Visit Villefranche-sur-Mer (Provence, France)
Villefranche-sur-Mer is a town and seaside resort in the Alpes-Maritimes department of the Cote d'Azur, just a short distance east of Nice and close to the French border with Italy.
On a site occupied since roman times, it was in 1295 that 'modern' Villefranche was founded by Charles II of Anjou, at that time Count of Provence. The town soon fell into the hands of the Dukes of Savoy and remained in Italian ownership until 1860, when the region was transferred back to France.
The town is built on terraces up a steep hill that overlooks the azure blue sea and beautiful bay of the Mediterranean below. it is small enough that exploring is easy and all principal attractions can easily be reached from the center.
It is not surprising that the principal attraction for visitors to Villefranche-sur-Mer is the area along the sea front (the Quai Courbet) and around the beautiful harbour and pebble beach. The port is predominantly now a pleasure port but a small fishing fleet also operates from here.
The harbour is now a popular place for a promenade with many bars and restaurants along the waterfront and in the small square (the Place Amelie Polonnais) just behind the harbour. Many of the houses in Villefranche-sur-Mer are painted in bright orange and red pastel colours creating a very picturesque ensemble.
Note: the best view of the town and natural harbour is from the corniche road above the far end of the beach (or from the train arriving from Menton direction), ideally seen in the morning when the sun is on the front of the buildings.
Just behind the harbour is the attractive old town with beautiful ancient houses lining the steep cobbled streets that climb the hill through the town.
One interesting feature that reminds you that you are in an ancient town - the streets that run along the hill (rather than up and down) pass through arches under the houses, creating a great atmosphere.
The best known of these is called the Rue Obscura, a vaulted street more than 100 metres long that follows the original medieval ramparts of the town.
Towards the edge of the old town (towards the railway station) is a small square with a fountain called the Place du Conseil - this unassuming square was once the centre of local government for Villefranche-sur-Mer.
The principal street through the centre of the town is the Rue du Poilu, and several houses on this street feature trompe l'oeil paintings on their facades.
Poilu is the French name given to the soldiers who fought in the trenches during the First World War (after poil - hair, because the soldiers didn't shave very often), and the road was renamed for the villagers who set off for war along this street towards the train station.
There are also a couple of churches and religious monuments of interest here. Principal among them is the small Chapel Saint-Pierre, in the harbour and featuring decoration by Jean Cocteau. In Villefranche-sur-Mer village center you can also see the baroque style Church of Saint-Michel, 14th century church rebuilt in the 18th century.
There are also some other buildings and highlights to be seen in Villefranche. Among these the most dominant is the 16th century citadel, the large walled fortress that stands poised on a headland above the sea and the town and reached by a short path from the town center.
The citadel is now home to the town hall and other government offices, and several small but high quality museums principally related to art and free to enter: the Volti Foundation has sculptures and drawings; the Roux collection is principally ceramic figurines and historical portrayals; the Goetz Boumeester Museum features collages and paintings.
Many of the buildings inside the recently renovated citadel are painted in bright colours, an interesting contrast to the imposing grey walls of the citadel itself. From the citadel walls you can also see the gardens of the theatre.
Beyond the citadel there is a marina that still has several of the historically important naval buildings such as the corderie and officers barracks.
There are several weekly markets in Villefranche-sur-Mer, with the traditional Provencal market each saturday morning on Promenade de l'Octroi being the most popular with visitors.
As well as Jean Cocteau several other well known artists and musicians have been attracted to stay at Villefrance, including Keith Richards, Bono, Tina Turner and Elton John.
As one of the most picturesque villages along the riviera it is not surprising that Villefranche-sur-Mer is a very popular holiday destination both in its own right and also a day-trip destination from the other nearby resorts of the Cote d'Azur such as Nice, and can become very crowded during the summer.
There are numerous attractions close to Villefranche-sur-Mer, including other resorts along the coast such as Menton to the east and Nice to the west, and the coast walk and house and gardens of Villa Ephrussi on Cap Ferrat.
A short distance inland the charming medieval village of Eze stands high above the Mediterranean and a visit is highly recommended.
Photos of Villefranche-sur-Mer
Click any picture to start the gallery
Address: Villefranche-sur-Mer, Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, Provence, 6230 || GPS: latitude 43.705, longitude 7.3125
Map of Villefranche-sur-Mer & places nearby
Highlights close by
Cap Ferrat 3km
See lots more places to visit nearby and a more detailed map at places near Villefranche-sur-Mer.
See Provence and Alpes-Maritimes (the region and department for Villefranche-sur-Mer) for more travel ideas...
Suggested tourist attractions to visit near Villefranche-sur-Mer, France
- Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild - remarkable garden
- Parc zoologique du Cap Ferrat - zoo or wildlife park
- Nice - secteur sauvegarde (3km)
- Jardin botanique - remarkable garden (4km)
- Tete de Chien - site of natural beauty (8km)
- Trophy of Augustus - national monument (9km)
- Parc Phœnix - zoo or wildlife park (9km)
- Baou de Saint-Jeannet - site of natural beauty (15km)
- Sainte-Agnes - most beautiful village (16km)
- Palais Carnolès - remarkable garden (17km)
Market days in Villefranche-sur-Mer: Regular market(s) are held in Villefranche-sur-Mer each Saturday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)
The French version of this page is at Villefranche-sur-Mer (Francais)