Things to do

The glorious beaches of Villefranche-sur-Mer

Located just outside of Nice, discover some of the best beaches that Villefranche-sur-Mer has to offer with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle.

This picturesque fishing town in the south of France is known to be one of the region’s most beautiful harbour towns. With incredible beaches and plenty of places to visit, you’ll be able to enjoy a wonderfully relaxing trip.

One of the most charming towns on the French Riviera, Villefranche-sur-Mer’s proximity to Nice and Monaco means it can often be overlooked. However, if you’re looking for a location that has retained its natural authenticity, and boasts a stunning coastline, this is the place.

Protected by plunging cliffs and tucked between the Cap Ferrat peninsula and the Cap de Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer gives visitors a sense of total escape. This sense of escapism, combined with the beauty of the old town and the divine waterfront bars and restaurants generates an atmosphere that makes Villefranche ideal for relaxation.

Where is Villefranche-sur-Mer?

If you’re planning a trip to the South of France, Villefranche-sur-Mer puts you in perfect proximity to everything on the Riviera. The port and old town of Nice are only a few kilometres away, and the walk between the two places is incredibly alluring.

If you want a trip slightly further afield, Monaco is only a short train or bus journey away, as is the glamour of Cannes and Juan Les Pins.

Because Villefranche-sur-Mer is located in the French department of the Alpes Maritimes, the area is quite mountainous, which only adds to the wonderful sense of escapism.

Aerial view of streets and landmarks. Villefranche-sur-Mer, Nice, Cote d'Azur, French Riviera.

Driving to Villefranche-sur-Mer from Calais

The drive from Calais to Villefranche-sur-Mer should take around 11 hours and 40 minutes via the A26. The route does include tolls, so be mindful of this when you’re planning your journey.

Although the drive is long, if you have time, this is the ideal opportunity for a road trip across France. Start your journey from the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle terminal in Calais, and from there head towards Lille, Reims, Dijon and Lyon. Any of these towns are a great place to break up your journey or to spend a few days as you head towards the coast.

The glorious beaches

Unlike other Riviera towns, Villefranche-sur-Mer has no private beaches. However, this doesn’t mean the coastline is packed during the summer. Instead, many of the beaches are known for being relatively quiet, so if you’re after some peace, you’re in the right place.

The old town and bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer have been used as a location in many films, including Hitchcock’s ‘To Catch a Thief’ and ‘The Jewel of the Nile’ with Michael Douglas. When you step out onto the shore, it’s easy to see why.

Plage Villefranche-sur-Mer

People sunbathing on Villefranche-sur-Mer beach with the railway track running along the right side of the image

Just 0.75km from the town centre, Plage Villefranche-sur-Mer is easily accessible. Surrounded by mountains, despite the beach’s more urban setting, the views are magnificent. The water is known for being crystal clear, and the sandy shore means you won’t need special shoes to enter the water.

In addition to swimming and sunbathing, other activities are available on the beach. Its proximity to the town makes it easy to head to a nearby restaurant at lunchtime or for a post-beach drink.

Plage des Marinieres

When locals say they’re going to the beach, they mean Plage des Marinieres. Located at the north end of the bay, the beach runs below the railway line which connects Nice and Italy.

Again, lined with plenty of different shops and cafes, this beach is perfect for families. There are also numerous rocky inlets along the shoreline, making Plage des Marinieres a great choice for any keen snorkellers who want to explore.

The deep bay, which was exploited by the French and American navies for many years, now makes this spot particularly popular with cruise liners who want to escape the noise of Monaco for a few days.

Plage de l'Ange Gardien

Known as the ‘Guardian Angel beach’ Plage de l'Ange Gardien, offers a more tranquil experience compared to other beaches in the South of France. Located at the far end of the Villefranche coastline, a portion of this cove is authorised for use by pet owners and their dogs.

Plage Des Jeunes

Rocky inlet with view of Villefranche town in the background and clear waters

Situated near to Les deux Palmiers, and close to Rocca Marina, Plage Des Jeunes is another beautiful beach in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Smaller than some of the other beaches in the area, it is no less idyllic and the perfect place to relax with a book.

Plage de la Darse

One of the most tranquil beaches, Plage de la Darse is located at the western end of the Villefranche bay next to the Port Royal de la Darce. While easily accessible from the water, part of the reason this beach is so quiet is because there is no parking.

If you do want to spend the day at Plage de la Darse, the cove is an easy walk or cycle ride from the town centre. The beach itself is beautiful and the water is the most consistently clean in the area. It is worth noting however that the pebbled shore does mean that water appropriate footwear is essential!

Other places to visit in Villefranche-sur-Mer

Combining a sleepy, small-town atmosphere with dynamic scenery and glamourous undertones, Villefranche-sur-Mer is exquisite.  With the colourful old town cascading down the hillside to the restaurant-lined waterfront, there are plenty of things for visitors to enjoy.

The old town

Rue Obscure in Villefranche sur Mer

The narrow streets and stairways of the old town in Villefranche-sur-Mer are lined with buildings dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Decorated in pinks, reds, oranges and yellows, in the same style to many properties on the French Riviera, there are numerous photographic opportunities.

One of the highlights of walking around the old town is discovering Rue Obscure or Dark Street. This passage goes under the old town’s houses and dates to the 13th century, giving it a marvellous and historical edge.

Eglise Saint-Michel church

Built in the 1750s, Elise Saint-Michel church is home to one of the areas operational organs in the area. The church itself is in the Italian Baroque style and also houses a painting of Saint Michael above the marble altar.

The Citadelle Saint-Elme

Although it was built in the 16th century, the Citadelle Saint-Elme now houses the Town Hall, a convention centre, outdoor theatre, and garden. In the summer the theatre is one of the best places to spend an evening during the summer months.

The citadel is also home to several museums, including the Volti Museum, which contains bronze sculptures by artist Antoniucci Volti, and the Goetz-Boumeester Museum which features the works of numerous artists including Picasso.

Institut de Francais

If you want to improve your French, there’s no better place than the Institut de Francais. Known as being one of the most immersive language schools on the Riviera, the building is located on the hillside above Villefranche. Not only will you be treated to astounding views of the Mediterranean Sea, but the food, staff and teaching are all said to be superb.

Chapelle Saint-Pierre

Built in the 16th century, this Romanesque chapel is dedicated to Saint Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, and has since become a monument to the creative fusion between spirituality and art.

The chapel was originally used by Villefranche’s fishermen as a storage space for most of the 19th and the early 20th century, before being restored. Jean  Cocteau took an interest in the chapel after he moved to Villefranche and was instrumental in its restoration which took place in the 1950s. Additional murals painted by  Cocteau were added to the walls, depicting the life of Saint Peter and the local fishermen. Today, these murals are famous and visited by people from across the world. 

Accommodation choices

View of old town in Villefranche-sur-Mer with the Mediterranean sea in the background and brightly coloured buildings.

Ideally, it’s best to spend a few days in Villefranche-sur-Mer soaking up the beauty and experiencing the town at its best. Fortunately, there are numerous accommodation options available depending on what you need.

Welcome Hotel

If you’re keen to stay in a hotel, the Welcome Hotel is based right on the waterfront and is in a prime spot for early morning trips to the beach. Complete with classic decor and beach views, the rooms are all fully air-conditioned, so you’ll be guaranteed a place to escape the heat in the summer months.

Le Vauban

Ideal for families, Le Vauban is ideally located with Villefranche-sur-Mer to ensure you can easily access everything the town has to offer. Again, all the rooms are air-conditioned, and they have specific family rooms, which makes it a great choice if you’re travelling as a larger party.

As the hotel only has 14 rooms, you’re guaranteed peace and quiet. The hotel also has rooms for people with reduced mobility, and each room has the choice of a view over the coastline or the ramparts of Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Hôtel La Fiancée du Pirate

Overlooking the bay and opposite the Hôtel La Fiancée du Pirate, Hôtel La Fiancée du Pirate has so much on offer for guests. As well as making the most of the pool and enjoying breakfast on your terrace with a view of the bay, the hotel also has 15 air-conditioned rooms.

You’ll be able to select from the sea view rooms, rooms in the hotel garden or the pavilion rooms which have their own separate terrace. Ideal for couples and families no matter what you have planned this hotel makes a great base for the duration of your trip.

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