The peaceful atmosphere of the resort has also attracted celebrities, with spectacular yachts in the marina and the beauty of the area attracting many visitors from Nice who are keen to "escape" to Villefranche-sur-Mer to enjoy the peace and quiet.
#1. The town was formerly known as the "seaport of customs"
The town was formerly called Ville Franche sur Mer or 'seaport', founded by Charles II d'Anjou, Count of Provence and King of Naples (reigned 1285-1309).
Most of its buildings date from the 12th and 13th centuries, and the houses are painted in bright Provençal colours. Flowers adorn the balconies and facades that run down the hill towards the sea to the promenade.
Many of the houses are Italianate, with beautiful trompe l'oeil wall paintings, mostly around the windows. Most have large arched loggias on the ground floor and have been filled in. Narrow cobbled, and brick streets descend steeply downwards, some passageways have vaults under the houses.
#2. City's main street: the tunnel street
Pollu street (Rue du Pollu) is the main street of the city leading to Place de la Conseil. The square offers a beautiful view of the harbour and the Cap Ferrat peninsula. From here begins Obscure street (rue Obscure), which has blocked the passageways.
Built to allow soldiers in the olden days to move quickly, it looks more like a tunnel than a street. Some businesses use it as makeshift wine cellars or donkey stalls.
It runs parallel to the seafront and down to the sea. At the west end of Aubscure street (rue d’Aubscure) is street of Elise (rue de l’Eglise), where the 18th-century Church of Saint-Michel was built. This is where you can see the thirsty Dead Christ, made from a single piece of fig tree.
Inside the church is a beautiful Baroque organ, a rarity and a national monument. The high bell tower of the church dominates the stage.
#3. 'Unknown' street: 130 metres long
The pride of the picturesque old quarters is the Obscure street (rue Obscure, French for 'Dark'), known for its vaulted ceilings. This 130 m long street runs along the walls of the citadel.
The name is to be taken literally; it is a tunnel carved out of the rock. During storms and enemy attacks it used to shelter local residents; during World War II it was used as a bomb shelter.
#4. The city's markets are hidden in Pollonet Square
There is a flea market on Polloné Square. On Sundays — a craft market is held here.
#5. Port of Villefranche-sur-Mer serves as a base for fishermen and tourists
Numerous cruise boats anchor off the coast throughout the summer. Along the fishing jetty you can walk around and eat in the many restaurants.
Signature Sailing Charter parks its catamarans here to disembark dear guests after a scenic sail for an equally scenic stroll under the charming town.
#6. The city has a harbour with a Blue Harbour and a fascinating history
Pirates and other brigands often visited this natural haven during the barbarian invasions of Europe. The deep harbour also served as a refuge for large ships that wanted shelter from the east winds.
Thanks to its deep harbour, the port attracts many cruise ships that anchor in the bay. Between Nice and Cap Ferrat, the sea reaches a depth of 320 feet (95 meters).
#7. Battle of the flowers, boat parade and fishermen's festival
In February, there is a fishermen's festival with a battle of flowers (Bataille de Fleur) that takes place on the seafront. The fishermen decorate their boats with flowers (Pointus), on which they then 'attack' the 'enemy's' boats. The boat parade is performed with music and colourful costumes to entertain locals and spectators.
#8. Medieval Port La Dars
Port-la-Dars was once an important defensive port built by the Duke of Savoy in the 1550s. In 1770, it was a fortified structure to reinforce a counter-attack from the Mediterranean Sea. It is now a marina and the site of a yacht yard.
#9. Villefranche is home to three laboratories: oceanology, marine geology and cell biology
The Villefranche Ocean Observatory is located here and the French National Centre for Scientific Research has three laboratories: oceanology, marine geology and cell biology. There is also an ancient lighthouse, the only surviving tower, and there used to be a rope factory.
#10. The famous Citadel de Saint-Helmet
Duke Philibert of Savoy built this massive citadel by the sea. (fortress) in 1557, following an attack by the Turkish fleet on the port in 1543. Now called the Citadel de Saint-Elme, it serves as a town hall and congress centre. There's also a police station, a summer theatre with outdoor live dinners, an open-air cinema and four small art museums.
#11. Villefranche-sur-Mer has some unique museums
One of these museums is dedicated to the sculptures of Antoniucci Volti. Four gorgeous women are carved on it. Some carved figures adorn the fountain outside the citadel.
A collection of modern paintings can be found at the Museé Goetz-Boumeester. Lovers of medieval life will enjoy the model scenes and ceramic figurines from Roux's collection. Another room is dedicated to the Chasseur-Alpins regiment, the elite mountain infantry of the French army.
#12. Mysterious Chapel de Saint-Pierre or Cocteau Chapel
This church building was decorated by the artist Jean Cocteau in 1957, hence the name Capella Cocteau. The decoration uses the theme and shades of 'ghostly colours' as the illustrations have ghostly colours, crisp outlines and simple lines.
Unsurprisingly the guide written by Cocteau invites visitors to observe without any artistic preconceptions. The artistic decor reflects the biblical life of St Peter, the patron saint of fishermen. It is also dedicated to the women and gypsies of Villefranche. In the space above the altar, St Peter walks on the sea, with angels guiding him. On the side of the doors there are ceramic eyes depicting the flames of Armageddon.
#13. Beach de Marinière is Villefranche-sur-Mer's main beach
It is located in the northern part of the bay. Plage de la Darse is a beach with pebbles. It is located behind the marina of La Darse harbour. The beach at Villefranche has a mix of sand and pebbles.
#14. Walking along the sea is the highlight of Villefranche-sur-Mer
There are cafés and restaurants with terraces next to the harbour. Charming pastel-coloured rustic cottages adorn the place. Pointus villagers, small fishing boats, come out to the pier.
#15. It is one of the quietest towns on the French Riviera
You can eat an ice-cream at a kiosk nearby or have a cup of coffee while you sit gazing at the glistening water in the coves. There may be a small beach in the cove. But the tranquillity that doesn't exist elsewhere on the French Riviera gives the town a special atmosphere.
Take a trip to Villefranche-sur-Mer this weekend and see for yourself the 15 interesting facts we've covered in this article.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is a comfortable resort town on the French Riviera with a full range of facilities for every traveller, from authentic restaurants to comfortable hotels. Discover this fabulous hidden cove in the Villefranche guide from Signature Sailing Charter.
Getting to Villefranche from Nice, Monaco or Cannes?
Signature Sailing Charter offers boat trips to Villefranche-sur-Mer, not only from Nice, but also from Monaco and Cannes. You can book a boat trip to Villefranche:
- It can be a 1-day itinerary around the resort town;
- A 2-day itinerary for a weekend or at a time of your choice with an overnight stay on a catamaran;
- You can also choose an itinerary of 3 or more days for a boat trip on the Côte d'Azur with a visit to Villefranche-sur-Mer for 1 day.
Signature Sailing Charter offer a full range of services to organise your holiday on the Côte d'Azur, Italy and Greece!
Book it now and travel later! Your sea cruise will be in complete comfort, accompanied by a crew of three: a captain, a chef and a stewardess.
Signature Concept for 8 guests with comfortable cabins;
Signature Vision for 10 guests with comfortable cabins.
Take advantage of our hot offer:
A boat trip to Villefranche-sur-Mer for 1, 2 or more days with a discount of 5 to 10%. Find out more at the link.
Our service offers convenient dining options: either on board a sailing catamaran or on the shore in a restaurant recommended by us. Ask our manager about Villefranche-sur-Mer sea cruises organised by Signature Sailing Charter.
We wish you a fabulous holiday!