Villefranche-sur-Mer is a popular French Riviera resort located in between the city of Nice and Monaco. The deep bay off Villefranche was exploited by the French and American navies for many years and is now a popular mooring point for cruise liners. The population of the town is around 6,000, but this more than doubles during the summer season. The old town and the bay of Villefranche-sur-mer have been used as the setting for many famous films, including Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery, The Jewel of the Nile with Michael Douglas and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Steve Martin. Villefranche-Sur-Mer was also used by the Rolling Stones during their recording of their 1972 album Exile on Main St.
Villefranche tourist information: History
Villefranche is an ancient settlement, with remains being found dating back to prehistoric times. The Greeks and later the Romans used the natural harbour as a stop-over en route to the Greek settlements around the Western Mediterranean. During the Middle Ages Villefranche and the County of Nice were fought over almost constantly. Over the next few centuries Villfranche passed into the hands of empires from Naples, Turkey, Sardinia, Savoy, as well as the French. In 1793, the French occupied Villefranche and Nice and they remained part of the Napoleonic Empire until 1814. It was returned to the Kingdom of Sardinia by the Congress of Vienna, but then in 1860, Villefranche was given back to France.
By the late 19th century Villefranche-sur-Mer had become an important Navy base for firstly the Russians and then the Americans. The site was also the winter residence for royalties and wealthy visitors, most notably King Leopold of Belgium. Villa Léopolda on the hills above Villefranche was once described as the most “expensive house in the world”.
Villefranche tourist information: things to see
Villefranche has a number of impressive buildings including the Église Saint-Michel and Chapelle Saint-Pierre. The Chapelle was used as a storeroom for local fishermen for most of the 19th and early part of the 20th century, but it was finally restored in 1957 with Jean Cocteau adding his now-famous murals depicting the life of the saint and of local fishermen. The Citadel built in 1557 now houses the Town Hall, a convention centre, three museums and an open air theatre. The Rue Obscure (Dark Street) is a passage way under the harbour front houses which dates back to 1260.
Compared to other beaches surrounding Nice on the French Riviera, Villefranche beaches are relatively quiet even in the summer months. The Plage des Marinières is the most popular Villefranche beach and is located at the north end of the bay. The Plage de la Darse beach, is made up of sand and some pebbles and is located behind the main jetty of the harbour of La Darse. These South France beaches are popular with families and snorkelers (there are plenty of rocky inlets to explore). The Villefranche beaches are lined with some nice cafes and shops.
The weather in Villefranche sur Mer is a typical Mediterranean climate, with long hot summers and mild winters. Traditonally visitors came to Villefranche during the Winter months, when the mild temperatures were a welcome relief from the damp and cold conditions in northern Europe. During the winter the weather in Villefranche is mild and bright, but often it can get quite chilly at night. During the day the average temperatures are around 11°C with average sunshine levels of around 5 hours. However, this statistic often disguises the odd few days when temperatures can creep up to 19°C and 20°C. What you will notice however is that most days are charaterized by powder blue skies. Frost and snow are extremely rare.
In the Spring, the average temperature climbs up to 15°C in April and 19°C in May and sunshine levels steadily increase to an average of eight hours per day during May. By the Summer the average temperature peaks at 26°C in July and August and then drops back to 23°C in September. Whilst you can get the odd peak of temperatures rising to 35°C, the sea breeze helps to make it still feel fresh. In late summer, thunderstorms are more likely and you can often get dramatic downpours. The sea is warm enough for swimming throughout summer and peaks at 23°C in August. At night it remains very warm, staying at an average of 18°C in the peak months. The sunniest month by far is July, with an average of eleven hours of sunshine per day.
During the Autumn, temperatures fall to an average of 14°C but there are still five or six hours sunshine per day and the sea remains warm enough for swimming (for the brave!).
Where to next . . . ?
- Read our article on Villefranche beaches South France.
- See our reviews on the Best beach restaurants in South France to visit.
- Read our articles on the Best beaches in South of France.
- Planning a trip to the South of France? Check out our Beach houses in South France to rent.
Contact Iain by Email or by phone +33 6 95 00 28 44 if you have any particular questions you would like to ask about visiting the South of France. If you liked the article then please share it with others using the Twitter, Facebook and G+ buttons below. I wish you a wonderful stay in the South of France.