It is easy to see why Villefranche-sur-Mer is a popular seaside town to visit. Located on the outskirts of Nice, in Provence on the French Riviera, it has a lovely beach, a harbor, and a maze of narrow winding alleys.
It is a favored beach escape for local residents, as well as being a village with a ton of charm. In all, an obligatory stop for tourists visiting the area.
Villefranche has been populated since antiquity with Greek and Roman sailors regularly in the area for trade. In the 14th century, Villefranche was a part of the independent Duchy of Savoie, with nearby Annecy as its capital, as part of the County of Nice.
The town was an important maritime port on the Mediterranean coast. Due to its location, the area was subjected to centuries of dispute between the French, Italians, Spanish, and Savoyards.
The area was finally ceded to France in the 1860 Treaty of Turin, during which the Duke of Savoy became the King of Italy.
Today Villefranche-sur-Mer has been overtaken by the larger industrial ports of Marseille and Nice, leaving it as a charming (if slightly expensive) village along the Mediterranean sea. Perfect for tourists and the French bourgeoisie.
Things to do in Villefranche-sur-Mer
1. Walk along the beach
The waterfront promenade leads to the most popular beach in the area, known as Plage des Marinières. This beautiful pebble beach regularly attracts Nice residents as well as tourists, thanks to its easy accessibility. The train tracks are right above!
2. Wander through the Old town
When visiting Villefranche sur Mer, you shouldn’t leave out the little streets of the Old Town. They take you on an adventure through a maze of winding alleys, plenty of stairs and a few curious cats.
Don’t miss the St. Michael’s Church right in the heart of the Old Town, which was built in the late 18th century in the Italian Baroque style.
3. Visit Saint Elme Citadel
Villefranche’s Saint Elme Citadel is a fortification structure overlooking the Bay of Villefranche and is a more than just a pleasant area to stroll. Nowadays it houses the town hall. There are also a few museums you can visit. However, it is the views from the Citadel that are truly spectacular.
Often you can observe large cruise ships anchoring in the waters nearby. The Bay of Villefranche gets very deep quite close to the shore making it a prime destination for cruise ships.
4. Enjoy the Mediterranean cuisine
Dine with a view of the sea, a scintillating bottle of wine, and enjoy the quiet atmosphere, away from the hustle and bustle of Nice. You can read more about local foods and drinks to try in Provence here.
How to get to Villefranche-sur-Mer?
Villefranche-sur-Mer lies just on the outskirts of Nice, so it’s extremely easy to get there. A car ride or a scooter takes only 15 minutes, while a train ride takes 10 minutes. You can even walk, which takes about an hour or less.
How many days should you spend here?
You can easily visit as a day trip from Nice, but spend a night to make the most of the beach-town vibe.
Where should you stay?
For the best atmosphere, stay near the Old Town, right in the heart of the action. Note: If you are visiting in the summer, make sure you stay at a hotel that has air-conditioning, as this is not common in France.
When planning a visit, try to avoid the weekends if you can as the beaches get quite crowded. In the evening, though, the Old Town magically empties and you can share the charm of Villefranche-sur-Mer with just the locals.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about traveling around the French Riviera. Bon voyage and à bientôt!