Villefranche-sur-Mer was founded in 1295 by Charles II of Anjou, at that time the Count of Provence. The town then fell under the rule of the Dukes of Savoy where it remained in Italian ownership until it was transferred back to France in 1860.
The bay (rade) of Villefranche is one of the deepest natural harbours in the Mediterranean, and was previously a base for the US 6th Fleet up to 1967. Today, it is still a favourite anchorage for yachts and large cruise ships.
A popular spot for creatives
One of the most picturesque towns along the coast, it has been a favourite destination for artists and film crews including being used as a backdrop for scenes in Jewel of the Nile, Ronin, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Mr Bean’s Holiday.
The ‘Moteurs…Action! Stunt Show Spectacular’ at Walt Disney Studio’s Park at Disneyland Paris has show scenery that was inspired by the seafront terrace houses at Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Villefranche-sur-Mer Train Station
Villefranche-sur-Mer train station is located overlooking the bay of Villefranche on the coastal line.
There are two platforms – eastbound Voie 1 (for trains heading in an easterly direction towards Monaco, Menton, Ventimille in Italy), and westbound Voie 2 (for trains heading towards Nice, Antibes, Cannes and further westwards).
Facilities at the station
There is a ticket office with an attendant to purchase train tickets. If the ticket office is closed, each platform has a blue ticket machine accessible all hours for purchasing tickets – coins are best (accepts 10 centimes, 20 centimes, 50 centimes €1 coin, €2 coin), as sometimes the machines are temperamental and do not accept non-French issued credit/debit cards. When the machine prints your ticket, you must validate it by inserting it into the yellow machines on the platform before you enter the train.
A sample journey cost for a normal fare, one adult, oneway (aller simple) in second class Villefranche-sur-Mer to Monaco Monte Carlo is €2.90; for fare costs along the coast you can search prior to your holiday on www.ter-sncf.com (the région is ‘Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur’ and the départment is ’06 Alpes Maritime).
Here is a photo of Villefranche train station, showing the blue ticket machine on the left:
There are no public toilets at the station – if you are able-bodied, the nearest toilets are located at the beach and seafront restaurants accessed via the train stairwell (approximately 50 steps) beside platform 2 (Voie 2); if you have reduced mobility you will unfortunately have to travel into the township approximately 600 metres.
There is no elevator at this train station. If you are able-bodied, take the stairs as per above beside Voie 2 that descend down to the beach and follow the seafront road directly to the town. Below are photos of the stairs, and the entrance to the stairway if you are approaching from the beach entrance (look for the tree).
Here is my recommended routes into the town for families with baby strollers/buggies, if you are wheelchair-bound or have reduced mobility, or you have lots of luggage to transport.
Arrival to Voie 1
Go through the train station if it is open, and turn left and head up the first hill road.
It is approximately a 40 degree incline and looks steep from the station end, but it is only 100 metres to the top of this road.
From the top of this small incline, cross to the left over the railway line and follow the paved road (rue du Poilu) straight ahead all the way to town, approximately 5 minutes.
Below are photos of the hill road to the right if the station is closed (note: there are 2 small steps, follow the blue sign ‘Sortie Exit’), the view looking back down the hill road to the station, and a photo of the road surfaces heading into the town.
Arrival to Voie 2
Go through the exit (‘Sortie’) and turn right, you will see signage on the corner of the road (see a photo below of this signage) so you can follow the signage to the Vielle Ville (Old Town), as per above. It is flat and paved all the way.
Did you know? Poilu is the French word given to soldiers from World War One who fought in the trenches. Rue du Poilu is so named as it is the route that the local villagers walked along when they set off for war.
Buses to Villefranche sur Mer
Numerous local buses pass via Villefranche. The main bus stop in Villefranche is named ‘Octroi’ located at the top of the town, near Jardin François Binon.
Bus number 81 – Between Nice and Villefranche. For current timetables go to www.lignesazur.com (click on the left-hand side menu ‘Horaires lignes urbaines)
Bus 100 – Between Nice and Menton and Monaco, click here for timetable 100busNiceMonacoMenton
Bus 80 – Between Nice Riquier (Local Nice train station) and Villefranche. Tip: Rather than catch this bus at the ‘Octroi’ bus stop at the top of the hill, there are a few stops near to the Villefranche seafront that will save you walking up the hill – ‘Port de la Sante’ is the stop next to Place Amélie Pollanais and opposite the carpark on the seafront, and ‘Hôtel de Ville’ is the stop across from the Citadelle entrance. When you arrive at Nice Riquier, you can either walk 10 minutes to promenade des Arts, or transfer to a local bus number 7 to Nice Port or the stop ‘Garibaldi’. Current timetables at www.lignesazur.com (click on the left-hand side menu ‘Horaires lignes urbaines)
There are two Tourist Information Offices in Villefranche.
One is located at Jardin François Binon; you can’t see the gradient from a tourist map but the journey from the seafront to this office is uphill. This Tourist Office is very near to the ‘Octroi’ bus stop for buses that travel between Villefranche and Nice or Monaco (Bus 81 or 100).
The easiest Tourist Office to visit if you arrive via train or cruise ship is the office near the seafront – you will see the terracotta-coloured Gare Maritime building, and the Tourist Office is located opposite the Gare Maritime building in the building beside the carpark Wilson.
This office is open during April-October only, opening hours (subject to change) are from 10am-5pm during the week, and 10am-4pm on weekends. The address is Place Wilson.
Rue Obscure is situated on the line of the first ramparts (end of the 13th century) and formed the continuation of the defensive perimeter.
It is not a tunnel as such, but the houses have been built over the road and the residents took shelter here during bombardments.
Note for persons with reduced mobility: Unfortunately, the view along rue Obscure is obtained by a stairwell from rue de May therefore it is not accessible to persons with reduced mobility.
Located on the main seafront road, this small Romanesque church located opposite Place Amélie Pollonais was used by local fishermen to store their fishing nets.
The abandoned chapel intrigued French artist/writer/film-maker Jean Cocteau and he dreamed of restoring it.
He painted the façade and decorated the interior with murals including images of the fishergirls of Villefranche and scenes from the life of Saint Pierre (the patron saint of fishermen).
There is a bus stop nearby under the trees beside Place Amélie Pollonais for Bus number 80 (Lignes Azur) that travels to/from Nice Riquier.
Entry to the Chapelle is €3 (current as at October 2014). Opening hours:
Autumn – winter : 10am – noon, 2pm – 6pm
Spring – summer : 10am – noon, 3pm – 7pm
Closed on Tuesdays
Citadelle Saint-Elme is the fortress in Villefranche overlooking the harbour, that was built in the 16th century by the Duke of Savoy to defend the port.
It’s basic shape is a trapezoid layout, with a bastion at each corner. Watchtowers were placed on top of the bastions, with sentinels to oversee the ditches during battle.
Following World War Two, the fortifications were abandoned and dilapidated. After much discussion (including ideas to reinvent the fort as a hotel), it was decided in the 1970’s to restore it for administrative and cultural purposes.
Today, visitors can wander through the Citadelle and admire the great vantage points over the bay of Villefranche.
Facilities at the Citadelle
It is the site of three museums (all with free entry), conference facilities, Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), and Théâtre de Verdure (a venue for concerts and open-air cinema).
If you like this post, please download my GPSmyCity Villefranche sur Mer tour with all the town highlights.
There are free accessible public toilets at the Citadelle. When you cross the drawbridge entrance, continue straight ahead and you will see the sign at the end pointing right to ‘Toilettes’.
I don’t usually photograph public toilets but for the sake of information, here you go – the toilets are located at ground level in the terracotta-coloured building (see photos below).
Set into vaulted rooms, the Volti Museum (Musée Volti) has displays by sculptor Antoniucci Volti of curvaceous woman made from bronze, clay and copper.
There is a lovely vaulted tunnel with sculptures, and also a sculpture room with seating.
If you have reduced mobility, rather than enter the Volti Museum via the turnstile through the red gate, go up the pebbled ramp and enter via the Boutique door on the left up the ramp.
This Boutique door is actually the ‘Exit’ for the Museum, but they allow entry this way for persons in wheelchairs or reduced mobility (see photos below of the gradient/surface of the ramp, and the door you enter).
Persons with reduced mobility will need an accompanying companion, as once inside the Museum there are a few displays accessed via sets of steps with 5 stairs or more. One display inside has very steep stairs, but the rest of the Museum displays are set on pebbled, paved ground.
See below for extra photos of inside the Volti Museum.
The Volti Museum also offer free activity bags for families to find clues, suitable for children 7 years -10 years in English or French, ask at the reception.
Many works on display by the American artist Henri Goetz and his wife, Christina Boumeester, the Musée Goetz-Boumeester also has a couple of artworks by Miro and Picasso.
The entrance has 6 steps, but the display rooms are all on flat surfaces.
There are 8 reproduction casts of some of the artworks in braille, which I thought was a nice idea and something I have never seen at an art gallery before.
A quirky small Museum with displays of ceramic figurines depicting medieval scenes.
Entrance is not accessible for persons with reduced mobility due to steps, and one display area has steps leading upstairs to it.
Small children like this collection as it has figurines of knights on horses, maidens, castles.
Beaches in Villefranche-sur-Mer
Plage des Marinières is the main beach situated at the curve of the bay, under the route of the coastal rail line.
There is pay carparking all the way along the beachfront, also a bigger pay carpark at the end of the road furthest from the town.
There are beach showers, a few snack kiosks and small cabins with free public toilets though it should be noted that the toilets are basically a hole in the ground with flush mechanism.
In summer, there is a poste de secours station (‘beach first aid’) with an anti-jellyfish netted swimming area, and this is also non-smoking area.
The beach is not fine sand, but sandy enough and it becomes rockier at the end furthest from the train station.
Plage de l’Ange Gardien is located at the far end of Plage des Marinières. It is a small beach, and busy in summer but has a lovely view across to Villefranche town.
Darse beach (Plage de la Darse) is a pebbly beach and is located on the other side of Port Darse from the Citadelle. There is no free carparking but toilets nearby, and snack kiosks.
Accessible free public toilets on avenue Sadi Carnot, opposite restaurant La Belle Époque. Look for the toilet block built into the rock wall, beside the motorbike parking. Take your own tissues or toilet paper as often French public toilets do not supply this (or have run out and not restocked regularly!).
Also, accessible free public toilets are located inside the Citadelle.
Accessible free public toilets are along the main beach on promenade des Marinières.
There are a couple of public playgrounds.
There is a playground at Jardin Octroi, beside the main bus stop.
Also, a small playground beside the port on the coastal pathway below the Citadelle (note: the port playground is accessible with a baby stroller from the coastal pathway but be aware it is uneven paving).
Weekly markets are a big part of French life.
Villefranche has regular local markets where you can buy fruits, vegetables, cheeses, olive oil, souvenirs (such as Provençal fabrics), antiques.
Local product market, daily 7.30am-noon at Square Charles II d’Anjou
Food market, Wednesdays 8am-1pm, promenade de l’Octroi
Fish market, Fridays 7.30am-noon at Square Charles II d’Anjou
Provençal market – the main one for Villefranche – Saturdays 8am-1pm, square Octroi / Jardin François Binon
Brocante (bric-a-brac) market, Sundays all day, place Amélie Pollanais and Jardin François Binon
Craft market, all day during March-October on cruise ship days, place Amélie Pollonais
Villefranche-sur-Mer does not have any hyperstore, large-sized supermarkets but you should be able to get everything you need here. All opening hours given below are subject to change. Also, don’t forget to try the local bakeries (boulangeries), fish market and small retailers of fruit and vegetables.
– There is a small ‘Casino’ (French chain supermarket) at 10 rue du Poilu that sells general grocery items such as sandwiches, fruit, cold drinks, bread, yoghurt (open approximately 7.30am-1pm, 3pm-7.30pm Monday-Saturdays, and mornings only on Sundays)
– Another ‘Casino’ at 16 avenue du Maréchal Foch (open approximately 7.30am-1pm, 3pm-7.30pm Monday-Saturdays, and mornings only on Sundays)
– ‘Spar’ supermarket, 8 avenue de Verdun
– ‘Picard’, at 8 avenue du Maréchal Foch is a frozen foods specialist – ideal for tourists with self-catering apartments (open approximately 9am-1pm, 2.30pm-7.30pm Monday-Thursdays, 9am-7.30pm Fridays and Saturdays, and mornings only on Sundays)
– Small grocery stores at 2 avenue Albert 1er, 1 avenue du Général du Gaulle, 12 rue de l’Église and 17 rue de l’Église.
If you desperately can not source anything from one of the Villefranche supermarkets, you could travel to the hyperstores at nearby Nice (‘Carrefour’ at the Centre Commercial TNL is near to the Nice Riquier train station), Monaco (‘Carrefour’ at Centre Commercial Fontvielle), or Beaulieu-sur-Mer (‘Super U’ supermarket at 1 Rue du 8 Mai 1945 is near to the Beaulieu train station).
For travellers looking for postcards and souvenirs there are many shops in the Old Town selling these.
Cigarettes however are only sold at ‘Tabacs’ – look for a red Tabac sign usually above the shop entrance. Tabacs sell cigarettes, postcards, newspapers, canned drinks.
There is a tabac at place Amélie Pollonais, one at 3 place de la Paix and also a tabac on rue du Poilu between ruelle du Marche and rue de l’Église. The tabac on rue du Poilu has a France post mailbox outside the entrance for sending your postcards – look for the yellow ‘La Poste’ mailbox.
Did you know? Beside the tabac on rue du Poilu – at number 6 – you can see there is a wall plaque which says ‘ Ici habita Missud Louis, Héros de la Résistance, Mort pour la France, le 6 Avril 1944 à Lambruisse (B.A.)’ – this is a commemorative wall plaque for Louis Missud, he was a Lieutenant for the French resistance but was killed under enemy fire in World War Two in Lambruisse in the Alpes-de-Haute Provence region of France.
Places to eat/drink
Stock up at the local markets for your fruits/vegetables, and supermarkets for other grocery items.
For dining out options, the seafront restaurants are the most popular for tourists.
There are also some great restaurants a street or so behind the seafront – they may not have the view, but prices will almost certainly be cheaper.
In general, a ‘prix fixe’ or ‘formule’ is cheaper than choosing something ‘a la carte’, and menus at lunch time are cheaper than dinner menus.
My recommendations: Le Serre on rue de May, Le Cosmo at place Amélie Pollonais (if you like meat, make sure you specify how you like it cooked!), and for a seafront restaurant try Trastevere (7 quai Amiral Courbet). The Wine Pier and Welcome Hotel are popular for drinks.
For sports fans, Gaga’s Bar at 5 rue du Poilu has beers on tap and screens football and rugby including French, European and English leagues.
Please also see my post for Rolling Stones fans ‘Sightseeing – Villefranche-sur-Mer (Villa Nellcôte: A palatial mansion with a lengthy past) for information on where the Stones recorded ‘Exile on Main St’ in Villefranche.
If you are visiting the town as a day tripper or cruise ship passenger and would like to take a discovery tour of Villefranche sur Mer with highlights from this post, download my GPSmyCity Villefranche sur Mer tour here
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