Just east of the very large city of Nice is the harbor and smaller town of Villefranche-sur-Mer, named “Free City on the Sea” when it was declared a free port in the 13th century by the Count of Provence. It is just as nice as Nice, or nicer.
It isn’t just the French who have appreciated this spectacular setting. Celts, Greeks, Romans, and Spanish have occupied or fought for the land. Even the Russian and US navies used the deep port as a base for their fleets in the 20th century.
With all this fighting over the strategic territory, the fortress of Fort Mont Alban was built upon a high peak in the 1500s.
In more recent history, Villefranche, a town with a population of just a few thousand, lost over 80 men and at least one woman during World Wars I and II.
Close to the water is an old town with the large stone walls of its citadel, built in 1557, still standing.
In a small world moment, we found the birthplace of a man with a connection to the Finger Lakes area. In 1914, the Northcliffe prize of £10,000 was offered for the first team that could fly across the Atlantic Ocean in one flight. Glenn Curtiss of Hammondsport (on Keuka Lake) jumped to the challenge, planning to use his “flying boat.” If the flight had to touch down in the ocean, the wings could be jettisoned and the plane would become a boat with a screw for propulsion. The French connection is that Auguste Maicon of Villefranche-sur-Mer also entered the competition. We’ll never know who would have won, since the breakout of World War I delayed the competition.
You can read about this and observe early seaplanes at the Glenn Curtiss Aviation Museum in Hammondsport. Curtiss went on to provide extensive support for the US Navy with innovations for seaplanes, bombers, and more. He cashed out of his company for $32 million at age 42 and retired. He died 10 years later. Maicon outlived Curtiss by 44 years and died just as the SST was enabling flights between US and Paris in just 3.5 hours.
Back to France…
From the high vantage point of Fort Mont Alban, we could look down on Villefranche-sur-Mer to the west and also on Nice to the east.
We will be getting a close-up look at Nice later.