The Best For Last – Villefranche-Sur-Mer

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Easy hiking in the French Riviera


If you only have time for one hiking trail during your holiday in the French Riviera, do yourself a favour and make it this one.

The tour around Mont Alban near the picturesque village of Villefranche-sur-mer was the best trail we took during our stay in the area.

What makes this trail so special?

For one, there is Villefranche-sur-mer itself. It fully deserves its reputation as the pearl of the French Riviera, and there is already a lot to see on your walk from the train station into town, as well as more – including the famous beach front – to look forward to on your return.

"Beach front of Villefranche-sur-mer in the French Riviera"

Secondly, unlike many of the other coastal walks that are on offer, this one involves a certain amount of physical effort. I happen to believe that no hike is complete if you do not break sweat at least once, and after our “lazy” hikes of the previous days, I was really ready for this one.

"Church of St Michel in Villefrance-sur-mer in the French Riviera"

Turn right from the pedestrianized village street into Rue de l’Eglise (past the church of Saint Michel) and continue your way up the hill via Rue de la Victoire and Avenue Gallieni before crossing the lower Corniche and finding, a few steps on your right hand side, the start of the Campo Quadro stairway that will lead you – across some side streets – all the way up to the “middle Corniche”, a journey of altogether 650 steps. (I tried to keep score as best as I could, but in fact may have missed a few.)

"Part of a long stairway up the hiking trail in Villefranche-sur-mer in the French Riviera"

Once you are on top of the stairway, you may be a little out of breath, but at least you can be sure that the hardest effort is now safely behind you. That’s the good thing if the early stages of your trail take you on a climb: once you are on top of the hill, the only way is down.

Turn left into the middle Corniche, the legendary coastal road (there is a sidewalk for pedestrians), and after 500 metres and some good views over the bay (the “Rade de Villefranche”) …

"A view of the harbour of Villefranche-sur-mer from atop a hill in the French Riviera"

… you come to a traffic light. Look for the Chemin du Mont Alban and the wooden sign that marks the continuation of the tour.

Pass the church on your left hand side, gently continuing up the hill. Stay on the stairway and ignore the Mont Alban footpath on your right. (That’s the skyline of Nice on your right hand side, by the way.)

The Mont Alban fortress is the third good thing of the trail: semi-abandoned old buildings always make intriguing landmarks, and – if they are situated on the top of a hill as they are here – they also serve as excellent points of reference, being clearly visible from a great distance and making it generally impossible to lose your way.

"Ruins of Fort Mont Alban on top of the hiking trail in Villefranche-sur-mer in the French Riviera"

Finally, the descent. Take the straight road that leads off the fortress and turn to the left after you have arrived in the pine forest, always following the yellow markers.

While you are walking down the hill through a dense and lush Mediterranean woodland, enjoying the splendid views across the bay and the seasonal smells in the heavily scented air, perhaps a thought concerning the cruise ships and private yachts underneath your feet.

"View from atop the hill of Villefrance-sur-mer over the harbour"

These people, for all their money, probably never get to experience the French Riviera this way. It is well known that Roman Abramovich likes to take his kids to the Cote d’Azur, but what does that mean? Instead of visiting a string of confined spaces – restaurants, clubs and shops – wouldn’t they perhaps be much happier doing something like this?

Who’s the really lucky guy here – and who should envy whom?

At the end of your descent (at the bottom of a long stone staircase), turn left into the lower Corniche and – after a few hundred metres – down the stairs into the harbour area and, subsequently, past the famous beachfront of Villefranche-sur-mer, the most beautiful of the French Riviera …

"Restaurants and coffee shops along the beachfront of Villefranche-sur-mer"

… rounding off the combination of great coastal views and a direct experience of the countryside with some impressions of splendid Mediterranean architecture.

Not a bad package for a two to three hour walk in the afternoon. And perhaps you can even find the time for a cup of coffee by the beach before the next train takes you back to your home-away-from-home holiday rental.

We were based in Antibes on our visit to the South of France, thanks to HomeAwayUK who gave  us the chance to discover the small outdoors of the French Riviera. Find out more about their offerings by following them on Facebook and on Twitter.

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