Villefranche-sur-Mer, France

As I mentioned in a previous post, a few years ago, I was lucky enough to spend 2 months in Villefranche-sur-Mer, walking, exploring, and photographing the French Riviera.

Almost 30 years earlier, I had been on a bus that drove through the town; it was so pretty and I remember thinking, I’d love to come back here someday. And I finally did. It was even prettier, and the whole area even more beautiful, than I remembered. In this second French Riviera travel post, I wanted to share some of my favorite things about this little gem of a town.

Villefranche-sur-Mer Travel Guide by Cattie Coyle Photography

I have also created a free, printable travel guide with practical tips, fun facts, and lots of images.

← Click the image to download the guide.

I arrived on a beautiful morning in May, landed in Nice after a stopover in Dublin (I flew Aer Lingus from Boston) and took an Uber over to Villefranche-sur-Mer. The drive is absolutely stunning, and the driver couldn’t have been nicer. Between his pretty much non-existent English and my very rusty French, we had the most hilariously absurd conversation that had us both in stitches at times. He even pointed out the school where he was going to learn English that summer. 😃

Old Town

The apartment I had rented was right on the edge of Old Town, and I used to love getting up early before the busyness of the day began and amble along the narrow streets, camera in hand, while sounds of breakfast preparations and the morning news came drifting out from behind the curtains of open doors and windows.

Villefranche is such a pretty little town, the streets are lined with stone houses in all shades of pastel colors, and cool details are everywhere.

Above: Not the same building, and not even in the same part of town, but the exact same color scheme! The image on the left is the facade of Église Saint-Michel in Old Town, and to the right is Chapelle Saint Pierre at Quai de l’Amiral Courbet. The interior of Chapelle Saint Pierre is decorated by Jean Cocteau and looks amazing. In pictures. I have to confess I did not go inside (why?!?), but wish I had. Next time!

The Beach

Everything in Villefranche-sur-Mer is close, and the main beach in town – Plage des Marinières – was just a short walk through old town from my apartment. There’s a little walkway right along the beach where I loved to go for a stroll early in the morning when the water was calm and the beach empty.

Morning in Villefranche-sur-Mer by Cattie Coyle Photography

If you go to the end of the beach at that time of day, you’ll have a nice view of the town as the morning sun hits the buildings and all those pastel colors are reflected in the water.

The sun rose fast and it didn’t take long for the atmosphere to shift from “serene morning” to “happy day at the beach”.

If you want to glam things up a bit, rent a sun lounger for the day at the trendy Les Bains Deli Bo beach club and watch the scenery and boats in the bay from the shade under your parasol with a glass of rosé.

If you go up on the main road leading out of town towards Beaulieu-sur-Mer (Boulevard Napoleon III), you have a fabulous bird’s eye view of both the beach and the town.

The Citadel

Also down the street from me was the Citadel, an impressive stone fortress with a drawbridge, built in 1557 to protect the County of Nice from invaders.

These days, it houses the Town Hall, a couple of museums, and an open air theatre.

There is also a beautiful, lush park with a rose garden, sculptures, and views of the old harbor. The whole Citadel area is another great spot to just stroll around, the park especially, which feels like a hidden oasis.

Villefranche-sur-mer Old Harbor

The Old Harbor, Port de la Darse, was one of my favorite parts of town. It’s a little bit removed, but still only a short walk from old town.

I used to take the waterfront walkway that runs next to the wall that surrounds the Citadel – the views both out over the water and inland are spectacular.

Above left: Inland views on the way to the old harbor / Above right: Villa Le Castel Florea, built in 1912. According to the Côte d’Azur France Tourism Board, “the most notable owner was Madame Keuyelan whose dog Barry feared the summer heat of the coast, so a house was rented for him in Chamonix, where staff took turns to look after him for 3 months.” 🙂

I loved strolling around the old harbor any time of day – in the beautiful, soft morning light, in the bright and slightly more busy midday, and in the evening when everything was tranquil and peaceful.

BELOW: The Old Harbor at midday

The marina workshops are housed in a beautiful arched old stone building, which “played a part” in the Bond movie Never Say Never Again – this is where the motorcycle chase ends.

THE ROWING CLUB

Competitive rowing boats right outside the workshops.

LA CORDERIE RESTAURANT

Because of my many food allergies, I very rarely eat out, but I did stop for a glass of wine at La Corderie one evening. It is such a cute and cozy spot, and a perfect place to end the day.

I sat under the maple tree, just chilling, people watching and enjoying life in general until the sun went down. The stroll home was magical – those pale pretty blues, the calm water, the peace and quiet.

To celebrate returning to the French Riviera, I have added a new travel photography section to my store, and released one of my favorite images from this post as a new print. There are several more blog posts and new prints from other spots on the Riviera to come, so stay tuned!

PS. If you love a particular image in this post and would like it as a custom print, just send me an email and let me know which image it is, and the size you would like. I’m happy to do a custom print whenever possible.

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