The Best For Last – Villefranche-Sur-Mer

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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.

31 comments to The Best For Last – Villefranche-Sur-Mer

  • Sorry you didn’t get to the fort, Bob. It is a bit tricky. At least you got the spectacular views! Thanks for dropping by!

  • Bob

    We got to the top of the steps ok(not sure if there were really that many!) then turned left and there was a road going round to the right and up . Went up and round then had more choices. Tried them all a bit, but didn’t know which was correct. Eventually went back to the top of steps and went down the road. It led us back down to the marina. Got some good views but never got near the fort. Would like to do it!

  • The terrain is friendly, no rough surfaces, so ordinary good walking shoes or even trainers would be perfect, Juliet. Hope you had fun! And thanks for dropping by.

  • Juliet Bonner

    Just about to tackle this. Didn’t bring my hiking boots so I’m hoping it will be doable I trainers? Wish me luck! :D xx

  • Sorry to hear about that, Diane. I remember that on the way to the fortress, there was a very busy crossing with the traffic light where we also almost lost our way all because the all important signpost was way up the path already. At that time, we thought the way could not be along a busy traffic road, and so we went a little to the left, went a few steps uphill and saw the signpost. The guide we had that was provided by the tourism office was also not 100% helpful.

  • Hello Marlys and Michael,

    Thank you for the idea of hiking from Villefranche-Sur_Mer up to Fortress Mont Alban. We copied your text of the hike onto my iphone and tried to follow directions. But, we found your descriptions were too brief and we never
    found the 650 steps. We got to the Fortress, but by walking along dangerous roads without ped space and on a very rocky path. We’ve had extensive experience in European walks and used our own map our hike on down to Nice.

  • Calogero Mira

    Villefranche-Sur-Mer has many colours – like Liguria.

  • Joe

    Villefranche-sur-mer sure is a place worth visiting if you plan to visit France, I love the fort, worth a visit too

  • Have fun, Sophie. Hope the weather gods will be kind. Been pouring here in Paris. But the south of France should be way better.

  • Going to the Riviera next week and looking forward to Villefranche. Sounds lovely for hiking and just wandering about, too :)

  • Hahaha, Marcia, Mrs Easy Hiker just refused to look at the stairs, she just trudged along. Seeing the number of stairs to be climbed disheartend her a bit, so she just went on up without looking how long these stairs still were.

  • Just looking at those steps made my legs ache — I even felt a bit winded! But I would definitely would have done it, especially for the view.

  • Hopefully, we could do some hikes in Italy quite soon and perhaps with you Simon.

  • Nina, it was just so tempting to count the number of steps just so we could put a number to the challenge we undertook.

  • Gorgeous photos are not difficult to come by in this gorgeous place, I can tell you, Ted.

  • Thanks, Jeff. Glad you enjoy our posts. I’m sure you’d love this part of France too. Time for a visit, perhaps?

  • Debbie, all in all, the hikes we’ve done in the Cote d’Azur were gorgeous (and I have to admit that I love the south of France and its beaches.)

  • Hiking in the French Riviera is great fun, Laurel. And this particularly so.

  • I wouldn’t associate “hiking” with the “French Riviera” but this hike looks amazing.

  • I can see why Villefranche is so well known! Your pictures are gorgeous. The views are tremendous and would be worth climbing all those stairs.

  • Ah yes, a glass of wine or of cold cold beer is a worthy reward for breaking sweat anytime.

  • Absolutely lovely! I am glad to hear that you do like to break a sweat occasionally. I always feel like I’ve earned my glass of wine or treat if I have. I love the colours you show us from your walks. It makes most of North America seem rather drab.

  • It was a hard schlep for me and Mrs. Easy Hiker. But we were really glad we did it. As you said, the views were gorgeous.

  • Absolutely beautiful! I’m not sure about walking up and counting the 650+ steps but definitely worth every step for that gorgeous scenery.

  • Sorry to hear that, Jackie. Normally, the weather in the French Riviera is constant, meaning sunny. We were also caught out on one day when we were there and it was not pleasant. We stayed indoors that day. Next time luckier, perhaps.

  • We caught a cruise ship at Villefranche on a fall day a few years ago. I had been so looking forward to the sunny coastline. Instead, the skies had opened were dumping buckets of rain — we were drenched, our bags were drenched, and cruise ship personnel held umbrellas as we hopped aboard tenders to reach the ship. . .it is nice to see how beautiful it might have looked.

  • What a fantastic tour with such sublime rewards! Your pictures are stunning of course and I just love the way you lead us in and around the “back streets” to really discover the destination!

  • Wow, absolutely gorgeous photos.

  • Lovely! I am not sure I would have kept count of 650 steps, but it would be fun trying. The views toward the bay are stunning.
    I think the hiker is the lucky one!

  • That looks like a wonderful hike and from your description it reminds me a little of the Cinque Terre and also of Porto Venere. Have you been there?

Leave a Reply