Gateway to Glamour

Villefranche leads clients to the French Riviera

By: Maryann Hammers

Mediterranean cruise itineraries are replete with recognizable names, but one port your clients may not be familiar with is Villefranche-sur-Mer. Nestled between Monte Carlo and Nice, Villefranche is the gateway to the glamorous French Riviera.

First and foremost, tell your clients not to leave the ship without a camera. Prime picture-taking opportunities abound from the small weathered boats that hug the harbor to the colorful homes perched on hillsides, to the distinctive 18th-century St. Michel Church, whose bells chime on the hour.

In Vielle Ville, the town’s old quarter that dates back to the 13th century, clients can purchase olive oil, wine or perfume in tiny shops lining narrow cobblestone streets, or browse the many art galleries. The oldest antique mart in the French Riviera is at Place Amelie Pollonnias, held every Sunday. Charming French restaurants are tucked into nooks and crannies, and casual pizzerias line the waterfront. (Michel’s is known for authentic Provencal specialties, and the harbor-front restaurant Trastevere serves a mozzarella-tomato pizza as good as any in Naples.) For a glass of local wine with a dazzling view of the Mediterranean, try the Hotel Welcome’s Wine Pier.

The local train, TER, is the quickest, most convenient and one of the cheapest ways to explore the French Riviera. Nice is just six minutes away; Monte Carlo, 14 minutes; and Eze, seven minutes. A few euros will buy a roundtrip ticket to any of the nearby towns, or purchase a day pass and create your own taste of the Mediterranean shore excursion.


This famous city may epitomize the glamour of the Cote d’Azur, but it is also steeped in history and quaint local tradition. Cruise passengers with time to see only one thing should choose the delightful Marche aux Fleurs (flower mart) on Cours Saleya. From 6 a.m. until 1 p.m., local farmers set up fruit, flower, fish and food stalls.

Though lunchtime buffets on the ship may be tempting, it’s a shame not to sample the distinctive cuisine in Nice. Local specialties include barbajuan, deep-fried pockets stuffed with vegetables, eggs, cheese and rice; pissaladiere, an onion tart with tomatoes; socca, salty chickpea-flour crepes; and fougasse, fragrant biscuits sprinkled with sugar and almonds. For hot Nutella-filled crepes, try the small creperie called Sofa, and for scrumptious Italian desserts, there’s Spumata Divono. Both are on Cours Saleya with good views of the vibrant street scene.

The old town Vieux Nice is just a few steps from Cours Saleya. Shoppers can find everything from sunny yellow Provencal tablecloths to pottery and perfume. La Cure Gourmande, an “artisan” candymaker on Rue Sainte Reparate stocks its shelves with tempting displays of lavender honey, marzipan fruit and chocolate-covered olives.


With a sparkling yacht-filled harbor, deluxe designer shops and hotels so posh they are called palaces, this tiny principality (roughly the size of New York’s Central Park) is all glam, all the time. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Rolls and Bentleys are permanently parked in front of Monaco’s most famous landmark, Monte-Carlo Casino. Inside the casino is appointed with elaborate carved ceilings, stained-glass windows, crystal chandeliers, frescoes, mosaics and sculptures. Well-heeled gamblers dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns cloister themselves in private gaming rooms. There’s an admission price of just to step in and look around, and suitable attire is required, which means jacket and tie in the evening.

Next to the casino, there’s the legendary Hotel de Paris. Its cathedral-like lobby features a sculpture of Louis XIV on horseback. The animal’s foreleg has been rubbed shiny thanks to generations of gamblers who stroked it for luck. At the hotel’s signature restaurant, the three-Michelin-starred Le Louis XV, dinnerware is gold-plated and napkins are ironed tableside. But if all the fabulousness becomes tiresome, clients can grab a crepe and cafe au lait at a casual harbor-front bistro.

The fortified town of Old Monaco (Monaco-Ville) is filled with touristy shops and offers sweeping views from its rocky promontory. The main attraction is the Prince’s Palace and State Apartments, portions of which were built in the early 13th century. The Changing of the Guard takes place at 11:55 am daily. Other must-sees include the Monaco Cathedral, in which Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III in a fairy-tale wedding nearly half a century ago. The two are now laid to rest beside each other, near the front altar. The Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium houses a world-famous collection of marine life.


Built in the 10th century on a mountaintop to, Eze-Village is accessible by slick stairs and steep stone pathways. The philosopher Nietzsche used to walk to Eze-Village for inspiration, and his well marked footpath still exists. Along the way, restored structures house art galleries, crafts and pottery shops. The hike is worth the effort, especially for those eager to atone for rich cruise-ship cuisine. But cabs and shuttle buses to the village are also available. At the summit, Jardin Exotique a cactus garden in the ruins of a medieval castle charges a small fee, for which travelers are rewarded with 360-degree views of the gorgeous sea and an affirmation that a Mediterranean cruise was a splendid idea.