One of our favourite things to do when we visit Nice and something we always do, is take the short trip to Villefranche Sur Mer, which can be found nestled away in a deep water bay about 5-10mins outside Nice, on the road to Monaco.
This little village is well catered for in terms of transport. What we like to do is pick up the bus on the port ( or where the Airport bus drops off ( Ségurane ) near Garibaldi if you prefer ). If you get the weekly unlimited bus/tram ticket, this will work on the bus. Number 81 or 100 will bring you to Villefranche. Get off at the little park and walk down the hill ( it is buggy friendly ) and into the village proper. The bus takes about 10 minutes and goes along the coast road – breathtaking views.
You might find you recognise the village even if you haven’t been before. It has been in a load of movies from Kirk Douglas ( Act of Love 1953 ), to Ronin with Bobby de Nero. James Bond lived there in Never Say Never Again. My favourite is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Michael Caine and Steve Martin. This classic comedy was filmed between Villefranche and neighbouring Beaulieu-sur-Mer. Be sure to watch the movie after you visit. For more information, go to this Film Location website.
Lets eat. The sea air always does it for me and its almost a ritual for me to eat in Cosmos when in Villefranche. The terrace overlooking the bay is the only place to sit, and the menu is fantastic and the wine list nearly as good. Bandol Red or Rose for me. Allow yourself a long lunch – this place is always buzzy, in and out of season.
If you do want to treat yourself you can walk along the quay and the famous Mere Germaine restaurant has being serving plebs and princes since 1938. I had a wonderful meal there a number of years ago, and the fact that someone else was paying made it even better ( its not cheap here ). There are a load more spots along the quay and all the way dow to the beach, but don’t forget the old town, as some super restaurants are hiding in the shadows. You just won’t get the view.
As you walk down the hill into the village you’ll see a pizza restaurant in a shaded square just before the shops and the water. If its really hot, this place is very shaded, local, authentic and great value. For the life of me I can’t remember the name, but you can’t miss it. La Tavola is another gem and a proper Italian and gets great reviews regularly. Follow your nose and see where the locals are going and you won’t go wrong.
There are some lovely little shops and boutiques in Villefranche. While you might pay a little more, you’ll find some lovely clothes for sale especially some smart beach wear – shorts, flip flops etc.. You’re on the Med, so you might as well try to blend in. You’ll also find some interesting souvenirs that are a step up from some of the tack you get in Nice’s old town. But, lets be honest. You didn’t come to Villefranche to shop.
Be sure to visit rue Obscure which runs parallel to the sea in the old town. This 14th century street is entirely covered by vaulted arcades; it sheltered the people of Villefranche when the Germans fired their parting shots—an artillery bombardment—near the end of World War II. Its well worth a walk down on the way to the beach after lunch in Cosmos.
Apart from Cosmos, a reason we love to leave Nice sometimes and spend the day in Villefranche is the beach. It is in a sheltered bay that is one large sun trap. Its always peaceful and the corse sand is much nicer to walk on than the pebbles in Nice. Another thing of note, the entire beachfront is free and open to the public. The water is warm and the views majestic.
Walk around St jean Cap Ferrat
If you have any energy left over after lunch and don’t want to lounge on the beach, that big mass of land sticking out to sea at the end of the beach is St Jean Cap Ferrat, one of the most expensive places to buy a house in the world. The super rich live or holiday here ( another great day trip ) but you can walk all the way around ( 12km – about 3 hours ) and there is a handy bar stop half way around in the village of St Jean Cap Ferrat. The walk is a tough one and gets kind of rough in places so its not for everyone but for more details have a look at this blog. By the end of it, you’ll have earned your glass of Rose on the beach.
By the way, St Jean Cap Ferrat is also a super day trip – see our blog on it here.
You can always take the bus back, but i think its much nicer to take the train. It goes from above the beach so you only have to climb the steps (be sure to go to the second level as if you go under the tunnel at the 1st set of steps you’ll end up in Monaco or Italy). The train runs very regularly (every 15-20min) and will have you back in Nice in under 5 minutes. You can use your week long bus/tram pass ( i recommend getting it day 1 ) from the station and the tram will bring you all the way back to Garibaldi and the apartment. Alternatively you can get off at Nice Riquier ( the train station between Villefranche and Nice Ville ). You are only a 10/15 minute walk from the apartment. Head for the port and you will eventually hit rue Bonaparte. The apartment awaits and the waterfall shower will clean the beach off of you.
It really is a lovely village and really easy to get to, so be sure to go early in your visit as you will probably want to go back again.