Hello friends and fellow travelers hope everyone is doing well! =)
This past summer season was such a fun one for me, I really had such great clients and shot in some beautiful locations. One of my favorite places to shoot is Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera and I was really lucky to do many photoshoots there this past years. In fact, I think both Villefranche and Cannes were my most popular locations this last year.
If you are not familiar with the French Riviera, Villefranche is a smaller hillside town next to Nice. Yes, the name is a mouthful, but it’s worthy of learning because this town boast some really stunning vistas and a beautiful beach. There are several advantages to doing a shoot in Villefranche, because it is smaller than Nice, the mornings here are generally calmer before the tourist come with their beach bags. This gives me the opportunity to explore the beaches in the early morning hours with my clients.
I had several clients send me emails prior to their trips this year asking me about my recommendations, so I figured I would create a blog post to share with everyone. Every town on the French Riviera has it’s unique advantages and disadvantages. Deciding where to stay or what to do takes a bit of research.
Getting to Villefranche-sur-Mer:
Getting to Villefranche from the airport either requires car rental, an expensive uber or a train ride from the airport. To take the train, you have to first get on the tram that will take you to Nice St. Augustin train station. From there, the train is a relatively short ride, maybe 20 mins. The train ride is not a bad money saving option if you are staying in town. However, if you are staying higher in the hills in a villa it wont really work. When renting a car you have to take into consideration that Villefranche is not located near the highway that connects you with most of the coast, however you will be able to easily take the coastal road to Nice, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, St. Jean Cap Ferrat, Eze-sur-Mer and Monaco. If you rent a car, please rent something on the smaller side if your luggage will permit it. Trust me, you will thank me later.
Where to stay:
If I were staying in town for a vacation I would probably look at the Welcome Hotel and Hotel Le Versailles. The first, because of it’s excellent location in the Port area of town. I love the idea of waking up and being right on the water. They also regularly have jazz musicians play. Hotel Le Versailles I would recommend because of the incredible views. I would also check out AirBNBs. If you have the option, why not rent out a beautiful luxury village like my clients did this summer for a surprise proposal? They rented that amazing place from the team at AMA Selections. You can check them out and drool over the incredible villas they offer. Also, I did a video blog in Villefranche you can check that out here.
Advantages to Villefranche-sur-Mer:
When I talk about advantages/disadvantages I’m really comparing to other places on the French Riviera that you may be thinking of staying.
This town is an ancient fishing village so what I love most about it is this village atmosphere. I especially love the early mornings before everyone has arrived with their beach bags. If you stay in town in the slight off season (for example September) you will get a real sense of this small town atmosphere that is warm and welcoming.
If you are looking for nightlife, you would be better off staying in nearby Nice. Also, Villefranche is not located close to the highway, so if you are thinking of renting a car, I wouldn’t unless you were planning on going into the countryside. You can get many places with public transportation in any case.
La Belle Etoile: For the perfect French Bistro experience I definitely recommend this restaurant owned by a beautiful young couple living on the French Riviera.
La Mère Germaine: This place is an institution and a beloved classic. This is for your splurge meal, go all out! I once ran into French acting legend Jean Paul Belmondo here.
Mayassa Beach: A beautiful setting and the perfect place for a quiet dinner. The menu is everything you want from a town next to the sea.
La Cave Nature: Much more casual than the other places that I mentioned this is a great spot to grab drinks and snack on their large list of tartines. Tartines are like open faced sandwiches on toast (think bruschetta).
The Beach: The Plages de la Mariniere (Beach of the Sailor) is really one of the most stunning stretches of beach on the French Riviera. Unlike the beaches in Nice, this beach does not have pebbles, but a more corse sand (think cat litter, lol). This makes it considerably more comfortable than other beaches but also means it’s quite popular. My ideal is actually to hike to nearby St. Jean Cap Ferrat and jump into one of the small rocky inlets. But that’s only if you’re up for a bit of adventure.
Boat Rental: What better way to enjoy the French Riviera than by getting out on the water and seeing the stunning coastline from a boat. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be Bill Gates to have the privilege, you can opt for a smaller day tour. I recommend the kind people at Blue Hat Boat Rentals, they will hook you up.
Villa Ephrussi/Villa Keyrlos: Villa Eprhussi de Rothschild is a stunning pink villa built for a member of the illustrious Rothschild family. It’s actually located just beyond Villefranche in St. Jean Cap Ferrat. I recommend spending your time strolling through the gardens and relaxing next to the dancing fountains with classical music playing (pinky up **tea sipping sound**). I have done many photoshoots here like this stunning surprise proposal. Villa Keyrlos is in neighboring Beaulieu-sur-Mer and is a beautiful villa designed in a classical greek style. It is a jaw dropping place that will leave you breathless.
Day Trips: One of the best things about Villefranche-sur-Mer is being able to get almost anywhere on the French Riviera with the train. The station is easily located between the main town center and the beach. Going into Nice is a breeze on the train as it’s only two stops away. Monaco is a safe bet for a day trip. My recommendation off the beaten path? Take the train early to Cap d’Ail and walk to Plage Mala for the day. Life hack: try to avoid the train right before dinner as that’s the time everyone takes it coming home from the beach, and those beach body smells… eww.
I am not the only one who loves Villefranche-sur-Mer. One of my fabulous clients this past summer Dominika, has stayed in Villefranche several times. Her and her husband love the town and the area, so I asked from her perspective. I’m so happy I did because she mentioned things I had never even thought of. Check out the interview below for more insight:
1) What is your favorite breakfast/lunch spots in Villefranche? Boulangerie Patisserie Vermeulen - a bakery in the center of Villefranche. Nothing better than a pain au chocolat aux amandes with an espresso!
Favorite lunch spot: A picnic at the beach! Stop at the bakery and buy a pan bagnat or a fresh baguette, some good cheese, olives, a bottle of Rose and you’ll have a delicious picnic by the water.
Side note: if you want to know what a pan bagnat is or any other local foods I made a post about that HERE.
Another great option for lunch: There is a local market on Wednesdays with rotisserie chicken and the BEST bread with olives. Also try the figs from Italy, they’re as sweet as candy.
2) Favorite snack spot?3) Favorite dessert spot?
Solea Gelateria di Corsica, a little gelato shop in the old town. We’d always stop here on the way back from the beach. The pistachio and hazelnut flavors are the best!
4) Favorite Fancy Restaurant? Favorite dinner spot/fancy restaurant: La Mere Germaine, which is right on the water. It’s extra special in the evening when all the lights are twinkling and reflecting on the water.
5) What is your favorite activity while staying in Villefranche?
Taking the local bus or train to explore other towns along the coast, eating gelato while walking around the old town, and swimming at the beach :)
6) Any packing tips?
Make sure you pack a hat, the sun can be intense during the day.
7) What surprised you most about the French Riviera? The first time we visited the French Riviera, I was really surprised by the heat. When thinking about France, you typically don’t think about palm trees and intense sunshine. But you have to remember, it’s part of the Mediterranean and summers can be HOT! I was also surprised by all the breathtaking views around every corner.
Side note: guys bring an extra shirt for your photoshoot! You may need to change due to sweat marks… it happens!
8) Favorite place to travel to from Villefranche for a day trip?There are many fun places for a day trip! Go to Cannes for shopping, Menton for a beach day, Eze to explore a medieval village, or Monaco for shopping and a gorgeous botanical garden.
9) Do you find the language barrier difficult? The language barrier can be difficult at first, but there are many people willing to help. There are plenty of tourists (many English speaking) that might be able to help you find the bus or train station etc. When ordering at a bakery or restaurant, come prepared with a few phrases in French. Most people know a little bit of English and by making an effort to speak French, they will be happy to help.
10) Anything else you want people to know that are going to travel to Villefranche!? Get to know the local bus and train system before you arrive. You can find all the schedules and map out your trips online or in the app. It’s very helpful to have a plan so you can enjoy your trip as soon as you arrive!