walk just stroll past the port, various apartment buildings and stay as close as possible to the sea. The real start of it begins at an old, square military guardhouse with a multicoloured roof. Bon voyage!
So should you visit Villefranche-sur-Mer?
Yes, definitely if you’re up for a pleasant, sandy beach experience with facilities nearby.
If you’re a regular tourist with limited time to see the Côte d’Azur’s main sights it’s questionable.