Villefranche-sur-Mer, Alpes-Maritimes: tourism & sightseeing
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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. It is a small town and the picturesque harbour and setting make it a highlight when you are exploring this part of the riviera.
On a site occupied since roman times, it was in 1295 that 'modern' Villefranche-sur-Mer 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.
France This Way comment: Villefranche-sur-Mer is one of our favourite towns in France and we always make sure we visit when we are nearby: with a beach, citadel, pretty harbour and colourful old town there is lots to see and always something new to discover.
The town is built on terraces up a steep hill that overlooks Cap Ferrat and the azure blue sea of the Mediterranean below. Villefranche-sur-Mer is small enough that exploring is easy and all principal attractions can easily be reached from the center (and from the train station if you come by train).
Most visits to Villefranche-sur-Mer will start on the sea front in Quai Courbet and with a promenade around the beautiful harbour. The port is predominantly now a pleasure port but a small fishing fleet also operates from here. The harbour is a popular and bustling part of the town with many bars and restaurants along the waterfront and in the small square, the Place Amelie Polonnais, just next to the harbour.
While you are in the harbour area you can see the small Chapel Saint-Pierre, featuring decoration by Jean Cocteau.
Just behind the harbour you can explore the attractive old town with beautiful ancient houses lining the steep cobbled streets that climb the hill through the town. This part of the town is pedestrianised and many of the houses in Villefranche-sur-Mer are painted in bright orange and red pastel colours creating a very picturesque ensemble.
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.
One interesting feature that reminds you that you are in an ancient town: the streets that run along the hill 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 and is exactly as it was hundreds of years ago.
In the center you can also see the baroque style Church of Saint-Michel, dating from the 14th century but rebuilt in the 18th century. 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 Citadel of Villefranche-sur-Mer
France this Way comment: I think that many visitors don't bother climbing to the citadel. This is a big mistake. The citadel contains some lovely buildings, nice gardens, various works of art and interesting museums and is free to enter and is an important part of your visit to Villefranche-sur-Mer!
The most important historic monument in Villefranche 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. Many of the buildings inside the 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.
The citadel is 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 (very impressive); the Roux collection is principally ceramic figurines and historical portrayals; the Goetz Boumeester Museum features collages and paintings.
Beyond the citadel there is a marina that still has several of the historically important naval buildings such as the corderie and officers barracks.
Other visitor information
- The main beach is to the east of the town centre below the train station.
- 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.
- The best view across Villefranche-sur-Mer and the harbour is from the corniche road above the far end of the beach, ideally seen in the morning when the sun is on the front of the buildings.
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.
Map of Villefranche-sur-Mer and places nearby
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Address: Villefranche-sur-Mer, Nice, Provence, 6230, France || GPS: latitude 43.705, longitude 7.3125
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Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby
- Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild: remarkable garden
- Parc zoologique du Cap Ferrat: zoo or wildlife park
- Nice: secteur sauvegarde (3 km)
- Jardin botanique: remarkable garden (4 km)
- Cascade de Gairaut: site of natural beauty (6 km)
- Tete de Chien: site of natural beauty (8 km)
- Trophy of Augustus: national monument (9 km)
- Parc Phœnix: zoo or wildlife park (9 km)
- Baou de Saint-Jeannet: site of natural beauty (15 km)
- Sainte-Agnes: most beautiful village (16 km)
- Serre de la Madone: remarkable garden (17 km)
- La citronneraie: remarkable garden (17 km)
Market days in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France
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)