Travel update during the COVID-19 pandemic...
1. Can non-Europeans visit France as a tourist?
Updated: 13-June-2021. As of June 9, President Macron and the European Union have stated that non-Europeans, including Americans, Canadians and many other countries are allowed to come to France as tourists. A negative COVID-19 test RT-PCR (Rapid PCR test) is required within 72 hours of travel. You will be provided with a copy of your test result which you will show to the airlines when you check in. You will not get on a flight without this test result taken within 72 hours of flying. There is discussion underway to not require a Covid test if you have proof of vaccination but at this point, a negative RT-PCR test is still required to board a plane.
Proof of vaccination is helpful but not required, at this time. This could change. Given that most vaccination cards do not yet have digital QR codes, having a copy of your vaccination card would be good to have with you.
A number of phone based apps, under the idea of “digital health passports,” are being developed that once in place will allow you to upload the digital QR code you receive of your test results (more and more service providers are providing QR codes). You will also be able to upload your vaccination QR code when that becomes available.
It is still unclear whether non-Europeans will need to use the French app called TousAntiCovid to upload these results or their own country’s app. One would assume their own country’s app. All official documentation says this is all still being worked out so until then, a paper copy of your COVID-19 test and vaccination card is the only option.
You will not need to quarantine in France.
2. What documentation will I need to get into France during COVID-19 times?
Updated 13-June-2021. The airline on which you travel into Europe will provide you with a link to the documentation you will need to enter Europe and/or France. You will need a RT-PCR test (a rapid PCR test) taken within 72 hours of your departure. That may be the only documentation you need. Once on the airline, they may ask you to fill out a form for contact details while in France.
Your airline should send you the link to the travel document site which is called https://www.traveldoc.aero (for Air France) which explains what documents you need and a link to download those documents. Currently the only document required in addition to a COVID-19 test, is an attestation form stating why you are coming which is on this travel doc website. However, it seems that no one collects this document which has been our experience in travelling between the US and France for the last 8 months and American and Canadian guests that arrived this weekend (June 12, 2021) also filled it out and no one every asked or wanted it.
3. What should I expect at immigration?
Updated 13-June-2021. If the airline allows you on the flight, you will be allowed into the country. Immigration will ask for your passport and your reason for travel: tourism. They might, and have, in one guest’s experience (but not the others), asked to see your vaccination card or a photocopy of it. If you get an officious immigration officer, they might ask for proof of where you are staying but we would be very surprised if they did that. We can give you a rental contract if you would like. You might want to have handy the address of the apartment where you are staying. Everyone travelling in the last few days have said it was easy and smooth.
4. How open is France? Restaurants, cultural venues, etc.?
Updated 18-May-2021. Here are the key dates for France’s reopening schedule:
- May 19: France restaurants and bars are open for outside dining. Cultural venues (museums, cinemas, art galleries) and shops are all open. There is still a 9 pm curfew.
- June 9: inside and outside dining opens and the curfew extends to 11 pm.
- June 30: the curfew will be lifted entirely.
5. Can I get a COVID-19 test in France if my return flight requires one?
Updated 15-May-2021. Your return flight will most likely require a COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to travel. Villefranche has 3 pharmacies and they all offer RT-PCR tests for travel. The fee is approximately 20 euro. You will get the results within 20 minutes. It is a good idea to go to the pharmacy the day before you want the test and schedule an appointment. It is very easy and convenient. We recommend the pharmacy at Place de la Paix and the pharmacist speaks very good English.
About our apartments...
How do I reserve a holiday rental apartment with Riviera Experience?
For all inquiries about property availability, please contact us via email at Shelley@rivieraexperience.com, or by telephone at + 33 (0)6-80-41-25-97, or when dialing from the US, 011-33-6-80-41-25-97. We try hard to respond within the same business day you contact us.
To make a reservation, we ask for a 40% deposit of the prices posted on our Availability & Rates page. Final payment is due 2 months prior to arrival. We can accept payment by credit card (Visa and MasterCard but not American Express), or by bank wire.
What is your cancellation policy?
Our general cancellation policy is that we do not offer refunds on deposits or final payments. We can provide you with a rental contract with which to obtain travel insurance for financial protection in the event of a need to cancel. (When you pay the deposit, please ask us for a contract for travel insurance). It is not our desire to have you pay for something you cannot use, nor for you to feel penalized for having to cancel as it is usually due to an emergency, but we are a small business and simply cannot afford to refund bookings, like a hotel, with a rapid turnover. Our customers book many months if not a full year in advance. It is difficult to re-book an apartment if you cancel on a short notice (2 or 3 months prior to arrival) and we will have turned away potential customers. For this reason, we are happy to provide you with a contract so you can get travel insurance. In general, we need at least 3 to 4 months to re-book an apartment, and sometimes more. If we are able to re-book the apartment, we will provide a refund for what we can re-rent it for, minus a processing fee. Again, we highly recommend travel insurance.
Pandemic cancellation is a different situation, however. In the event that there is a pandemic and France has closed its borders or is under confinement and everything is closed, then we will apply your payment to a future booking. However, if travel is possible but you are uncomfortable traveling, then we would not apply your deposit to a future booking. For this reason, we highly recommend travel insurance.
How will I find the apartment, get keys, and check in?
Prior to your arrival we will be in touch with you about your arrival details, including how you plan to reach Villefranche. If you are flying in, we will offer to set up a taxi to Villefranche or explain how to come on the train (if you don’t have too many or heavy bags). You do not need to rent a car if you are staying in the village, although if you are staying at the Villa it can be handy but also not necessary. Public transport is excellent.
Regardless of how you arrive, we will meet you personally at an easy to find, pre-defined location in the village and walk with you to the apartment. We will give you the keys, and take a little time to acquaint you with everything about the apartment, give you tips about the town, and answer any questions you may have. Prior to your arrival you might want to read our section About Villefranche to help you get acquainted with the area as well as our Things To Do page. Because we live in the village along with our staff, if you have questions or issues that arise during your stay we are available to help.
Whether you are coming from someplace nearby or from halfway around the world, our aim is to make your arrival easy and comfortable, so you can quickly settle in and begin enjoying the great lifestyle available in Villefranche.
The holiday rental apartments look nice in the pictures, but how nice are they really?
If you haven’t visited the apartment before, or haven’t had a friend stay there, we understand that you really don’t know what you are getting. Pictures are helpful, but one still might be nervous until you see if for real. Our customers routinely tell us that our pictures are really nice. However, when they walk into the apartments they always tell us that the pictures don’t do the apartments justice. The apartments are much nicer, the views better, and the feel of the apartments really special. But it may be better like that, as we would prefer to have you pleasantly surprised than disappointed.
We have remodeled each of our apartments, and when we do a remodel, we take the apartment back to the stone walls. We remove everything! We rebuild from the ground up. All new plumbing, electric, kitchens, flooring, ceilings, etc. We are committed to a quality remodel as we don’t want to have a lot of repairs and we want our apartments to last a long time. We hope to be in this business for a while, and have been (16 years now) so penny pinching on the remodel is penny-wise, pound foolish, in our opinion. And all our tradespeople are from the village so if we do have a plugged drain, or a light switch that goes bad, we can reach out and get rapid repairs made with a quick phone call. Additionally, all our appliances are new and well maintained.
We are sticklers for cleaning. We have a superb cleaning staff. We insist on weekly cleaning of each apartment. If you stay longer than a week, we schedule a weekly clean where the apartment is thoroughly cleaned and all linen changed. Sometimes a guest will ask us “we are very clean, do we really need the mid-stay clean”? We say — yes. It is the only way we can guarantee to each of our guests a very clean apartment. After the first mid-stay clean, our guests are always delighted and appreciate that we ‘pushed’ the point.
As we begin the remodel process, we try to get a feeling about the apartment and its space. What is its ‘personality’? How does it lend itself to supporting a nice lifestyle for people? We think about the flow of the space, how you would like to live in it, relax in it, entertain in it, the lighting, and the overall feel. Honestly, each apartment has its own personality and it does emerge, usually after we have demolished but sometimes even a bit before. Then we start to rebuild: figuring out the flow of the space, the placement of walls, think through the placement of furniture to ensure everything has enough space and uses the views to maximum advantage.
We also know there are a few basics that have to be in place. A great kitchen for cooking with all the things you want to enjoy cooking and entertaining — even if it is just for two. Great beds. We buy all our beds from a bed store and they are all top quality. We turn the mattresses regularly, the linen is all white cotton and good quality. And bedside tables and good reading lights on both sides of the bed. And great closet space.
Each apartment is equipped with a desk and office area, with WIFI, international calling, plenty of electrical outlets and a few desk supplies. Although you are on vacation many people still like to have a laptop to stay connected either to the office or home. And many of our guests come for extended stays and need a desk area to work — just like at home.
Bathrooms: good showers, bathtubs where we can (all but two apartments have great bathtubs also), good sinks (i.e., not too small), with great lighting, storage and counter space — very clean and modern, and with a window.
And of course the living space: dining room and living room. We attempt to make them very comfortable, with the appropriate amount of seating for the size of the apartment (and knowing that you might entertain guests), and with a nice, unique décor. One of our specialties is lighting, and all our customers comment on it. Everything is on dimmers and artistic. Yet there are also great reading lights everywhere. We have original art in all the apartments, mostly from local artists but also from our travels. We also feature antiques from the various antique shops in the area and from Provence. We try hard to have each apartment feel like a home — your home away from home.
Will I need to bring a hair dryer, an iron — what’s included?
We have attempted to make each apartment feel fully equipped, including a hair dryer, iron, ironing board, and washing machine (clothes drying is done outside on the clothesline in the local fashion — a great system — but we also can provide a drying rack). We also provide a stereo music system with Bluetooth, Sky TV with English channels in addition to French television, DVD player, WIFI, a telephone with free international calling to many locations worldwide (including Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand). The kitchens are equipped with a gas stove, electric oven, dishwasher, refrigerator, very good pots, pans and knives (with good knife sharpener), an assortment of serving dishes, a champagne bucket and wine cooler, drip coffee machine, and on special request a Nespresso machine. The only exception to this is in the Beachfront Bliss apartment, which has a kitchenette with a 2-burner induction stove top, an oven, and no dishwasher. All linen is included: white cotton sheets, down duvets or cotton blankets, down and foam pillows (2 per person), and towels (bath towels, beach towels, kitchen towels). We also provide bath, laundry and dishwasher soaps, toilet paper and paper towels for people staying for a week (for longer stays you might need to replenish supplies for your use). Please note that while we do have some plug adapters, we recommend that you also bring your own to guarantee you have one readily at hand. And if we have forgotten anything, we will do our very best to provide it!
What about cleanliness of apartments?
Our apartments are cleaned every week and we oversee the cleaning personally. Our two cleaners are trained and meticulous. They have worked for us for 15 years, since the beginning of our business. Their husbands or one of their family relatives sometimes help on really busy days. They are sisters and live in the village. They are Romanian of origin but speak French fluently and have been in France since 2004. We consider them members of our family and they are completely trustworthy.
We use the appropriate cleaning products and are meticulous with sanitizing everything. When they clean, they have the windows open, even in the winter, to ensure the apartments are kept fresh. We wash our linens at our own laundry facility in the village. Our girls work with gloves and in COVID-19 times with masks.
We do require weekly cleaning so if your stay is longer than a week, we will work out a time, typically on Friday, where they will come in and do a thorough cleaning of the apartment and change all the linen. You do not need to be there when the cleaning is done. You will love to come home to a freshly cleaned apartment. Everyone loves our cleaners as they do an outstanding job.
What’s there to do in Villefranche?
There are so many wonderful things to do in and around the village of Villefranche it’s hard to know where to start. You can easily spend a week here and never do the same thing twice. Check out our page About Villefranche to learn about how the town is laid out (there are three areas of Villefranche), Things To Do, the various Shops, Markets and Restaurants. There is more than you can do here in a month! But to give you an idea, below is a quick review of some of the highlights.
The Old Town rises steeply up from the sea to the hillsides that ring the bay of Villefranche (visit Villefranche tourist site). The whole village is pedestrian traffic only and has lovely Italian style architecture with medieval accents throughout. The Old Town is very beautiful, both well preserved and also very much a real living village with many local residents. It is always fun to explore its nooks and crannies, like the beautiful church of St. Michel, with its quiet tree-lined squares, or the rue Obscure (a famous medieval covered passage), or the Chapel St. Pierre (its interior painted by Jean Cocteau). Take a break for lunch at Place Pollonnais at one of the several Brasseries with outdoor seating (so you can soak up the sunshine and people watch!). On Sundays there is a wonderful Brocante market set up on the Place around its charming fountain (and on Saturdays there’s a farmer’s market at the top of the Old Town). And of course there’s the waterfront quai (with many fine restaurants serving great dinner fare), and sandy beach of Villefranche, with a kilometer-long wall of bougainvillea.
The Citadel is a huge stone fort built 600 years ago at the edge of the Old Town along the water, where there are now three museums, the City Hall, beautiful gardens, and the Cinema Plien Aire (outdoor theater). It is quite a magnificent structure and a great place to explore. There is a moat that connects the Old Village to the Port de la Darse, with walls nearly 100 feet high. Don’t miss the Volti museum in the Citadel and the gardens. Nearly every night during the summer there are movies shown in the outdoor theater. You can also walk up along the citadel walls that overlook the moat and, of course, the beautiful bay.
Walk around the Citadel water side path to the Port de la Darse. This is our working port, now mostly for pleasure yachts, with a colorful history going back over 500 years! Check out the beautiful vaulted workshops, the dry dock which can’t be mechanized (since it’s an historical monument) so is still used daily — the old-fashioned way. Great yachts come from around the world to be restored in this little port. The Darse is a great sub-culture of the village.
Walks: if you love walking you will be in paradise, as there are so many walks right from your doorstep that are all fabulous. The walk around beautiful Cap Ferrat takes about 2-3 hrs, but you don’t have to go all the way, any part of the walk is simply fantastic, along the most spectacular Mediterranean coastline, looking right across to Villefranche but feeling like you’ve gone on a far away adventure! If you bring a picnic lunch, stopping near the lighthouse allows you many private vantage points to relax and take in the magnificent view to Cap Antibes and the fairy tale-like Esterelle mountains beyond.
Or you can walk the other direction toward Nice, going up to Fort Alban with its commanding views over the whole region.
Not to mention all the different ways to explore the hillsides of Villefranche itself on the numerous public stairwells that lead all over the place. If you want exercise, without going to a gym, simply go out your front door and start walking.
Enjoy a day at the beach. Villefranche has a great sandy beach, the crystal clear water is sublime for swimming, and there are a couple of great beach restaurants that serve wonderful food.
Minutes away are the neighboring villages of Beaulieu sur Mer and St. Jean Cap Ferrat, with many shops, galleries and restaurants, and where you can also simply stop for refreshment at any number of sidewalk cafes to take in the lively scene and sea views to Eze and Monaco.
In Beaulieu one of my favorite things to do is to visit Villa Kerylos right on the sea, which is an exact replica of a Greek villa built on the island of Delos at the height of Greek civilization 2,500 years ago! It is fascinating and beautiful. Be sure and take the audio tour with it. And don’t miss the exhibit in the basement.
Villa Rothschild on Cap Ferrat is another great villa to visit. It is in the classic Belle Epoque style, quite impressive and lovely, but what’s even better are the amazing gardens — seven different kinds, with stunning views in all directions.
Then there is the famous walk up to and around Eze Village (about 3 minutes away from Villefranche, by either bus or train). Eze is one of the most picturesque medieval villages, with darling little pathways and shops all perched on top of a steep rugged cliffs overlooking the sea 1,000 feet below — a great place for a romantic lunch or dinner at one of the several top restaurants.
Take a bus to La Turbie, just a couple of miles from Eze village. This is another beautiful medieval village but completely different than Eze. Visit the Roman monument built by Augustus Cesar when they conquered the Ligurian tribes of the area — in 32 BC!
Then, of course, there’s so much to do right next door in Nice: its Old Town, the lively flower and farmer’s market every morning (except Mondays), a walk along the Promenade des Anglais, a drink at the famous Negresso Hotel, a visit to the newly renovated and fabulous Place Massena, shopping along the pietons area, a visit to the many museums (don’t miss the Chagall museum!), or the several music festivals held throughout the year. There are three good days of sightseeing and activities just in Nice, not to mention the many fabulous, reasonably priced restaurants.
And, in the other direction but just as close, be sure to visit to Monaco. The Old Town of Monaco, the palace and the cathedral, Monte Carlo and its casino and Hotel de Paris, the port (with unbelievable private yachts!), the spectacular gardens, and the Oceanographic museum (made famous by Jacques Cousteau) — all great places to visit.
A bit farther away …
Antibes, Juan les Pins, Cannes are just a short train ride away on our local train, about 20-30 minutes.
Or visit Ventimiglia just over the Italian border, less than a 30-minute train ride away. Every Friday there is a great market in Ventimiglia. It sort of boggles the mind that just a few minutes away everything’s so different: the food, the language (Italian of course), the culture. You’d think that it would be more blended — part French, part Italian. But it isn’t. It is pure Italian. And inland from the Italian Riviera are wonderful towns to visit that head right up into the Alps.
If you want to do more Alpine walking and hiking or visiting medieval villages that are very untouched by tourism, just inland of the Nice / Villefranche area is the Park Mercantour and the hillside villages of the Alpes Maritimes. It is spectacular country. Take a look at a map and you realize that the Alpes come right down to the Mediterranean. They basically form a crescent shape around the top of Italy, the crescent going from Venice, on the Adriatic, to Nice on the Mediterranean.
Still farther …
St. Tropez is about one and a half hours away by car (and can be longer in summer traffic), or by ferry. Exploring this part of the Var is lovely — vineyards, beaches, and of course oh so glamorous St. Tropez itself.
The lovely town of Aix-en-Provence, sometimes called the Paris of the south, is just an hour and a half drive or train ride from Villefranche. This is the gateway to Provence.
In the other direction, Florence is 5 hours away by train or car. Lucca, one of the Tuscan cities is 4 hours away. Genoa and Portofino 2-3 hours away.
And that’s the short list of things to see and do! More than you can probably fit in. One word of caution: Don’t try to do too much. Don’t miss out on simply ‘living’ life in the Villefranche village itself — that is quite special and if you run around from dawn to dusk every day, you may miss the simple joy and experience of village life.
What kinds of shops, restaurants and services (ATMs) are in Villefranche?
Shopping: there’s a variety of stores in Villefranche, from fashions, art, and our favorite soap and fragrance store (and much more shopping easily available in nearby Beaulieu and Nice). If you really want shopping, we would suggest Beaulieu, Nice and Cannes. On Sundays there’s a wonderful Brocante (‘flea market’) set up in the Old Town (Place Pollonnais) and at the Octroi part of town. On Saturday and Wednesday is our Farmer’s Market at the Octroi part of town.
Grocery Stores: there are four grocery stores in Villefranche, an excellent Italian traitteur (deli, with amazing prepared foods and pastas and sauces from Italy), and two green grocers. Between the four of them, more than one is open every day of the week. One grocery store is in the heart of the Old Town on rue du Poilu, another is at Octroi, and two more are at the Col of Villefranche, up on the hillside. Just a little bit farther away are two super markets, one in Beaulieu (Super U) and one at the Cap of Nice (Carrefour Market), either are within walking distance (about 20 minutes to each), or you can take the bus or train. Some of the stores will deliver. The two in the village (rue du Poilu and Octroi) are closed at lunchtime.
Boulangeries & Patisseries (bakery and pastery shops): there are five in Villefranche, four in the main village and one at the Col of Villefranche. There are more than one boulangerie open every day of the week. Most stay open ‘non-stop’ during the day (although the one at Place de la Paix closes from 1:30-4:30 pm).
Boucher (butcher): there are two in Villefranche. One in the Old Town at Place de la Paix who is lovely, and one at the Col of Villefranche, who is excellent and worth the hike (or bus ride) up the hill. In Beaulieu there are other excellent butchers.
Fish (Poissoniere): The local fishermen sell local catch at Place de la Paix on Friday, and at the farmers market at Octroi on Saturday. In addition, a local fisherman sells his catch on the quai several days of the week. Excellent fish can be had at the grocery stores at the Cap of Nice (Carrefour Market) and in Beaulieu (Super U).
Green Grocers: there are three, not including the fruit and vegetable stands at the grocery stores. Two are at Place de la Paix, one just below rue d’Eglise, the other is not open every day, and one at the Basse Corniche level of the village that is open every day except Sunday.
Restaurants: There are many restaurants in Villefranche: at the Col, the Basse Corniche, in the Old Town, and on the waterfront. We have a list of restaurants we can recommend, but you will also enjoy exploring on your own. There are two casual restaurants right at the beach that serve nice beach food.
Pharmacy: there are four pharmacies in Villefranche and more in the neighboring villages of Beaulieu sur Mer and St. Jean Cap Ferrat. Between these three villages, there is always one open each day of the week. There is a 24-hour pharmacy in Nice just 10 minutes away. We recommend the pharmacy at Place de la Paix. They are very helpful. If you have a problem communicating, ask them to call me, although the pharmacist speaks very good English.
Banks & ATMs: all at the Octroi (Basse Corniche) part of town.
Post Office & Police Station: in between the top of the Old Town (Place de la Paix) and the Basse Corniche level of town. There is the Police Municipal (Octroi level, across from Park) and the Police National (next to parking garage Barmassa).
Tourist Office: Villefranche has a very good tourist office with lots of useful information and very helpful staff who speak English quite well. Visit their website for helpful information.
Visit our About Villefranche page to view maps of where all these places are located. Everything is walkable and very accessible.
Is there a fresh market in Villefranche?
Villefranche has a wonderful fresh market two days of the week: Wednesday and Saturday. It is open from 7:30 am to 12:30 or 1:00 pm, and located at the Octroi level of town, in the park next to the tourist office. You will find green grocers along with many other delicious items including olives, various spreads for toasts for aperitif, charcuterie, cheeses, fishmonger, and prepared foods (roasted chickens, Vietnamese food, and South of France street food such as socca, a chick pea crepe, pissaladiere, an onion tart, pizza, and more delicious items). We especially love Arnaud, the fromagere (cheese man), who is a young man with an amazing selection of cheeses as well as a few other specialty foods. Our recommendation is to get to the market early, like the French ladies do. You’ll get best selection of items although any time is wonderful. And it is a great cultural experience as well.
How do I get to Villefranche-sur-Mer?
It’s very easy to get to Villefranche as it’s located immediately next to Nice, just to the east along the coast road going toward Monaco and the Italian border. (see map) If you are arriving to the South of France by air, then Nice Cote d’Azur airport (France’s 2nd largest) will be your likely point of arrival, providing several easy options for continuing on to Villefranche. You could also come via Marseille or Genoa airports, about 2 hours away, both with transportation links to the Nice area, but Nice Cote d’Azur is for sure the best airport to use to get to Villefranche.
From Nice airport, you can get to Villefranche by taxi, rental car, train or bus. The best way is taxi or train.
Taxi: Taking a taxi is the quickest and easiest, and we are happy to arrange a taxi from Villefranche to meet your flight (the driver speaks English, and will drive a very nice car with plenty of luggage space). The 20-30 minute taxi ride to Villefranche costs 60 euros. If you don’t book a Villefranche taxi, the airport taxi costs a little more. The taxi driver will call us when you are in the taxi, and we will meet you where he drops you in Villefranche then walk with you to the apartment.
Train: If you prefer to take public transportation, the best option is the train which will cost approximately 2 euro. The train leaves the airport about every 20-25 minutes and will take less than 15 minutes to get to Villefranche (see How to take train from airport to Villefranche). From the Villefranche station, you can easily walk to the apartments in the village, however, it will involve some stairs so be aware of how many and how heavy your bags are. Walking to the Penthouse, Petit Bijou, Plage Privee and Beachfront Bliss involve only a very few stairs. You can download the app OUI.sncf to purchase train tickets and see the schedule. There may be other apps available too but this is the one we use. To get to the train station at the airport, you can walk or take the tramway. The station at the airport is called Nice St. Augustin.
Bus: You would take the tramway from the airport to the center of Nice and get off at the Port of Nice and from there walk across to bus #100 to get to Villefranche. This will take longer than the train (at least 40 minutes).
From either the bus or train station in Villefranche it is a relatively short walk to your apartment (except the villa). Just consider how much luggage you are carrying as it is a 5-10 minute walk and will involve some stairs.
Neither the train nor the bus will work for early morning departures or late night arrivals, for which you will need a taxi. Taxi rates before 7 am and after 9:30 pm are 70 euro.
All of these options work well, but if you have a lot of luggage, then the taxi is the easiest. Again, we are happy to organize the taxi for you.
How is the village of Villefranche laid out?
Villefranche is built on a set of rugged hills that encircle the beautiful bay. The village rises dramatically up from the waterfront quai to the top of the hills, over 1,000 feet above sea level. We think you’ll find our page About Villefranche helpful to acquaint yourself with the village.
The main village is located on the waterfront — the Old Town. Beginning from the waterfront quai, where a number of fine restaurants are located, you may walk along the water to the lovely sandy beach (the train station is at the end of the waterfront quai, just above the beginning of the beach). Colorful old-world buildings line the waterfront, rising steeply up the hill via small pedestrian streets. Throughout the Old Town there are apartments, shops, restaurants, a church, and plazas (Places) where people gather. At the top of the Old Town, where the butcher, baker, green grocer and café are located, the area is called Place de la Paix. This is a real local scene and very handy, a fun place to take in village life while you enjoy a coffee or glass of chilled rosé.
Just up from Place de la Paix, about 50 meters, is the Octoi level of town, along the Basse Corniche (one of the three famous corniche roads). At this level of town there are more shops, cafés, bars, grocery stores, and banks. This is one of the main traffic arteries as well, linking the coastal towns together. This is where you catch the bus to go either in the direction of Nice and Antibes or Monaco.
Rising up from the Basse Corniche level is the residential hillside part of Villefranche. Here you find a number of villas and apartment buildings. There are public stairwells that run all over the hillside that enable you to walk from a number of hillside areas to the village, or up to the Col of Villefranche, located at the top of the hillside on the highest part of the town of Villefranche. Here too there are lovely shops and restaurants.
Romantic Riviera Villa or an apartment on the waterfront? How do I choose between staying on the hillside or down in the Old Town?
The hillsides of Villefranche offer the most spectacular panoramic views. Our Romantic Riviera Villa, our only property on the hillside, happens to be in a great location for views and sunshine, while still being quite accessible to town. It is very private and quiet, and every room has an amazing panoramic view across the bay to Cap Ferrat and beyond — yet also an intimate view of the Old Town below.
It is a 5-minute walk from the Villa down a public stairwell (300 stairs) to one of the main centers of the village where there are two boulangeries (bakeries), a grocery store, green grocer, banks, cafés, bars, and Tabac (for newspapers). Another two minutes further down the hill, on a sidewalk (no stairs, but definitely heading downhill), is another part of the village called Place de la Paix where there is another boulangerie, a butcher, two green grocers, a café / bar / Tabac, and a couple of restaurants. Then another 3-5 minutes down the hill, through the charming pedestrian village, and you are at the waterfront quai where there are a number of restaurants, bars and the path to the beach. You can also walk up easily to the Col of Villefranche from the Villa where there is an excellent butcher, boulangerie and grocery store, plus a cafe / restaurant.
Walking down is really quite easy and a pretty walk. Walking back up is a workout. For many people, they like the workout and don’t rent a car. For others, the stairs are daunting. There is a mini bus that runs throughout the day on a regular schedule (every 45 minutes), and we have the schedule published in the apartment. And there are taxis that will bring you up the hill for 10-12 euros (a bit expensive for such a short little ride, but that’s the cost).
Bottom line: the Villa offers more panoramic views, more space, a quieter more private location, but it is a bit of a walk to get a baguette.
If you stay in the Old Town, everything is closer. The Old Town is very convenient to shops, restaurants, bars, cafés, the beach, public transport, etc. But it is less convenient for parking and hauling suitcases (although we can help you with these). Still the Old Town involves stairs too (though shorter climbs) since it’s built on a hillside that rises out of the sea. You see these old folks, in their 80s and 90s still walking around, and you realize that walking these stairs do keep a person fit, though they can be tiring at times. In the Old Town, everything is really close by, at your fingertips, so you shop daily. And you live closer to your neighbors, so you hear village life — it isn’t noisy or unpleasant but you do hear life around you. You are living in an authentic French village with a real local culture. The apartments in the Old Town are smaller than the Villa, but their views are lovely and charming, and on the waterfront just as commanding and expansive as the Villa’s views.
With this little explanation we try to point out the pros and cons of staying in the Villa on the hillside vs. an apartment in the Old Town — but in the end, it is a personal preference.
Will I need a car?
The quick answer is: No, you don’t really need a car, either to get to Villefranche (see How to get to Villefranche), or for getting around once you are here. Many interesting sights and activities are available within an easy walk, public transport is excellent for exploring farther along, and in any case you may be glad to avoid the slight trouble of finding parking (see parking tips). All of the major sites along the Cote are easily visited using either the bus or the train. Both the train station and the bus stops in Villefranche are an easy walk from all of our apartments.
On the other hand, if you are planning to visit hill towns and places farther afield, or to drive to Provence and beyond for a few days, you may want to rent a car (if only for part of your visit). In this case, please be aware that we do not have designated parking spots for any of our apartments, though the Romantic Riviera Villa always has easy street parking available just outside the door. The other apartments are in the Old Town where there is free street parking available around the perimeter (this is what we use as we also live in the Old Town). In July and August it can be competitive to find a spot, but you will. The rest of the year, it is quite easy to find a spot. Certain times of the day are more difficult, but you will always find parking — even if you then have to walk a bit back to your apartment.
There is also a pay lot and there are metered areas for certain times of the day. And to state the obvious, it is easier to park a small car than a big one.
If you stay in the Romantic Riviera Villa, a car can be handy if you don’t want to walk up and down the hill. In order to get from the Villa to the Old Town you walk either along the road that leads to the Old Town (about 300 meters) or 300 stairs down a pedestrian stairway with amazing views, well-lit at night, and lovely to walk at any time, but not for everyone. We walk it all the time (takes about 10 minutes) and most of our guests do too, but some appreciate having a car (others walk down and take a taxi or minibus back up).
Attending the Institut de Français?
Institut de Français is a superb, world famous French language school that uses the full-immersion method of learning. Numerous students from the school stay in our apartments; one student in particular who has studied French for many years and done many immersion programs says this program really is the best. I also was a student at the Institut and can highly recommend it.
All of our apartments are easy walking distance to the Institute. If you stay in one of our eight apartments in the Old Town, the walk from the village to the Institute is up hill, then flat, then up hill again. The walk takes about 15 minutes. I think it is a lovely walk in the morning, the perfect way to start your day. You walk through the Old Town, all charming, beautiful pedestrian streets, up to Place de la Paix which is the top of the Old Town and where many of the shops are (bakery, butcher, green grocers, wonderful café and tabac where you can buy the newspaper), and then up to the Basse Corniche level of town called Octoi. At this level there are more shops, cafés, banks, etc. You walk along the park, or along the shops side of the street, and then up a public stairwell which leads you to a little lane. The Institut’s garden gate is located on this little lane.
And the big advantage of walking up in the morning, when you are fresh, is that you can walk downhill in the evening when you are tired. Also, all the shops, markets, restaurants, cafés and bars are in town. So if you stay in an apartment up on the hillside, where the Institut is located, you must walk down for everything — except school. But if you walk up to school in the morning, then when you are done with school, everything else you will do — grocery shop, have an aperitif with friends, go to a restaurant, etc. — is all right there, where you live.
Our Romantic Riviera Villa is located up on the hillside at the same level as the Institut. It is about a 5-10 minute walk to the Institute across the hillside, no stairs. But as we just mentioned, you do need to walk (or drive) down to town for everything else. The Villa offers breathtaking views, space, parking, and more privacy than the apartments in the village. The village is close by, but it is a walk to everything whereas staying in the village gives you access to everything just outside your front door.
Another point, if you are attending the Institut and you are no doubt interested in learning French and also experiencing a bit of French local culture, I think you get more of this experience staying in the village as you interact with people in the shops and on the street more frequently and hear village life and conversations from your opened windows.
Lastly, if you are here on your own studying, I think staying in the village feels less lonely. You hear voices and see life around you by just hanging out your window. You can go for a stroll along the quai, to the beach or through the village and see life all around you. And in the evening if you want to go have an aperitif or dinner on your own, you can easily walk to a bar or restaurant without being concerned about walking home at night on your own. If you live on the hillside, whether eating out with friends or on your own, unless your friends live in a similar location on the hillside, you are apt to have to walk up the hillside on your own at night — which is largely quite safe but not that pleasant to do.
If you are interested in learning more about the pros and cons of staying in the village or on the hillside while at the Institut, you can read more here.
What other French language study options exist other than the Institut Français?
Although the Institut Francais is a wonderful language institute, not everyone can spend a full month studying French or want to spend their full day in school. There are several other language study options which you can read about here. They are the Alliance Francaise, France Langue, and several private tutors who live in the village and are superb.
What's it like if I'm travelling as a single woman?
For single women, you will feel especially comfortable and safe traveling and living in Villefranche. The village itself is a very safe place to walk around, day or evening and even late into the night. You have neighbors everywhere so you will never feel isolated or alone or in any danger when walking around or returning late, even on the train. The train station is next to the village so an easy walk even late at night (the train does stop around 11 pm however).
You will also feel comfortable eating at a restaurant or café by yourself as many people do. I find that wait staff are also very considerate in seating you where you would be most comfortable and enjoy the scenery and ambiance most.
We have a number of women who come on their own regularly and many have become friends and return every year at the same time so they meet up with their “Villefranche friends” on an annual basis.
What about children?
Most of our apartments are suitable for kids over the age of five (assuming they are well behaved and don’t do dare-devil things). There are too many safety issues for young children. Neither you, nor we, would be relaxed. Balconies, stairwells and the lack of barriers make it too dangerous. After the age of five, the safety issues are less of a concern.
Villefranche’s beach is an ideal area for kids to learn to swim. And the Old Town is a wonderful location for children as it is all pedestrian and they love the Old Town streets as places to play hide and seek. The village and surrounding area has a lot to offer for kids and families.
What’s the weather like?
“Like Heaven!” As the guide books describe, the Riviera has a special microclimate — hence, it’s neither too hot in the summer nor too cold in the winter. Our citrus and flower festival is in February! And, of course, there are the brilliant blue skies for which the Cote d’Azur is famous to enjoy all through the year. We don’t get much rainy weather at any time of the year but historically the rainiest months are November or March although you can get a few days throughout the winter. But again, we get very little rain and when we do it doesn’t last very long.
You’ll be eating outside year-round, although in the cooler months you’ll want a sweater or light coat and scarf especially when sitting in the shade, but often you’ll be in shirt sleeves in the middle of a winter’s day. Summers have occasional heat waves lasting for a week or so when temperatures rise above the mid 80s, even slipping into the 90s during the afternoon. But normally it’s quite comfortable come the evening, and you’ll enjoy a cotton blanket on your bed even in mid-summer. The sea temperature is perfect for swimming from mid-May to the middle or end of October, although quite a few people swim through the winter. Many guidebooks will give charts of average temperatures and historical information about weather. The following link is a good resource for information about weather conditions in the Villefranche area:
Do you have special rates for guests who want a rental apartment longer term, for a month or two or three?
Yes. In fact we have a number of guests that come every year and stay for anywhere from a month to three months and longer. Rates vary by the season (see Rates & Terms). We offer discounts for those looking to stay a month or longer. And if you come regularly, such as yearly, we are able to store some of your belongings. All of our longer term guests consider our holiday rental apartments as their “pied-a-terre” in Europe and often use it as a base to explore other parts of Europe. Villefranche and the Nice area are especially convenient to explore the rest of Europe as we are next door to Italy and Nice airport is France’s second largest airport with flights all over Europe as well as a number of other locations in the world. In addition, the TGV (French high speed train) and the Thello (Italian high speed train) also come through Nice. It is a very central location with lots of transport options.