Along the Côte d’Azur in the summer months, ‘Riviera Society’ steps from yacht to villa, while bohemians blend with billionaires and rock stars mingle with royals. However, there are some sequestered villages that are far removed from the paparazzi, and they are all the more enchanting for it.

Dating back to 1295, the village of Villefranche-sur-Mer is nestled discreetly along the deep scoop of harbour between Nice and Cap Ferrat. The bay is one of the deepest natural harbours in the Mediterranean and was previously a base for the US 6th Fleet up to 1967. Today, it is still a favourite anchorage for yachts and cruise ships. It is a tumble of time-worn dwellings painted in bright orange and red pastel hues, steep narrow streets and picturesque Riviera charm. Many visitors love nothing more than heading to the Botanical Garden St Michel to enjoy the panoramic view of the town.

A yacht pulling into the harbour in Villefranche-sur-Mer, with flowers in the foreground

A similar idyllic scene continues at Beaulieu-sur-Mer and the peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, where the Garden of the Rosary is at the heart of the 16th century citadel.

The character of Villefranche was subtly shaped by artists and authors such as Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh and Jean Cocteau, who gathered at the Hôtel Welcome to escape the excesses of city life. More recently it has been used as a backdrop for scenes in Jewel of the Nile, Ronin, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Mr Bean’s Holiday.

A green Citroen 2CV parked in the Old Town of Villefranche-sur-Mer

From the cruise terminal at the Port de la Santé, it is a short stroll to explore the cascading alleyways of the Old Town with its medieval atmosphere; nowhere more so than the Rue Obscure – a passageway dating back to 1260. Afterwards, few can resist a meander along the Quai Courbet seafront which surrounds the impossibly-pretty harbour.

Top tip

Take some time to wander around Place Amélie Pollonais which has an antiques market in the morning, while in the afternoon, Les Palmiers is a great place to sip an aperitif and soak up the dreamy atmosphere.

Gary Buchanan
Gary Buchanan has been an influential cruise writer for almost 30 years. Based in Scotland, he writes for Britain’s leading national newspapers and respected consumer magazines on a variety of cruise topics. Recipient of several awards for his creative writing, he has also written five books about cruising. His other skills include being an expert lecturer on maritime history aboard Cunard ships during transatlantic voyages. His favourite cruise destinations include the Greek Isles, Thailand and the Norwegian fjords. When it comes to river cruises he rates the Irrawaddy, Mekong and Seine as real gems.

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