Villefranche-sur-Mer ... my home away from home
My first experience of actually staying in France was when I studied French at the Institut de Français in Villefranche, in October, 2013. My 53rd birthday treat to myself. I had an absolutely marvellous, month-long immersion French language experience, high on the hillside above the harbour in beautiful Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Before that, I had visited France only twice, but I'd never stayed more than a few days. Always passing through, but never a ‘local’ – even for just a while. I yearned for that sense of belonging because I knew that was what my Francophile heart desired. To practice my French language skills and journey alone to France. The Institut came highly recommended.
I can't remember how I actually came across Villefranche as a venue or place to stay. But once I discovered it, I knew it was the place for me. With an international airport just 25 minutes away (I'm from Australia), situated on the wonderful French Riviera, and with close links to Monaco and Italy not far away, I was decided.
On this occasion, I had a beautiful self-contained apartment in the heart of Villefranche-sur-Mer for One. Whole. Month. Oh, bliss!
The prospect of staying in Villefranche for 4 weeks+, learning French all day, relaxing at sidewalk bistros, and eating at fabulous retaurants, was very tempting. Imagine, touring local villages like La Turbie, Antibes, Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Tourrettes-sur-Loup, and drinking French wine! Plenty of time to explore the French Riviera and fall in love with the language. To get to know the beautiful, historic village and its people. Experience the opportunity to appreciate the location, walk along the Promenade des Marinières, and swim in the beloved Mediterranean Sea. Heaven!
I imagined languishing on the beach at Beaulieu sur Mer, visit Villa Kerylos, or swanning around like a Baroness at the Villa Ephrussi. Perhaps catch the bus along the spectacular Moyenne Corniche to Eze, before the shops open and the tourists got there.
To live like a Frenchwoman, however briefly, and become truly connected with this place that forever has my heart. I am in heaven in Villefranche-sur-Mer.
A short stroll down from the Boulevard Napoléan III (which is where you would arrive should you catch a bus from Nice) and you are into le vieux village. Discover quiet walkways, hidden streets, and ancient houses with old shutters and chalky paint. Painted in yellows, oranges, and pinks, they are like an imagined Mediterranean sunset dream.
Further towards the harbour, restaurants of all styles line les petites rues. Although the old village itself is not large, it is a gastronomique delight.
Villefranche has an ancient tale, with the Rue Obscure (the 'hidden street') built along the first ramparts of the harbour and dating back to 1260. It was designed to protect the villagers from bombardment, but also came to be very useful for storing wine - bien sûr! It's an interesting walk underneath and behind some of the village buildings and restaurants, quite unique and rich in atmosphere.
At the water's edge, Villefranche Harbour is breathtaking.
Luxury yachts float alongside simple local boats and fine restaurants line the wide promenade with tables on the water's edge. The occasional sportscar shares the Quai de l'Amiral Courbet with happy visitors and locals. With a vista around the bay to the Villa Rothschild and Villa Kerylos and beyond, this is a spectacular coastline.
With one of the deepest harbours in the Mediterranean, many accommodation venues have views of the bay or the township. The area is truly breathtaking. The cruise ships come in here, and the passengers disembark and delight in this village that captures hearts - including my own.
If you have the resources, the Welcome Hotel is right on the waterfront. Many of the rooms and suites have balconies with spectacular views of Cap Ferrat and the Mediterranean laid out before you.
Discover charming architecture, worn shutters, wrought-ironwork, and colour everywhere. A few shops, weekly brocante and food markets, and a terrific variety of beautiful restaurants and bistros makes relaxing for a week (or a month) in this place an absolute joy!
Villefranche-sur-Mer is a marvellous spot from which to explore the marvellous French Riviera.
It's is a one-stop, unpack-your-bags-and-relax style of destination, with outbound day trips to beautiful locations. Plus, local site visits to Villa Kerylos and Villa Rothschild add to the local attractions, as well as some beautiful walking tours of the area. Picture lazy brocante Sundays, or simply time-out to eat, read, relax, and feel like a local.
And while you’re here, consider taking an immersion course at the Instituit de Francais, and really learn the language. I can highly recommend it for so many reasons. I truly feel that my grasp of the language continues to grow, years on from that one month of study. It was the best gift I ever gave myself, and I certainly plan to do it again one day.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is located in the first bay east of Nice. It’s the ideal location for savouring this special part of the world, and for discovering the French Riviera. Eze, Monaco, and Italy lie a short distance to the east, with Nice, Antibes, Juan les Pins, Cannes and beyond to the west.
To get to Villefranche-sur-Mer, take the train from Nice, or take bus 100, or 81. The train takes about 5 minutes, and the bus takes about 15 minutes. The railway station is located above the beach and it takes about 5 minutes to walk into the old town from there. The bus arrives on the Blvd Napolean lll and it's a downhill walk to the old town from there.
Be prepared to climb – either up or down. This is hillside country, down to the water.
Be prepared by packing light if you can ... they don't call it lugg-age for no reason! And you'll really feel the weight of it in the old village.
Take a couple of minutes to enjoy this little video
The music from the fabulous Baby et Lulu ... my favourite French chanteuses. Actually, they're Australian, and do a terrific job of all the songs on their album. I love nothing more than to wind the windows down on my car whilst I'm out for a drive, with the music way up and trying, at least, to sing along in French!
What's your favourite French music? Leave me a YouTube link in the comments if you have one, and/or let me know what you thought of your experience in beautiful Villefranche.