Villefranche sur Mer
Idling in the 16th century citadel
Villefranche-sur-mer is on the far side of Mont Alban from Nice.
You can enjoy a shore excursion here while your MSC cruise ship lies at anchor in its beautiful bay: the old town, with its fishing boats, sixteenth-century citadel and the covered medieval rue Obscure running beneath the houses, is a charming place to while away an afternoon. Villefranche’s tiny harbour is overlooked by the medieval Chapelle de St-Pierre, decorated by Jean Cocteau in 1957 in shades he described as “ghosts of colours”.
The drawings portray scenes from the life of St Peter and homages to the women of Villefranche and the gypsies. The chapel is used just once a year, on June 29, when fishermen celebrate the feast day of St Peter and St Paul with a Mass.
MSC Mediterranean cruises also offer excursions to Nice, a city with mementos from its time as a Roman regional capital, and earlier still, when it was founded by the Greeks. The old town’s real magnet is cours Saleya and the adjacent place Pierre-Gautier and place Charles-Félix. These wide-open, sunlit spaces – fringed with grandiloquent municipal buildings and Italianate chapels – are the site of the city’s main market.
Café and restaurant tables fill the cours on summer evenings, and presiding over it all is the baroque Chapelle de la Miséricorde with its elliptical nave and exceptionally rich ornamentation. Of the three Corniche roads east of Nice, the Moyenne Corniche is the most photogenic, a real cliff-hanging, car-chase highway.
Eleven kilometres from Nice, the medieval village of Eze winds round its conical rock just below the corniche, its tiny vaulted passages and stairways designed with defence in mind. At the summit, a cactus garden, the Jardin Exotique, covers the site of the former castle.