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935km (581 miles) S of Paris; 6km (4 miles) E of Nice
According to legend, Hercules opened his arms and Villefranche was born. It sits on
a big blue bay that looks like a gigantic bowl, large enough to accommodate U.S. Sixth
Fleet cruisers and destroyers. Quietly slumbering otherwise, Villefranche takes on the
appearance of an exciting Mediterranean port when the fleet is in.
Once popular with such writers as Katherine Mansfield and Aldous Huxley, it’s still
a haven for artists, many of whom take over the little houses—reached by narrow
alleyways—that climb the hillside. Two of the more recent arrivals who have bought
homes in the area are Tina Turner and Bono.
GETTING THERE Trains arrive from most towns on the Côte d’Azur, especially
Nice (every 30 min.), but most visitors drive via the Corniche Inférieure (Lower Corniche).
For more rail information and schedules, call & 08-92-35-35-35. There’s no
formal bus station in Villefranche. As regards bus transits into Villefranche, the Sun
Bus company (& 04-93-85-61-81) maintains service at 15-minute intervals aboard
line no. 100 from Nice and from Monte Carlo. One-way bus transit from Nice costs
2€ ($2.60); one-way bus transit from Monaco is 3€ ($3.90). Buses deposit their passengers
in the heart of town, directly opposite the tourist information office.
VISITOR INFORMATION The Office de Tourisme is on Jardin François-Binon
(& 04-93-01-73-68; www.villefranche-sur-mer.com).
EXPLORING THE TOWN
The vaulted rue Obscure is one of the strangest streets in France. In spirit it belongs
more to a North African casbah than to a European port. People live in tiny houses,
and occasionally there’s an open space, allowing for a courtyard. To get there, take rue
Jean Cocteau, the painter, writer, filmmaker, and well-respected dilettante, spent a
year (1956–57) painting frescoes on the 14th-century walls of the Romanesque
Chapelle St-Pierre, quai de la Douane/rue des Marinières (& 04-93-76-90-70). He presented it to “the fishermen of Villefranche in homage to the Prince of Apostles, the
patron of fishermen.” One panel pays tribute to the Gypsies of the Stes-Maries-de-la-
Mer. In the apse is a depiction of the miracle of St. Peter walking on the water, not
knowing that an angel supports him. Villefranche’s women, in their regional costumes,
are honored on the left side of the narthex. The chapel charges 2€ ($2.60)
admission for everyone (adults and children). It is open June to August Tuesday to
Sunday 10am to noon and 4 to 8:30pm; September to November 15 Tuesday to Sunday
9:30am to noon and 2 to 6pm; December 16 to May Tuesday to Sunday 9:30am
to noon and 2 to 5pm. (It’s closed Nov 16–Dec 15.)
WHERE TO DINE
Chez Michel’s FRENCH/PROVENÇAL This bustling and animated brasserie is
owned and managed by the husband-and-wife team Michel and Michelle. The setting
is a cozily unpretentious dining room lined with Provençal landscapes. Well-prepared
menu items made with fresh ingredients include dishes such as a filet of beef Rossini
(layered with foie gras), wok-fried calamari, grilled sea bass with a tapenade of olives,
rack of lamb with Provençal herbs, roasted veal with mustard sauce, and a roster of fresh
chargrilled fish of the day that is usually served either with a basil-flavored vinaigrette or
with lemon-flavored butter sauce. Salads, including versions with shrimp, are excellent.
Place Amélie Pollonnais.&04-93-76-73-24. Reservations recommended. Main courses 18€–35€ ($23–$46). AE,
MC, V.Wed–Mon noon–3pm and 7–11pm.
La Mère Germaine FRENCH/SEAFOOD This is the best of the string of restaurants
on the port. Plan to relax over lunch while watching fishermen repair their nets.
Mère Germaine opened the place in the 1930s. These days a descendant, Remy
Blouin, handles the cuisine, producing bouillabaisse celebrated across the Riviera. We
recommend grilled sea bass with fennel, sole Tante Marie (stuffed with mushroom purée), lobster ravioli with shellfish sauce, and beef filet with garlic and seasonal vegetables.
Perfectly roasted carré d’agneau (lamb) is prepared for two.
Quai Courbet.&04-93-01-71-39. Reservations recommended. Main courses 20€–88€ ($26–$114); fixed-price menu
34€ ($44); bouillabaisse 57€ ($74). AE, DC, MC, V. Daily noon–2:30pm and 7–10pm. Closed mid-Nov to Christmas.
La Trinquette PROVENÇAL/SEAFOOD Charming and traditional, in a pre-
Napoleonic building a few steps from the harborfront, this restaurant prides itself on
the excellence of its fish and bouillabaisse. The fish is brought out from a back room
if anyone is skeptical enough to ask to see the actual fish before it’s cooked. You can
choose from among 15 to 20 kinds, prepared any way you specify, with a wide variety
of well-flavored sauces. Bouillabaisse is an enduring favorite—much cheaper here
than at many other places. A roasted version of chapon de mer is served with a
Provençal sauce. How do the hardworking owners, Paul and Monique Osiel, assisted
by their son, Rubens, recommend their fresh John Dory? Roasted as simply as possible,
served only with a hint of beurre blanc.
Port de la Darse.&04-93-01-71-41. Reservations recommended. Main courses 10€–25€ ($13–$33); bouillabaisse
40€ ($52); fixed-price menus 22€–33€ ($29–$43). No credit cards. Thurs–Tues noon–2:15pm and 7–10pm. Closed