Technically now a suburb of Nice, and right next to it, is the town of Villefranche-sur-Mer. It isn’t the only place in the French Riviera where you can see the hills and coast in one point of view. Monaco is another, but that has an entirely different vibe.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is most definitely a tourist destination - not only is it in the French Riviera, but also it is a port of call of many cruise ships because of the depth of the sea so close to the shore. Nonetheless, it’s vibe seems significantly less touristy than Nice. Perhaps when folks disembark, they all just scatter.
From Nice, we took the Bus 100, which can get you all the way to Monaco and Menton. The regional train TER can also get you there quicker, but there’s so much to absorb of the local culture when you take the bus. You can also rent a scooter, which I made reservations for, but I flaked last minute. 😬 I got scared with the thought of hillside roads. So, the bus it was for us.
We were welcomed by a flea market at the arrêt de bus Octroi with old French ad prints and other antique items. It’s a short walk to the harbor from the bus stop, but you can always make it longer as we did by going through the many alleyways that are just so charming. I thought there’d be swarms of tourists in the middle of the summer, but it was not the case at all. You can go in and out of shops and cafés without feeling you’re in Pamplona running with the bulls, which some places in Nice felt like. And you must go in and out of shops, enjoy little tastings the Mediterranean can offer, and find something to bring a piece of Villefranche-sur-Mer home (I have this cute trivet in my kitchen).
Our trip to the French Riviera came immediately after we spent a week and a half at the Cinque Terre so I was making some comparisons. If Nice is the Monterosso of the French Riviera, Villefranche-sur-Mer is surely its Vernazza, even if the former is considerably larger. The colorful buildings and winding alleyways make me say so, with the mountains on one side and the water so close on the other. The major difference is that Vernazza is packed with day trippers. Villefranche-sur-Mer is not like so - more like Vernazza before and after the day trippers have gone back to Monterosso or Rio Maggiore (we stayed in Vernazza so I was able to see that difference).
The highlight of our trip was chatting with some locals, they were fishing in their swimsuits. The man said he always comes out here to fish, he often catches some, but also likes to swim with them after. My husband liked that idea so much that next thing I know, he was getting down to his swimsuit, and just dove in. And then he was back up.
And then we marveled at the fact that here in Villefranche-sur-Mer, on the Mediterranean, one is free to jump in at his own risk. That sort of insouciant mantra is just not something we see a lot in the US. Perhaps we’re missing out.