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Lovely, much more laid back than other -- splashier -- Cote d'Azur resort towns like Nice, Cannes and Monaco, Villefranche, whose old town dates back to the 14th century, evokes a romantic, historic feel. For those weary of sightseeing, it's a terrific port for hanging out and relaxing.
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French, though English is generally understood.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The euro. There are ATM machines and exchange bureaus in town.
Provencal wine. Original artwork by unknown artists who pepper the port with their easels. Tableclothes and linens in Provencal florals.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships anchor in the harbor and tender passengers to a small terminal in the heart of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Ooh la la! Villefranche is a charming village with lots of great cafes and a handful of fun shops.
Villefranche is very walkable and compact.
Watch Out For
The village is very hilly -- wear comfortable shoes.
Sightseeing: The Chapelle St-Pierre (Pl. Pollanais, Tuesday - Sunday from 10 a.m. - noon and 4 - 8:30 p.m.), a 14th-century Romanesque chapel, is decorated with images painted by artist Jean Cocteau. Wander along Quai Courbet, town's atmospheric fishing port. The Citadelle, also known as Fort Sainte Elme, was built in the 16th century. Today it houses city hall, public gardens and a couple of art museums. Particularly worth visiting is its Musee Volti (open Wednesday - Monday, 10 a.m. - noon and 3 - 5 p.m.; Sundays only from 10 a.m. - noon) which showcases the work of local-born sculptor Antoniucci Volti; he's known for voluptuous bronze sculptures of women.
Beaching it: Plage de Villefranche-sur-Mer is located northwest of old town -- about a ten minute walk.
Take a boat trip: Advance reservations are highly recommended; one option is Vedette la Sirene - Affretement Maritime Villefranchois (ph: 04 93 76 65 65, fax: 04 93 76 97 87).
Go snorkeling: Contact Aqua Pro Dive International (ph: 04 93 01 71 04, fax: 04 93 01 72 90, e-mail: email@example.com)
Take a city tour: Book your tour in advance with the Villefranche tourist office (ph: 04 93 01 73 68, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org), and a guide will be waiting for you at the cruise terminal. Two different walking tours are available: a two-hour trip through the old city, and an 1 1/2-hour stroll toward the Darse Royal Harbour along the ramparts of the Citadel on the seafront.
Visit the soap factory: At La Savonnerie de Villefranche, you can watch and learn (and smell!) as soap is made -- and, of course, stop in the gift shop to grab a few souvenirs. Admission is free.
Been There, Done That
Comfortable with renting a car and exploring some nearby towns (and countries) like Nice, Cannes and Monaco? A car rental service is available at the cruise terminal. Another option is Hertz in nearby Beaulieu-sur-mer (ph: 04 93 01 62 30); they'll also provide drop-off and pick-up service at the port terminal.
If you're not comfortable with driving, contract with taxi drivers and/or car services for tours of the surrounding area -- St. Jean Cap-Ferrat, Monaco, Nice, Cannes -- via local drivers. The GIE service (ph: 06 10 18 49 39) is a group of several local excursion companies at the cruise terminal. You can book in advance or once you arrive.
The Cote d'Azur has an excellent train system as well -- and the station is a five-minute walk from the port, providing convenient service to major and minor destinations. Info: www.ter-sncf.com/UK/paca/default.htm.
If exploring the villages beyond Villefranche-sur-mer, check out Saint Jean-Cap Ferrat, one of the region's most chi-chi villages. You can explore the diminutive village on foot, including the Plage de Passable on its western shore, the Lighthouse (you can climb its 154 steps for a gorgeous view of the Cote d'Azur) or hang out at the cafe-lined port on the eastern edge. Don't miss touring the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (open daily, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; guided tours are available and begin at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.); the circa 1912 belle epoque style villa, built for Baroness Rothschild, evokes the Renaissance-era mansions of Tuscany. There's also a gorgeous garden.
Staying in Touch
Chez Net (5 Place du Marche -- behind the Hotel Welcome), from 10 a.m. - midnight); 15 minutes cost 2.50 euros, one hour is 7 euros.
For More Information
On the Web: www.villefranche-sur-mer.com
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