One of my most favorite towns in France is on the Cote d’Azur, minutes from Nice and Monte-Carlo. Villefranche-sur-Mer is such a beautiful little gem of candy-colored buildings scattered down the hillside into a gentle little bay. I fell in love with it as a college student, and it’s been a dream of mine to return, this time to stay. For our trip to France in early June, Simon wanted to spend some time by the ocean and to me, this would be the perfect spot to wile away a few days.
BACK IN THE DAY
As a Pepperdine college student (ermahgerrd almost 20 years ago), I studied French and stayed in Paris before transitioning south to Menton, a sleepy beach town mere steps from the French/Italian border. It was one of the toughest courses I’ve ever done; our lovely professor was rigorous and demanded a lot of us. But I learned more that summer than I ever had before, and we made so many good memories.
French and Humanities courses were on the schedule for the mornings. But the afternoons were spent dozing on the beaches, tanning our unsuspecting selves into coconut lotion-scented oblivion. All the girls of the group became close; we jumped on the beds in our rooms to “Dancing Queen” (on constant repeat) and wandered down those old streets for gelato after dinner. Then, the last night of our term, after final exams and a goodbye dinner, we girls congregated on the rocky beach in Menton, and flung all of our clothes onto the rocky beach and ran with reckless abandon into the Mediterranean, bobbing out in the dark water and laughing. Afterwards, we all wrapped in our towels, and passed a single bottle of wine around.
In between classes, we traveled up and down the coastline on the train that borders right along the edge of the sea, beach-hopping to Monte-Carlo and every other town all the way to Nice. But it was Villefranche-sur-Mer that captured us from the minute we caught a glimpse of it as the train came around the cove. Crystal clear water in all those gorgeous shades of blue, and a perfect little beach with that town off in the distance. Could it be real?
VILLEFRANCHE-SUR-MER: WHAT TO KNOW
Villefranche is one of the stops for many cruise lines in the Mediterranean, but all the ships have to dock out in the bay and tender in. Despite being a port of call, it’s still maintained its authentic charm. Sure, there’s a handful of cheezy tourist shops as you’d expect, but the town is full of incredible restaurants, a delightful wine cave with a quirky owner that is happy to offer recommendations and chat with you as you sip your way through the shop, and lots of other great little finds.
The old town is the most charming and is mere steps from the water. Running like an artery is the Rue Obscure, an ancient path below the harborfront houses that dates from 1260 (and provided safety to residents during wartime bombings). Overall, the vibe is relaxed and authentic, beautiful and sundrenched.
I searched high and low on Airbnb, etc., but fell in love with this property in the old town. I can’t tell you how magical it was – photos don’t do it justice! Every morning I’d pop down the stairs to the boulangerie down the way to grab some bread for our breakfast. And we happily munched on baguettes with salty butter and big cups of Nespresso, watching the ships bob in the bay.
IF YOU GO
Don’t worry about having a car; you won’t need it. The train is a quick walk from the center of town and services all the little towns along the coastline. Roundtrip from Villefranche to Monte-Carlo was only 15euro, and took maybe 10-15 minutes.
Enjoy the beautiful little beach in town – it’s one of the prettiest and calmest in the area. Do note that the beaches here are all rocky; none of them have super-fine sand, a la Florida or California. Pebbles can hurt tender feet, so take appropriate footwear. (The good news is you won’t have sand stuck to you.) There is also a beach club there where you can rent a chaise with umbrella for the day and enjoy the adjoining restaurant. Or, just show up with a towel and hang out in the public area of the beach. There are public restrooms, etc., nearby.