Villefranche-sur-Mer is a small beach resort and residential town (popn 30,000) on the French Riviera. The deep water harbour is home to Mediterranean cruise boats, whose tenders routinely disgorge several thousand passengers on organised trips to nearby Eze Village and Monaco. It sports excellent restaurants and a coarse sandy beach much favoured over Nice’s stony bay. Convenient harbour car parking attracts visitors from Monaco and along the Riviera. The Citadelle st Elme dates back to antiquity and the town offers easy access to the millionaires peninsula of St Jean Cap Ferrat.
Villefranche-sur-Mer, a prestigious city on the Côte d’Azur, near Nice in the Alpes-Maritimes, offers you a grandiose panorama as soon as you arrive, whether on the low, medium or large corniche. Villefranche, a radiant city with its port and its 16th century citadel, at the foot of the vast amphitheater of hills and the majestic curve of its shore, owes its cachet to its ancient creation 130 years BC
Villefranche-sur-Mer has kept many vestiges of its origin which have made it, with the constant variety of its colors, the city of painters and artists. A maritime city with a privileged location at the bottom of one of the most beautiful harbors in the Mediterranean, it has become one of the tourist ports of the Côte d’Azur, a stopover point for many cruises. The most beautiful units of the French and foreign fleets stay several times a year in its harbor. Villefranche, a fishing port with a constantly renewed picturesque, also shelters a flotilla of pleasure boats, next to cruising yachts. The charm of Villefranche is due to the mildness of its climate, a condition which allows the exuberance of exceptional vegetation and sumptuous flowering.
Villefranche-sur-Mer has an exceptional congress center within the citadel, suitable for both work and rest. Due to its location, Villefranche is a center for beautiful walks and excursions. The forest of Mont Boron and the fort of Mont Alban towards Nice – Beaulieu by the beach and the Baie des Fourmis – Cap Ferrat – The Saint-Michel plateau with its old chapel and its orientation table – the charm of the many tourist trails connecting the three Cornices. The tourist office provides on request all useful information for your excursions, walks, sea trips, or the visit of the surrounding villages, and offers guided tours of the Old Village and the Citadel.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is located on the Côte d’Azur, between Nice and Monaco, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Separated from Nice, of which it is bordered by Mont Boron, Mont Alban and Mont Vinaigrier and distant about 10 km from Monaco, the city sprawls on the slopes of the harbor of Villefranche, one of the natural anchorages deepest in the western Mediterranean.
Villefranche-sur-Mer adjoins the city of Nice to the east along Mont Boron, Mont Alban and Mont Vinaigrier, and 6.2 mi (10.0 km) south west of Monaco. The bay (rade) of Villefranche is one of the deepest natural harbours of any port in the Mediterranean Sea and provides safe anchorage for large ships from easterly winds. Reaching depths of 320 ft (95 m) between the Cape of Nice and Cap Ferrat; it extends to the south to form a 1,700 ft (500 m) abyss known as the undersea Canyon of Villefranche at about one nautical mile off the coastline.
The city limits extend to the hills surrounding the bay climbing from sea level to an altitude of 1,893 ft (577 m), the highest point of Mont-Leuze, reflecting on land the features found offshore. The three “Corniches” or main roads linking Nice to Italy pass through Villefranche.
Villefranche-sur-Mer, nestled at the bottom of its harbor, enjoys a very mild climate: High cliffs shelter it from the east, west and north winds. The south, open to the sea is still protected by the narrowness of the harbor, except during rare but spectacular winter gusts.
The harbor of Villefranche is frequented from Antiquity by Greek and Roman sailors. They use it as an anchorage and give it the name of Olivula Portus. However, the victim of repeated barbaric attacks. In the 9th century, pirates Saracens held at the location of Villefranche-sur-Mer a fortress. The inhabitants abandon the seaside and take refuge on the heights; they founded another village there, Montolivo.
By the fall of the Carolingian Empire, the area was part of Lotharingia and later part of the County of Provence. In 1295, Charles II, Duke of Anjou, then Count of Provence, enticed the inhabitants of Montolivo and surroundings to settle closer to the coastline in order to secure the area from pirates. By charter, he established Villefranche as a “free port”, thus the name, granting tax privileges and port fee rights that lasted well into the 18th century.
By 1388, East Provence became part of the Duchy of Savoy as a result of the disputed succession to the heirless Queen Joan I of Naples. For the next 400 years, the area known as the County of Nice was hotly disputed between the Holy Roman Empire to which Savoy was an ally and the French.
In 1543, the Franco-Turkish armies sacked and occupied the city after the siege of Nice, prompting Duke Emmanuel Philibert to secure the site by building an impressive citadel and a fort on nearby Mont Alban. In the late 17th century, the area fell to the French but was returned to Savoy after the Peace of Utrecht.
During the 18th century, the city lost some of its maritime importance to the new harbour being built in Nice but remained a military and naval base. In 1744, a Franco-Spanish army under the Prince of Conti overran the Piedmontese regiments of Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia at the Fort of Mont Alban in the heights above the town.
In 1793, the French returned to re-occupy Villefranche and the county of Nice remained part of the Napoleonic Empire until 1814. It was returned to the Kingdom of Sardinia by the Congress of Vienna.
In 1860, as a consequence of the Risorgimento, it was given to France by treaty following a plebiscite.
By the late 19th century, it had become an important Imperial Russian Navy base and the Russians established an oceanographic laboratory in the old lazaret.
The site was also the winter residence for royalty and wealthy visitors.
Villefranche’s bay is notable for reaching a significant depth only a short distance from shore. As a result, it has become an important port over the years. Since World War I, the United States Navy has called on a regular basis, making Villefranche the home port of the U.S. 6th Fleet from 1948 to February 1966, when French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO and required U.S. forces to leave. Just prior to 1966, the flagship of the Commander Sixth Fleet rotated between USS Springfield and USS Little Rock. Since the 1980s Villefranche has been used by cruise ships. It is the most visited cruise ship port of call in France.
Places and monuments
The town has seven monuments listed in the inventory of historic monuments and 160 places and monuments listed in the general inventory of cultural heritage. It also has 66 objects listed in the inventory of historic monuments and 95 objects listed in the general inventory of cultural heritage.
St Michael’s Church, Church Street, in the heart of the old town, was built in the first quarter of the xiv th century and was transformed at the end of the xviii th century. This church has taken on the Savoyard Baroque style. It houses several pieces of art, including a painting of St. Michael, a Christ carved from the xviii th century (says Christ convict) and a wooden polychrome statue of St. Roch and his dog. This building is classified as a historic monument on June 26, 1990.
Chapelle Saint-Pierre (xvi th century), located on the fishing port, instead Amelie Pollonais. In 1957, Jean Cocteau, with the help of the painter Jean-Paul Brusset, decorated it with wall frescoes evoking the Mediterranean and periods in the life of Saint Pierre. The chapel belongs to the prud’homie of the fishermen of Villefranche. It is classified as a historic monument on December 27, 1996. Near the Saint-Pierre chapel, bronze bust representing Jean Cocteau, work of the sculptor Cyril de La Patellière (1989), inaugurated in the presence of Jean Marais and Edouard Dermit. The base is a monolithic stone from the citadel.
Chapelle Sainte-Élisabeth, rue du Vallons 1595.
Chapel of L’Ange-Gardien, avenue de l’Ange Gardien 1716.
Chapel under the title of Our Lady of the Snows, called the Black Madonna Boulevard Sweden xvii th century.
Chapelle Saint-Grat, avenue Olivula 1817.
Chapel St. Elmo, the citadel xvi th century.
Chapel of the former hospice Avenue Clemenceau xviii th century.
Buildings and public places
The Saint-Elme Citadel, listed as a historic monument, it now houses the town hall as well as the Volti, Goetz – Boumesteer museums, the 24 th BCA souvenir room and the Roux collection.
The port of Darse is the old military port. It is home to many activities (marina, shipyard, etc.). It is managed by the Nice-Côte d’Azur Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Villefranche-sur-Mer Oceanological Observatory is located there. Dependent on the Pierre-et-Marie-Curie University (University of Paris VI) and also placed under the supervision of the CNRS, it is the seat of research activities with three laboratories (oceanology, marine geosciences and cell biology). About 150 people work there. Buildings and infrastructure are listed as historic monuments on November 2, 1991.
The port of Health, fishing port of Villefranche, at the foot of the old town, houses the ferry terminal for liners anchored in the harbor of Villefranche. It is the site of the naval combat flowered each year in February.
The Obscure Street, in the heart of the old town, is a street covered 130 meters built in 1260, located along the first rampart. It was listed as a historic monument on October 4, 1932.
The Goetz-Boumeester museum, located in the Citadel, which contains a hundred works by the painter-engraver Henri Goetz (1909-1989) and his wife Christine Boumeester (1904-1971) who donated their collection to the city.
The Museum says Museum of Ruins, then vacation home called Villa.
The Villa Leopolda, appears to be the most expensive mansion in the world.
The so-called Torre Vecchia tower and ramparts (remains).
Ramparts (vestige known as Le Bastionnet).
The public garden known as Jardins François-Binon.
The war memorial.
Obelisk and humpback in the cemetery.
Monument to Jean Cocteau.
Funerary slab of brother Jérôme Cacherano de Osasco.
Cenotaph by Octave-Emmanuel Scarampo of Cairo.
Plage des Marinières is the main beach and is located at the north end of the bay. It stretches for 700 m (0.43 mi) under the track of the railway line linking Nice to Italy.
Plage de la Darse is a smaller pebble beach located behind the main jetty of the harbour of La Darse.
The port of the Savoy house
During the dedication of the County of Nice to the Duke of Savoy, in 1388, Villefranche is dedicated to the duchy of Savoy. The city becomes the sole maritime gateway of Savoy States until the construction of the port of Nice in the xviii th century and derives its income from all merchant ships docking at the port (right Villefranche).
Following the occupation, in 1543, of the harbor of Villefranche by the Franco-Turkish fleet commanded by Khayr ad-Din Barberousse, the Duke Emmanuel-Philibert of Savoy (1528-1580) ordered its fortification.
Duke Emmanuel-Philibert only owned Vercelli and the County of Nice at the start of his reign in 1553. He joined Philippe II in Spain. He won the battle of Saint-Quentin, theAugust 10, 1557. He regained his duchy of Savoy in 1559, at the signing of the second treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis. He decides to engage in the struggle between the Christian world and the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean. Annual conflicts can pit fleets of two hundred to three hundred galleys. To participate in this conflict, he decided to make Villefranche a well-protected port allowing the construction and maintenance of galleys. The fort of Mont Alban, the fort of Saint-Hospice and the citadel of Saint-Elme are thus built. The latter was completed in 1557. A first war fleet was built in the port of Darse.
The French occupied the county of Nice several times between 1710 and 1722 and again in 1744, during the War of the Austrian Succession, when the Prince of Conti stormed Mount Alban with his Franco-Spanish troops, driving out the Savoisiens by Charles-Emmanuel III. During the xviii th century, the city lost its importance and maritime port with the construction of Lympia harbor of Nice.
In 1793, French revolutionary troops again invaded the county of Nice and Villefranche in Piedmont came under French administration until 1814 which saw the return to its special status under deduction and protection of the Duke of Savoy.
In 1856, the Duke of Savoy leased the Villefranche lazaretto to the Imperial Russian Navy, which would make the port a leading naval base for its ships in the Mediterranean, particularly the following year, with the supply of coal to the boats. This arrival will cause the construction of important infrastructures by Victor Emmanuel II, in particular the road of the harbor.
Cultural events and festivities
At the end of February, the Combat naval fleuri brings together the sharp – eyed Villefranche and the skiff decorated with flowers at the Port de la Santé to throw bouquets to the crowd gathered on the quays. The event has been held every year since 1902.
Since 2009, the city of Villefranche-sur-Mer organizes with the association NICEXPO the Franchement Art fair in the Citadel of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
In recent years, the Pasqui Trophy, a gathering of the most beautiful traditional yachts, has been organized in Villefranche-sur-Mer: flagship event, highlighting the trades of maritime crafts and more particularly the Gilbert Pasqui shipyard, forming great shipwrights.
The bay of Villefranche is the site of freediving competitions. The first “world freediving team championship” took place there in 1996. It was the favorite place of evolution for Loïc Leferme, who repeatedly beat the world record for freediving no limit. In 2010, Aurore Asso it broke the record of France in female Apnea constant weight at -70 meters. The eighth freediving world championship took place in Villefranche-sur-Mer in September 2012.
The Beach Villefranche is a great day trip from Nice because of its proximity, size and beach. It’s still not a fine sand, but much better than the smooth stones that make up Nice’s beaches. Additionally, because the town is quite small, there are next to no tourists clogging up the quaint, waterfront town. With this said the beach is very busy in the high season and very narrow so space is limited.
The town is full of small shops, mostly catering for the tourist trade but also plenty offering the usual services for the permanent population. The tourist shops are very expensive. There is a food market on Saturday mornings and an antiques market on Sundays.
Villefranche has no shortage of good restaurants though very few if you are on a tight budget. the ones on the waterfront are the best known and pricey but you can find more reasonable ones back into the town.
Le Cosmo. Great atmosphere, friendly service and a good position. Good children’s menu. A family of two adults and four children can eat well for about 100 Euros.
Café dell Arte. A great little lunch place on the main street in the center of town. Salads, fantastic omelettes, and cheap prices. Between 5 and 10 Euro.
La Serre. Probably the best value in town and very friendly. Slightly unglamorous position but bags of charm.
The route by car from the Basse Corniche down to the old town and waterfront is very tricky in the high season due to the narrow streets and heavy traffic, coaches etc. When you arrive you will also find it difficult and expensive to park. The best way to get to Villefranche is by taking a TER train. They run along the coastal towns between Nice and Monaco, making several stops along the way. Tickets are very cheap (for an adult from Nice to Villefranche is 1.60 Euro) and can be purchased and then used at any time, unlike the more strict TGV in France. Trains run everyday and arrive in Villefranche approximately every 20 minutes, depending on the time of day. The station is in the centre and an easy walk to the old town.
The town is best seen on foot. It is a relatively easy bicycle ride from Nice–there and on to Cap Ferrat and back to Nice should only take 5 hours max.Stick to the lower road
The French Riviera is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France. There is no official boundary, but it is usually considered to extend from Cassis, Toulon or Saint-Tropez on the west to Menton at the France–Italy border in the east, where the Italian Riviera joins. The coast is entirely within the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France. The Principality of Monaco is a semi-enclave within the region, surrounded on three sides by France and fronting the Mediterranean. Riviera is an Italian word that corresponds to the ancient Ligurian territory, wedged between the Var and Magra rivers.
The climate of the Côte d’Azur is temperate Mediterranean with mountain influences on the northern parts of the departments of Var and Alpes-Maritimes. It is characterized by dry summers and mild winters which help reduce the likelihood of freezing. The Côte d’Azur enjoys significant sunshine in mainland France for 300 days a year.
This coastline was one of the first modern resort areas. It began as a winter health resort for the British upper class at the end of the 18th century. With the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century, it became the playground and vacation spot of British, Russian, and other aristocrats, such as Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II and King Edward VII, when he was Prince of Wales. In the summer, it also played home to many members of the Rothschild family. In the first half of the 20th century, it was frequented by artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Francis Bacon, Edith Wharton, Somerset Maugham and Aldous Huxley, as well as wealthy Americans and Europeans. After World War II, it became a popular tourist destination and convention site. Many celebrities, such as Elton John and Brigitte Bardot, have homes in the region.
The eastern part (maralpine) of the Côte d’Azur has been largely transformed by the concreting of the coast linked to the tourist development of foreigners from North Europe and the French,. The Var part is better preserved from urbanization with the exception of the agglomeration of Fréjus-Saint-Raphaël affected by the demographic growth of the maralpin coast and the agglomeration of Toulon which has been marked by urban sprawl on its part West and by a spread of industrial and commercial areas (Grand Var).