Villefranche-sur-Mer or just Villefranche is a picturesque town on the French Riviera featured on many cruise itineraries. The town itself is between Monte Carlo and Nice with Cannes only a little farther (19 miles) away. The quant waterfront is lined with cafes and restaurants and stretches from the marina, where the tenders tie up, around a natural harbor past a number of beautiful beaches. Its nearness to Monte Carlo and Nice is probably one of its biggest attractions for the cruise lines as it affords them a number of tour opportunities. But even if you book a tour don’t pass up spending some time at a cafe or restaurant on this remarkable waterfront.
Where Your Ship Docks
While Villefranche has one of the best protected harbors on the Riviera it has no docking facilities that can accommodate cruise ships. This is a tender port where you land at the visitors center right in town. The visitor center offers maps, good advice on getting around and has good public facilities.
Villefranche is an easy town to walk around in with plenty of shopping opportunities and good restaurants, but the streets do climb steeply up from the waterfront. Less than a half mile around the waterfront is the train station where you can catch one of the frequent trains to Monte Carlo, Nice or Cannes. They run about every twenty minutes and a trip to Monte Carlo takes only fifteen minutes and costs around €7.00. So before you sign up for that expensive tour consider some exploring on your own.
The French currency is the Euro and you should not expect them to accept Dollars or Pounds in Villefranche. Credit cards are widely accepted and there are ATM machines available as well.
The biggest attraction is the Riviera itself. Famous beaches, casinos, yachts at anchor and of course French cuisine. With Cannes and Nice to the west and Monaco only seven miles to the east a train trip is a fast and inexpensive way to see the glamour of the Riviera up close.
There are also a number of reasons to simply stay in Villefranche:
Just as you exit the visitor center next to the dock, to the left is Citadelle Saint-Elme a thirteenth century fortification which also now houses the Les Musees de La Citadelle – Located inside the citadel these free art museums include the Volti featuring some beautiful bronzes. The citadel also includes some amazing lookouts and a nice garden.
Beaches of Villefranche – All the area beaches are public and free. The most famous and the most beautiful, is the Plage des Marinières right in the center of town. The beach is over a half mile long and be aware that topless sunbathing is common.
Rue Obscure – A historic walking and mostly covered alley. This underground street is an interesting place to stroll and includes several levels with lighted vaulted ceilings.
Chapelle de Saint-Pierre des Pecheurs – Beautiful chapel right on the harbour with an interior decorated by Jean Cocteau.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild – A villa, museum and fantastic gardens located on the opposite side of the harbor. Admission is about €15 but well worth it.
Fort du Mont Alban – If you are into hiking, a climb up Mt. Alban overlooking the harbor and Nice to the west is worth the as it stands over 600 feet above the harbor and the views are fantastic. The fort itself, built in the 16th century, is not open to the public but is still impressive from the outside.
Monte Carlo map showing train station, Casino Park and Palace.