The larger ships anchor in this bay to visit Nice,
but don't by-pass this charming village on the Côte d'Azur!
The old town of Villefranche-sur-Mer is at the lower left of the photo above. The very expensive Cap Ferat peninsula is in the background. Nice has a small harbour where the smaller cruise ships can dock, but all larger ships anchor in the deep water harbour above, the Bay of Villefranche. The map below perhaps will help you know where you are!
Bay of Villefranche
©2018 Google Image©2009 TerraMetrics
Your tender will arrive right in the center of Villefranche-sur-Mer. When you first come out to the street, admire the very Italianate colours of the buildings, even though this is France! The gold, pink and sienna paint colours are lovely. As you came in on the tender, I'm sure you noticed the big fort to the left of where you dock. This is called the St. Elmo Citadel. More about that later.
First, walk to your right down the street by the bay. Immediately you come to the the ancient Romanesque Chapelle Saint-Pierre, (St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen), which was restored and decorated by the “prince of poets”, Jean Cocteau. The religious line-drawings decorating the interior walls are quite wonderful.
Continuing along the waterfront there are little restaurants and shops. You will come to a high stone wall with the train station above - the stone wall is covered with deep purple bougainvillea. On the sea side is a popular beach on a hot day.
Walking back along the waterfront street, look for a stone arch up a few stairs (picture below).
Lorenzo Piccardo, CapellaSanPietro, CC BY-SA 3.0
This is called Rue Obscure (Hidden Street). It was built in 1260 for the military, so they could walk the length of the village without being seen. When it was no longer in use, houses were built out on top of it and the now almost tunnel was used for wine storage or a place to keep animals. It is presently a curiosity, and you can walk the 430 foot length. There are steps out into the old city in several places, and these will lure you out into old streets you might not otherwise see.
Back on the riverfront street and almost across from a small dock, is a 'street' with stairs (beside right). This will lead you into the old town. Straight ahead is the church - Eglise Saint-Michel, and a small square.
There may be a market across from the port building.
Now spend a bit of time exploring the old town. You can't get lost - the sea is to the south, a roadway to the west and north and a hill with greenery to the east.
West of where your tender came in is the St. Elmo Citadel, part of an extensive military complex built in the 1500's which included the Mount Alban Fort on the mountain to the west of the town, and a tower on the Cap Ferat peninsula. The fort is an polygonal shape, with irregular angles. Apparently you can go in and there are museums to see. The Town Hall is in the fort. There are also gardens and great views.
To get to the fort entrance, walk up the winding street from the west end of the shops. There is a good sidewalk up a looping street. Where this sidewalk ends - turn completely around the little wall and the entrance is up and ahead (right).
Another nice walk is around the base of the fort by the sea. You get to the path past the port building at the bottom of the hill and beside a parking lot.
If you climb mountains for the pleasure of doing so and if you would like wonderful views over the Bay of Villefranche, go up to the Mount Alban Fort! The mouth-watering view you get is the one below.
Getting to Nice from Villefranche-sur-Mer
The station at Villefranche-sur-Mer is just down the waterfront at the end of the bay. The station is above the beach, and you have to climb stairs. Look for stone arches over rock with a cafe partly in front, and past the next building are stone steps that go back and forth and lead you to a path that takes you to the station - or there are more stairs just below the station building. The train takes 7 minutes to the Nice station and costs €1.00 - €2.00, so it's a bargain, and there are 45 trains a day. The station in Nice is a bit out of the city center - check the Nice page for a map.
I would suggest that if you are only one day in Villefranche-sur-Mer the local bus is not very handy. You can flag down bus #100 from the highway high on the hill (a steep climb) and get off at the Nice port, so there is still a walk into town - or there are transfers. It is also said that at times the bus may be full and go right past you, so that would not be helpful.
Nice Hop On Hop Off -
This is more expensive, but will give you a good over-view of the area. There are two companies that do HOHO tours, but apparently only the red buses go to Villefranche-sur-Mer. To see the route on-line, it is called Nice, le Grand Tour. There is a bit of confusion on the internet - in one place it says the Villefranche stops are only from April to October. It goes every 30 minutes. To catch it, turn left/west on the waterfront street and take the steps at the end of the stores. At the top, turn to your right and there is a bus place ahead.
One of the complaints about the Nice HOHO is that there isn't a lot of information given. You can go to the Nice page here and find out more about the sights.
There is likely more information available in the cruise port terminal.
If, by any chance the HOHO isn't coming to Villefranche but you wanted to see Nice this way - take the train to Nice and the HOHO stops at the Nice station.