Why you must visit Villefranche-sur-Mer instead of Nice
I recently travelled to Nice whilst on an interrailing trip, and was disappointed to discover that Nice has a pebbled beach! When you envision the South of France, you think of glorious sandy beaches and blue waters, but Nice can only offer the latter. On a recommendation from my Airbnb host, my partner and I decided to travel to Villefranche-sur-Mer, and I’d go back tomorrow in a heartbeat.
Villefranche lies in the heart of the Cote D’Azur between Nice and Monaco. It has a relatively undiscovered crescent beach, called Plage des Marinières, and thus doesn’t have the same touristy feel that beaches such as Nice offer. So, if you like travelling to places that feel more rural, you MUST visit Villefranche sur-Mer when visiting Nice.
Getting To Villefranche-sur-Mer:
You can get to Villefranche-sur-Mer super easily from Nice. You can get there in just 15 minutes by bus or train, just jump on one that’s going in the direction of Monaco and you’ll soon be in Villefranche!
What to do in Villefranche:
From Villefranche you can see the stunning St-Jean Cap Ferrat, which boasts such beauty it is jaw-dropping. The water is crystal clear and the beach has few tourists, making it the perfect spot to relax.
The water is fairly shallow, making it perfect for a paddle and great for swimming and snorkelling. I personally have a major fear of the sea and hate not being able to touch the seabed, so this is brilliant if you’re a scaredy-cat like me!
There are no facilities at the beach in Villefranche, so don’t expect toilets or lifeguards. If you’re travelling with children, this is an issue to keep in mind. However, along the shoreline there are some wonderful shops and restaurants.
There is a great selection of restaurants if you walk along the Promenade des Marinières, most offer a selection of fantastic seafood.
My partner and I stopped at a restaurant called Brasserie du Quai and ordered the moules-frites. They were the BEST mussels I’ve ever eaten in all my life – honestly no exaggeration here! The portion size was colossal and fed the both of us, so it was super cost-effective. Travelling on a budget can be difficult in the South of France, but the lack of tourism in Villefranche means you get more for your money and proper French cuisine.
Along the promenade you can rent a boat if that’s your style! It’s super easy to do, and would make for a brilliant day trip. You can use the website ClickandBoat to rent boats of all models and styles along the coast.
The Old Town
Just a stone’s throw away from the beach is the Old Town. You can enjoy a lovely stroll down the narrow streets. The Rue Obscure is a popular spot, otherwise known as the “Dark Street”. It is a medieval passageway that was built in the 13thcentury (1260 to be exact) for military purposes. You can find out more about the Rue Obscure here.
St Pierre Chapel
The chapel, dedicated to St Peter the Patron Saint of Fisherman, is arguably one of the best-known buildings in Villefranche-sur-Mer. It was decorated by Jean Cocteau, a local resident, in 1957 and boasts some interesting paintings. It is open in summer 10am-noon and 3pm-7pm, and in winter 10am-noon and 2pm-6pm, however it is closed on Tuesdays. Admission costs €3 and is free for children.
St Michel Church
St Michel is an 18thcentury Baroque-style church located within the heart of the Old Town. Its organ, by the Grinda Brothers, dates from the 18thcentury, making it one of the oldest in the area and is a designated National Monument. You can also find a carving of Christ created by a galley slave.
St Elme Citadel is a 16thcentury stone fortress built to protect the city and harbour, demonstrating the importance Villefranche once had. Today the huge 7.5 acre Citadel houses the Town Hall, Le Musée Volti, Le Musée Goetz-Boumeester and La Collection Roux which are all free to enter.
- Le Musée Volti shows the artworks of local sculptor Antoniucci Volti (1915-1989). The work is inspired by Volti’s wife and consists of drawings, sculptures, brass, bronzes and more.
- Le Musée Goetz-Boumeester contains the works of Christine Boumeester and Henri Goetz alongside some of the work of their close friends such as Picasso, Picabia, Miro and Hartung.
- La Collection Roux contains an interesting collection of figurines depicting everyday life in the Middles Ages and Renaissance periods.
You cannot miss the Port which dates back to 1550. It’s no longer the major military port it once was, but still houses an array of boats and makes for a good visit.
Staying in Villefranche-sur-Mer
If you want to spend more time in Villefranche, there are plenty of places to stay. Tripsavvy details some great places in its article here.
I hope you enjoyed this post! Check out some of my other posts about Europe here.