Villefranche-sur-Mer a Few of Our Favourite Things to Do
Included The owners of Riviera Experience, Shelley and Riccardo, are originally from southern California. However, living in Villefranche-sur-Mer for 20+ years and running their holiday rental company, they have a long list of favourite things to do in town and nearby. Guests staying in their nine (9) beautifully appointed apartments will find a copy of the Riviera Experience reference guide with ideas on things to do and see on the French Riviera.
Riviera Experience Local’s Tips
You can’t beat the setting. Villefranche-sur-Mer is a striking medieval village with a deep harbour on the bay of Villefranche. There has been a settlement on the waterfront since the late 13th century. In 1554, the Duke of Savoy, understanding Villefranche’s strategic location and the deepwater port’s benefits, constructed a fort. The Saint Elme citadel remains but houses three museums today.
“We thought you might enjoy knowing the things that Riccardo and I most love to do here and that our guests seem to enjoy as well. We provide a brief summary of the activity and instructions for how to do it or where to find it. This little guide attempts to get you acquainted with the things that are very local to our little triangle of Villefranche sur Mer, Beaulieu sur Mer and St. Jean Cap Ferrat.”
The bay of Villefranche is considered one of the world’s most beautiful ports, and the town is incredibly picturesque, with its unique architecture spanning several centuries. Nevertheless, Villefranche-sur-Mer, nestled between cosmopolitan Nice and Monaco, retains a small village’s essence. In large part, the coastal topography limits Villefranche’s growth, making it unique. Locals and visitors alike admire the beautiful setting and relaxed lifestyle.
Here are a few highlights from inside this local’s black book:
Get to Know Villefranche
There are four levels to Villefranche-sur-Mer the waterfront, Basse Corniche (called Octroi), Place de la Paix, and the Col de Villefranche. However, reaching the Col with the mini-bus is easiest unless you are at their Romantic Villa.
Explore the Citadel (museums, gardens, beautiful architecture), the Darse marina area (an old dry dock over 250 years old, atelier’s where boats have been built for 500 years, and the oceanographic institute that has 200 world-class scientists doing research).
Discover the old town and the waterfront. Most of the old city was built before 1450, so it is an ancient town! There are many shops and restaurants in the old town, waterfront, and the Octroi level. So whether you are looking for a grocery store, butcher, fish store or tourist information, it’s easy to find everything in Villefranche.
Villefranche has Wednesday and Saturday markets at the Octroi level of town (Basse Corniche), next to the Tourist Office in the gardens. Open 8:30 to 12:30.
Take a stroll along the beachfront of Villefranche. Enjoy exploring Villefranche’s entire water’s edge path, from the end of the beach, down the waterfront quai, around the footpath at the base of the Citadelle on the water’s edge called le Chemin du Rond, through the Darse marina, and beyond to the beginning of the water’s edge path to Nice.
Spend a day at the beach and eat at one of Shelley and Riccardo’s favourite restaurants.
Villefranche Walker’s Paradise
Over several visits, Australian author Susan McDonald stayed in several Riviera Experience apartments, but her favourite is Le Petit Bijou (the Little Jewel). She writes that walking from Villefranche-sur-Mer delivers many lovely surprises.
These enjoyable stops included a quirky hillside café perched on the way to Monaco or the spontaneous swim in a seaside “pool.” Promenade Maurice Rouvier traces the Cap de Ferrat shoreline passing extraordinary villas. English actor David Niven who owned this huge pink villa on the beachfront, made the Cap famous in the 1970s. He lived here until his death. Originally called Lo Scotlietto (Little Rock), it was built in 1880 and rented to duchesses for parties in the 1920s. Charlie Chaplin bought it in the 1950s. In its most famous reincarnation, Dodi Fayed purchased the house as a hideaway during his supposed romance with Princess Diana. They left from this part of the French Riviera to Paris on the day of her death in 1997.
Visit the Villas
Included in every guidebook, Villa Kerylos and Villa Rothschild are worth visiting and be sure to take the audioguides.
Béatrice Ephrussi purchased seven hectares on Cap Ferrat in 1905. The peninsula continues to attract discerning international travellers. On her parcel of land, Madame Ephrussi commissioned the construction of an extravagant, Italian Renaissance-style villa bearing both of her names. The project included magnificent gardens and took seven years (1905 to 1912) to complete. A succession of 10 architects attempted to deliver her vision. The mansion, which has nine exquisite gardens, was bequeathed in 1934 to the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France.
Villa Kérylos rises three stories from its foundations like a white wedding cake overlooking Baie des Fourmis. The exterior includes a small but quite formal garden. In contrast, the interior is ornate, adorned with marble columns and frescos depicting Greek motifs, statues, and sunken baths. Commissioned replicas of luxurious Greek furnishings, fabrics, and tapestries are throughout the home.
Riviera Experience rentals are available year-round, and according to Shelley, winter on the Côte d’Azur is lovely.
Tourism Office (website)
Jardin François Binon
Telephone: +33 (0)4 93 01 73 68
Open daily during July and August, otherwise closed on Sundays.