Villefranche-sur-Mer, a nice town near Nice

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.

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The lovely town of Villefranche-sur-Mer is one of the most popular stops on the south of France for cruise boats.

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Tenders like this tiny one alongside the cruise liner make trip after trip bringing passengers to enjoy the beaches and cafes along the harbor.

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.


Fort Mont Alban now overlooks some very expensive real estate.

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Fort Mont Alban, built in 1543, remains a prominent structure on the hill over Villefranche-sur-Mer.

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In the back of the fort is a reconstruction of a drawbridge used to limit or grant access.

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We weren’t sure about this “art” near the fort. It looks a bit like stacked stone coffins, some double wide.

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.

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“Villefranche, a ses enfants morts pour la France.” Villefranche, to its children who died for France.

Close to the water is an old town with the large stone walls of its citadel, built in 1557, still standing.

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We walked along the stone walls but would not be able to get in from this point.

Bright flowers along an old stone wall. Nearby was a very small monument to those who “chose their last resting place on the sea.”


The tower of Saint Michael’s Church stands out above the orange tiled roofs of other old town buildings.

Inside, behind the altar is a large painting of Saint Michael battling the devil.

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Our Michael visits another church with his name.


The ceiling colors remind us of the reds and yellows of the ocher at Roussillon.

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.

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Auguste Maicon’s birthplace. He lived to be 81 despite his daredevil trick of flying beneath a low and narrow bridge in Nice.

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…

The point of land jutting into the ocean is Cap Ferrat, a playground of the rich and famous.


This private garden overlooking the harbor is starting to show its spring beauty. The building in the upper corner is a small section of Villa Leopolda, perhaps the most expensive mansion in the world.

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.

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Part of a fleet of sailboats are towed beyond the entrance of the port of Nice for a colorful regatta.

We will be getting a close-up look at Nice later.





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1 Response to Villefranche-sur-Mer, a nice town near Nice

  1. Pingback: Seaplanes in the Home of Naval Aviation, Hammondsport | Finger Lakes to Lavender Fields

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