Villefranche sur Mer

A beautiful bay two steps away from Nice 

The medieval Chapelle de St-Pierre 

The magic covered rue Obscure

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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.

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    A discrete and slightly snobbish charm
    A discrete and slightly snobbish charm

    A holiday to southern France will take you to heaven. This Garden of Eden encompasses the snow-peaked lower Alps and their foothills, which in the east descend right to the sea, and to the west extend almost to the Rhône.

    The coastal hinterland is made up of range after range of steep, forested hills, while the shore is an ever-changing series of geometric bays giving way to chaotic outcrops of glimmering rock and deep, narrow inlets, like miniature fjords – the calanques. All these elements would count for nothing, however, were it not for the magical Mediterranean light. At its best in spring and autumn, it is both soft and brightly theatrical, as if some expert had rigged the lighting for each landscape for maximum colour and definition with minimum glare. A cruise to southern France is a good opportunity to visit the capital of the Riviera, Nice – a vibrant and intriguing blend of Italianate influence, faded Belle Époque splendour and first-class art.

    East of the city, the lower Corniche links the picturesque seafront towns of Villefranche, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Beaulieu; the higher roads offer some of the most spectacular coastal driving in Europe, en route to the perched village of Èze and the tiny principality of Monaco. The Riviera’s western half claims its best beaches – at jazzy Juan-les-Pins and at Cannes, a glitzy centre of designer shopping and film.