Looking for a quiet getaway in a quaint village on the Côte d’Azur? Nestled next to the vibrant city of Nice and not far from other scenic villages and sites to explore, Villefranche-sur-Mer has lots to offer. No need for a car as public transportation is easily accessible.
We climb the steep flight of stairs, one floor up, and enter Le Petit Bijou (The Little Jewel). Before us, two sets of French doors open out to a balcony with a view of the Mediterranean as it comes in to form the bay at Villefranche-sur-Mer. Framed by the Cap de Nice and the Cap Ferrat peninsula, this is our “home” for the week. The view is mesmerizing and keeps us occupied watching the myriad boats of various sizes– we count over 60!– anchored out there in the changeable blue sea. Some mornings there is an enormous cruise ship anchored further out with smaller boats shuttling passengers to the harbour dock. Most of these tourists don’t stay in the village but go to the nearby train station to take a short ride to Monaco.
We keep an eye on an old man and his dog who appear to be living on their boat and make occasional trips ashore in a rowboat. There are water taxis for those who want to venture across the bay to Cap Ferrat. There are dazzling yachts, modest fishing boats and a variety of boats for rent. A medley of bobbing boats greets us daily, and we never tire of watching them, as well as how the changing pattern of light affects the colour of the water.
Then there is the charming old town itself: tall Provençal colored buildings stacked up against an inclined hill with cobbled pedestrian streets intersecting. Le Petit Bijou is situated at the eastern end of this old village in a four-story terracotta colored building. Our apartment is on the third floor and accessed from a cobbled passage behind it with a bubbling fountain niched in the opposite corner. Daily we stroll the shaded passage ways to pick up fresh bread at la boulangerie and provisions at l’épicerie. There are plenty of boutiques and cafés to visit, interspersed among the residences. The narrow shaded passageways create an intimate atmosphere where people walk at a leisurely pace browsing, chatting, eating ice cream and enjoying the scenery.
Our location is ideal. We walk a short distance to the train station, and after a 30-minute scenic ride along the coast, we get off in Ventimiglia in Italy, where there is a large covered market of Italian foods and goods to tempt us.
On the ride back, we get off at Menton to explore this beautifully landscaped larger city with enticing shops lining the pedestrian walkways. Another day we hike about a mile to tour the Greek inspired Villa Kérylos, then onward to visit the villa and gardens of Ephrussi de Rothschild. We stop for lunch at a cafe on the harbor at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. In Villefranche we explore the Citadel, ensconced within the hundred feet high ramparts. The Citadel houses city offices, a lovely garden, the Volti Museum and other informative exhibitions. On the quay we enter the small Chapelle Saint-Pierre with its interior murals created by Jean Cocteau. We hike one of the steep hills to see l’Institut de Français but decide we really wouldn’t want to spend our time here inside of a school. We eat traditional pan bagnat sandwiches on the beach below our apartment and wade out into the cool incoming tide.
Le Petit Bijou is well furnished with numerous amenities like heated towel racks, binoculars, outdoor speakers on the balcony, washing machine, dishwasher and more. The American owners, who own several other properties, have lived in the village for 13 years, know it well and are readily available for any assistance. They gave us helpful information upon arrival and left instructions and guides in the apartment. Their descriptive website has accurate and complete information and details on all the property rentals. The only problem is how quickly these apartments are reserved, so plan ahead for an idyllic vacation home in this captivating village near the tranquil azure sea.
You can find more information about rentals in Villefranche-sur-Mer at rivieraexperience.com
Jo Anne Marquardt’s lastest book Visit France: Rest, Eat, Play is available on Amazon below.