Over the years, this blog has featured many different kinds of walks for different occasions: exhausting hikes as well as gentle strolls, explorations of the wild and urban walks with a cultural theme, walks for summer and walks for winter, walks that you can spread over several days and walks that you can squeeze in between a boozy lunch and your afternoon tea.
Today’s walk falls into yet another type of category: an escape walk.
We all know the feeling: we have gone somewhere to visit a place, a village or a small town, everything is more or less what we expected to find having read about it in a guide book or on the Internet – the articles did not lie, but what they failed to point out is that the place is also tiny, and after thirty minutes we have seen everything there is to see.
We have, however, spent two hours getting there and are no more ready to concede defeat than we are prepared to walk up and down the same main street ten times. So what can we do? Escape, that’s what we can do: escape for a walk!
There are many such places – I bet you have come across some of them yourselves – but today’s place to escape from is Villefranche-sur-mer. If you have ever been to the French Riviera, you must have seen it from the road or the train, and it looks very pretty nestling in its bay, the very image of a Riviera village.
The problem is that you have already seen the best of it, because the entire town is only one-and-a-half streets deep behind the marina, and the marina itself is the most touristy place on the entire coast. (This may have something to do with the fact that many cruise ships come here.)
I normally don’t mind if something is a bit touristy – after all, we have lived for 20 years in (and tremendously enjoyed) one of the world’s most overrun tourist hotspots (Montmartre), but even I find it all a bit much. There are simply too many overpriced eateries with too many people in them, and that was a weekend in the off-season. Heaven have mercy on visitors who come here in July or August!
Chances are, however, that you will want to go and see Villefranche for yourself if you have set eyes upon it, such is human nature. We went, too, after all. If then, after 30 minutes, you are bored, you can take a walk to the Citadel. That’s a lovely excursion, but also a bit of a proper hike which can easily occupy half a day.
Alternatively, you can take a shorter circular route around the harbour and be back in less than two hours. This is what we are going to do today.
Taking a Great Escape Around Vibrant Villefranche Harbour
If you know in advance that you want to walk this way, you can take bus no. 100 from Nice and get off at the stop Madonne Noir. The Chemin de la Madonne Noir – which you will need to climb – starts right opposite on the other side of the road. (If you come from Monaco, you will find the Chemin between the stops Leopold II and Schifanoia.)
If you decide to take the trip when you are already in town, make your way to Villefranche train station, use the underpass to reach the Chemin de la Fouan, cross the Basse Corniche (road 6098) and continue straight uphill into the Chemin de la Madonne Noir.
From the trail, you will get great views over the harbour and the entire bay on your right hand side.
Follow this chemin until it intersects with the Boulevard Suede. Take a right turn, following the Chemin des Serres which eventually leads you to a stairway that goes all the way down to street level. You now stand on the cusp of the Saint Ferrat peninsula, the Bay of Beaulieu on your left, the Rade de Villefranche on your right hand side.
Cross the road and look for the Avenue de Grasseuil on the other side of the busy intersection, turn right and continue straight into the Avenue Louise Bordes.
This is one of the most elegant streets on the entire coast, with one multimillion $$$ villa after the next. The street, however, is also of considerable historical interest: for one, the Nazi secret police (the Gestapo) had their local HQ here during the German occupation in WWII, and thirty years later, the Rolling Stones created parts of their best album (Exile on Main Street) there after Keith Richards had converted one floor of his Riviera home into a recording studio.
Incidentally, both the Gestapo and Keith Richards occupied the same house, …
… the Villa Nellcote at no. 10, nowadays almost invisible from the street, although you can peek through under the fence. (The “B” on top of the gate stands for Bordes, the name of the shipowners who acquired the villa in 1919 and who had the iron door installed. Eventually, the entire street was named after them.)
Just behind the next house, at no. 8, you will find a stairway on your left hand side to lead you down to the beach. Now stroll down the beach promenade to Villefranche – where you can join the crowd.
Why not take this great escape around vibrant Villefranche Harbour on your next visit? You will certainly enjoy it.