On the road in France – Villefranche Sur Mer

When the winter months become unbearable, because the clouds don’t seem to want to vanish and the sun is but a distant memory, when, as if that wasn’t enough, you live in a landlocked country and suffer from an incurable addiction to the sea, it is high time to pack your bags and get on a plane.

Which is exactly what I did just a few weeks ago, when I realized that surfing vacation or airline related websites did nothing to ease my melancholic state of mind. In fact it made matters worse. I’d been looking at pictures of southern France, a region that I’ve grown to love, especially the area in and around Nice, where I’d already spent two wonderful vacations. But there were still a few places I had yet to see, so I didn’t hesitate very long and the option of a few days off, as well as a promising weather forecast for the coast, more or less forced me to book a flight and a hotel. This time around I chose to stay in Villefranche Sur Mer, a tiny sea-side village, just a few miles to the east of Nice.

With a fantastic discount for an outstanding hotel, and a bargain for the plane tickets, I left Vienna on a wintery mid-February day, foggy and cold, and just about two hours later I exited at Nice Airport welcomed by a spring-like dream, with blue skies and mild temperatures.

With the view of the mediterranean coast, the endless beach promenade lined with palm-trees and the first breath of the very typically scented sea-side air, a mixture of moistness with a tinge of salt, my mind went into the usual zen-mode, which is turned on like a switch as soon as I’m anywhere near an ocean. I instantly relaxed, drew up something of an admittedly almost idiotic grin and headed towards information, in order to find out how to get to Villefranche.

I wasn’t even bothered by any strikes this time around and when I changed buses in the city center of Nice, the driver actually got the bus heading to Villefranche to wait up for me, by honking the horn and waving. I thought I was witnessing a miracle. A few minutes later I got off in Villefranche, rolled my suitcase down the steep coast towards the old harbor and checked into the most beautiful hotel in the area.

I don’t know what I did, but this vacation – yet again – would be more or less perfect. A sequence of lovely days, wonderful weather, pleasant people and a near fairy-tale like peacefulness in and around Villefranche Sur Mer.

As mentioned, the following days were spend in a state of bliss, mostly in Villefranche, which as the whole area on the coast, was more or less in full blown spring mode, with flowers blooming all around, mild temperatures around 15 degrees Celsius, and the benefit of the off-season. Which meant very few people to invade on activities such as taking pleasant little walks around the beautiful medieval town, sitting on my balcony and gazing at the boats rocking peacefully in the old harbor just out front or lounging at the Café Les Palmiers, which offers both views of the bay and the few locals or tourists which hang around the village at that time of the year.

Whoever is not trained as I am in wasting away the day by doing absolutely nothing, there’s always the option to jump on a bus and go to Nice. Which I did, since I still had some unfinished business with the town, so to speak.

When I last spent time in Nice I discovered a place on the hill which towers over the city – the Colline du Château – not only to be horrified of not even having seen it the first time around, but to also find out later, that this place is called Nietzsche Terrace – owing its name to the German philospher, who had spent time in the region and enjoyed the serenity as well as the view.

So I spent a few hours on the Colline du Château, which is in fact a beautiful place with lots of hidden spots where on can sit and philosophize. I didn’t come up with Zarathustra, but I could relate to Friedrich.

Even more so, after I spent the rest of the time in Nice at the Marché aux Fleurs, which seemed to have been invaded by sun seeking tourists from everywhere, especially England, an overwhelming amount of people, which drove me to finish my lunch faster than intended and hop on the bus to Villefranche, back to peace and quiet.

The rest of the time was spent as before, doing mostly nothing, which always comes so easily when you sit at the coast and watch the water. Where the hours pass unnoticed, oppressing thoughts are lifted and blown away and the only thing which remains is a tranquil state of mind, which is only briefly bothered by the knowledge that there’ll eventually be an end to this blissfulness.

And the days did pass in Villefranche, with lovely weather and temperatures that not only let me spend a few hours on the beach dozing in the sand, but allowed me to stick my feet into the sea and recharge my batteries with plenty of happiness to last until the next trip to the ocean.

Useful information:

How to get there: Nice Airport is the closest airport to Villefranche Sur Mer. If you use public transportation take bus Nr. 98 all the way to the gare routière in the city center of Nice. Change to Bus Nr. 81. The bus-stop at Villefranche is called Octroi. Bustickets from the airport are 4 Euros (all day passes for the region), one way tickets to and from Nice to Villefranche are 1 Euro.

Accommodation: If you stay in Villefranche,  the Hotel Welcome is practically a must. It’s a beautiful hotel, right at the old port, with lovely rooms and balconies facing the bay. The personnel is extremely friendly and helpful, there’s free Wi-Fi and during the off-season, discounts can get you up to 30% off.

Food: The Café Les Palmiers turned out to be the nicest Café/Restaurant in the Village. It’s located on a plaza right behind the Hotel, with a view of the old port and the Chapelle Saint Pierre, which boasts paintings by Jean Cocteau. Les Palmiers is great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Good food can also be found at the water front, but be advised to check the menu, there are some outrageous tourist-trap-like prices.

Susanne, April 1st 2011

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