Villefranche-sur-Mer, or Villefranche, is a harbour town on the French Riviera about 4km east of Nice, and 10km west of Monaco. It’s a rich town that’s become a haven for cruise-ship tourists due to its stunning beach and extraordinarily deep harbour, allowing massive boats to anchor close-by.
We would normally avoid somewhere like Villefranche as it’s not our usual style, but we found ourselves there after booking our accommodation for Nice on the Villefranche hills. Nice was expensive and difficult to get to, and we were thoroughly burnt-out after a manic tour through Italy, so we wisely decided to spend our days in the area lying on the beach, soaking in the sun and losing count of swims at Villefranche. If that’s your thing, this blog is for you.
We arrived to Villefranche from Levanto in the Cinque Terre (Italy). From Levanto to Genova we caught a train for €6.30 each, which took 1.5 hours and was a lovely journey along the coast (although I slept most of the way). From Genova to Nice we booked a Flixbus about 30 minutes in advance of departure using their mobile app and some pilfered WiFi. The three hour journey cost us €9 each but it goes to the airport, which means another bus journey and another €1.50 for a ride into Nice. It also meant a two hour wait at the airport for a bus because of a strike. From Nice we were fortunate enough to have our host collect us from the beach and take us to his house. All up, including wait times for buses and hanging around in Nice waiting for our host, it was a 10 hour journey that should’ve taken around five.
The problem with trains along the Genova to Nice route is that they are expensive, due to changing trains on the Italian/French border in Ventimiglia. A single ticket is likely to set you back upwards of €25 per person if you book in advance, but if you just show up on the day as we did you will be lucky to get a seat for under €50. Even with a train change the journey can be faster than the bus, so check out Trenitalia for tickets.
It’s definitely worth checking a ride-sharing site like Blablacar and trying to score a ride from Genova to Nice. A seat might cost between €12 and €18 and will be slightly faster than the bus.
Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is only about 6km from Nice central and is serviced by regular buses (unless they are on strike!). A ticket from the airport to the city is €1.50 and there are a number of different options. My advice would be to ask at the information desk for the next bus to the city on the day you arrive. Flights to Nice can be very cheap as it’s a major airport for the region, the third busiest in France, so also consider flying from wherever you might be.
Once in Nice it’s about a 10 minute taxi to Villefranche, but here’s a hint; don’t use local taxis as they are renowned for being excessively expensive. Book an Uber instead, just remember to have the app on your phone!
Hint – Have correct change ready for the bus driver at the airport. There will likely be crowds of people and having the right change will make life much easier for everyone.
We chose an Airbnb room just a short walk down the hill to the Villefranche beach, that cost us €30 per night including breakfast. Initially we thought we had chosen a good spot to access Nice, but soon found it was too far to walk. Buses were rare and stopped running at something like 7pm, so we decided that our room was in a good location to base ourselves in Villefranche instead.
Hostels don’t exist in Villefranche, so if hostels are your bag you need to stay in Nice. Antares Hostel and Hostel Meyerbeer Beach are the highest rated places in the city, expect to pay between €16 and €20 for a dorm bed per night.
Bnb’s are plentiful and reasonably cheap…in Nice. In the city you can expect to pay between €25 and €55 per night for a private room and €40 to €90 for a whole apartment. Villefranche meanwhile has a private room from €25 per night (our room), the rest are upwards of €50, and a whole apartment will set you back at least €70 per night.
Hotels are the big seller in these parts, and honestly; good luck getting a room in Villefranche. A double room in somewhere nice starts around €50 per night and can go into the hundreds. Meanwhile a double room somewhere in Nice starts from around €32 per night for a bed in the Ibis and continues upwards from there.
If you are in Villefranche you’ve either arrived via cruise ship for the day, or you’ve accidentally booked accommodation too far from Nice. Whatever the reason, the result is you sitting on the Plage des Marinières beach; there’s just not a lot else to do. However, for the purposes of this blog, lets take a look at some of the other things you might get up to in Villefranche.
Number one choice for a walk, and a great place to catch a sunset, is Fort du Mont Alban. Only the grounds outside of the fort are accessible, but the views are spectacular and entirely panoramic. We found some suitable rocks and had a beautiful picnic dinner with a view of the sun going down over Nice. It’s a bit of a steep walk to reach the fort but well worth it.
The Chapelle Saint-Pierre (Saint Peter’s Chapel) is worth a look, it’s a lovely 16th century chapel with murals from French artist Jean Cacteau. The streets of Villefranche are typically picturesque, the further back from the water you go the more local art galleries, cafes and restaurants you will find. Take a detour through the Rue Obscure or “Dark Street”; a passageway under the harbour front houses which dates back to 1260.
There’s a massive house on the top of the hill that people are calling the most expensive house in the world. Kind of interesting if you care for that sort of thing, but it was also used as a set for Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief.
When you visit the beach there’s an amazing snack bar called Le Petit Port. Go here and eat. On our second visit we had amazing kebab/sandwich type monstrosities filled with all sorts of good stuff for €16 including a can of beer each. It’s more than lunch.
Finally, there’s a great pizza restaurant called Brasserie du Col up on the main road into Nice; pizzas are around €10, but are good. Check out the Boucherie du Col Traiteur next door for great wine and deli treats.
Hint- Prepare well for the beach, take lots of water, an umbrella and sunscreen. You won’t want to leave and it can get very hot.
Villefranche for two nights;
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