Villefranche-sur-Mer the best of French Coast Lifestyle
Shelley and Riccardo are both Americans who have lived in Villefranche-sur-Mer for 21 years. They initially arrived in this charming seaside town to visit a friend, then returned for an extended stay and decided that they never wanted to leave the French Riviera. In 2004, they launched a holiday apartment rental business in Villefranche, leaving their corporate jobs and relocating from the US. Today, they have nine (9) rental apartments in Villefranche-sur-Mer’s old town. The Riviera Experience rentals are available year-round, and according to Shelley, winter on the Côte d’Azur is lovely.
We asked Shelley and Riccardo to share some of their favourite things about living in Villefranche-sur-Mer and the reasons you should plan a visit.
Living in Villefranche-sur-Mer
Tell us a bit about where you live on the French Riviera?
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, had a fort constructed. The Saint Elme citadel remains but houses three museums today.
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. 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, which makes it so unique. Locals and visitors alike admire the beautiful setting and relaxed lifestyle.
Market days in Villefranche are Wednesdays and Saturdays. One of our favourites is the cheese man (fromager) at the Saturday market, his name is Arnaud, and he knows his cheeses. The neighbouring village, a 20-minute walk along the coast or a 2-minute train ride, has a daily market. Nice is only a 5-minute train ride for more markets and shopping. We are lucky as there are plenty of markets in the area.
Why is Villefranche-sur-Mer a great place for someone to visit?
There is much to do in the area, the lifestyle on the coast is lovely, and the setting is captivating. We find that most of our clients return, as they can’t get enough of Villefranche and the French Riviera.
Walking through the tiny streets and winding alleys of Villefranche-sur-Mer is a history lesson. Running parallel to the waterfront Rue Obscure (“Dark Street”) dates from the 13th century. Vaulted arcades cover this underground road. Over the centuries, the road served as a safe passage for soldiers, a place for storing food and wine, and during WWII offered the people of Villefranche some protection from the Germans.
There are several churches in Villefranche-sur-Mer, including Chapelle St Pierre, where artist Jean Cocteau painted images of St Peter in 1957. The baroque Église Saint-Michel (Saint Michael’s Church) dates from the 1750s. Its exterior is a lovely palette of soft pastels, and inside you find an organ (1790), possibly the oldest in the area.
Is there a must-see attraction in Villefranche-sur-Mer?
Nothing like Paris’ Louvre, but there are many interesting sites within walking distance or a short train or bus ride away. Those things include museums, outdoor activities, fantastic restaurants, great shopping, beautiful sightseeing (147 medieval villages in our department), and tons of beaches and towns along the sea. Villefranche-sur-Mer is in the heart of the French Riviera, and it is truly a paradise.
Eating and Drinking in Town
Where do you go for coffee?
Hotel Welcome is an excellent choice for a coffee or an aperitif as the location is fabulous and the staff are lovely. In Beaulieu, the Grand Café has terrific Italian-style coffee.
Do you have a favourite bakery?
A bit spoilt for choice, we have four (4) boulangeries in Villefranche-sur-Mer. The one at L’Octroi and the Col are particularly good. But my all-time favourite, the best and the award-winning one, is in Nice called Jean-Marc Bordonnat. It’s hard to find lousy bread or croissants in this area, although the best ones are definitely in a league of their own.
Where do you recommend going for a casual lunch with friends?
That depends on the time of year. Summer, Anjuna or Plongoire. Mid-season, Espuma or Paloma. In winter, Bar des Oiseaux or Bistro d’Antoine in Nice. Excellent restaurants are abundant as the Côte d’Azur has become a significant food mecca for France.
Where is your go-to spot for an apéro?
Again, it depends on the time of the year. Hotel Welcome in Villefranche, but there are so many others as well.
What is your top pick for a romantic dinner?
Paloma in the summer, the food and setting are amazing.
Where do you like to go for dinner with friends?
Espuma in Villefranche on the waterfront.
What is your pick for family-friendly dining?
For families, La Voile Bleu in summer and Le Serre during the winter or summer months.
Touring from Villefranche sur Mer
What is the best day trip from Villefranche-sur-Mer?
There are plenty of choices for day trips from our village, here are a few ideas. Saint Paul de Vence is a gorgeous medieval town with amazing art galleries. St. Tropez is a ferry ride away for a dose of glitz, some shopping and great beaches. Head to Nice for museums, the old town, and the Promenade des Anglais. Go to Italy and explore the Italian Riviera and eat some pasta! Don’t miss Cannes and Antibes; both are lovely towns to explore, shop. Relax at the beach for the day with a private restaurant, and it’s the height of affordable, indulgent pleasure.
Where to Stay
If money was no object, where would you recommend staying?
One of our apartments or splurge and stay at the Chevre d’Or in Eze village.
Where do you recommend for comfortable accommodation?
All of our apartments are designed and furnished for comfortable holiday rentals.
Beachfront Bliss is a studio apartment, perfect for a couple or solo travellers.
Le Beau Balcon (1-bedroom), set in the old town, gives you the “I live here” experience on holiday.
For spectacular views, the Waterfront Penthouse is a romantic, 2-bedroom home away from home.