Visit on a Sunday for the delightful fleamarket at Place Amélie Pollonais.
Stylish Villefranche adjoins Nice to the east, and is 10km southwest of Monaco. It is one of the deepest natural harbours in the Mediterranean, and has been an important port since pre-Roman times: today it remains France’s most visited port for cruise ships, and has retained rather more charm than its brash neighbour Monaco.
Tourism is the main business here now, and it’s a lovely place to visit. The Old Town’s ancient pastel-coloured Provençal houses and maze of narrow streets (some of its famous covered passages, like La Rue Obscure, were used as shelters in World War II) offer a contrast to the monumental yachts and liners that cruise into the harbour. The harbourfront offers a number of excellent restaurants and hotels.
For the artistically or architecturally inclined, La Chapelle Saint-Pierre is a beautiful 14th century church with a Baroque makeover in Monégasque tones of ochre, mustard and white, and a 1957 mural interior by Jean Cocteau, who made his home in the town. Throughout, the buildings are a heady mix of Italian and French influences. If you fancy some watersports and sunbathing, the town’s large sandy beach is the perfect counterpoint to Nice’s pebbliness.
The town has also played host to some stars in its time: Tina Turner lives in the hills in the gated estate of Castellet (from where you can see Elton John’s place overlooking Nice), and the Rolling Stones recorded their album Exile on Main Street at Villa Nellcote in the 1980s. Villefranche is still a great place for celebrity sightings, as the Monaco set like to escape here for lunch.
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