The French Riviera, or Côte d’Azur, is the picturesque stretch of coastline along the Mediterranean Sea in the South of France, creating the perfect playground for the glitterati during the summer months. We were looking for a peaceful seaside escape, not glitz and glamour, and we found it at the tail end of shoulder season in charming Villefranche-sur-Mer.
When we decided to plan our first European trip with the kids, our only disappointment was cutting out our beloved Italy, especially considering we would venture so close to the border. Yet, the second I stepped off the train and meandered through the pastel buildings above the azure sea, any disappointment washed away. France, it would seem, had completely captured my heart.
The Riviera is a trek from Paris by train, but from Arles it was just over four hours. (Villefranche-sur-Mer is just a short hop from Nice, the Riviera’s biggest city.) We found our little flat rental through Airbnb, and it was the perfect home base for our family for more than a week. The flat was small and squeezed into a little converted attic space that required a steep ascent to the top, but was set up nicely for a family. We even had a little peekaboo view of the bay between Cap Ferrat and Cape Nice.
An average day in Villefrance-sur-Mer for our family might include:
Meandering the cobblestone alleyways, appreciating the beautiful architecture from the 12th and 13thcenturies, and picking up fresh bread at the boulangerie up the street.
Deciding whether to take a dip in the Mediterranean, go for a hike, or head off on a day trip.
Strolling along the Promenade des Marinieres to the Plage des Marinieres, a small public beach near the train station, for a swim in the afternoon. (My son was disappointed that there wasn’t much sand for sandcastles, but the beach is pleasant for swimming and sunbathing and has great views of Old Town across the bay.) In general, since it was shoulder season, we did not experience bad crowds except for one weekend day when hordes of day-trippers flocked in on the train.
One day, to burn off a few baguettes, we took a moderately strenuous hike up to Fort du Mont Alban. The hike is about 45 minutes, and taking a bus is an option. Once you’ve reached the top, you will find that the interior is closed, but you will enjoy picture-perfect panoramic views all the way to St. Jean Cap Ferrat.
Each evening, after dinner, we enjoyed a “passagiata” down through Villefranche-sur-Mer’s Old Town to our favorite ice cream place Le Glacier 16. My only rule? That we had to try a new flavor each time. (My favorite was cactus and citron vert.) Then, back up the hill to the public park where there often was a soccer game going on, and back down through town eventually winding back to the Promenade des Marinieres to catch the sunset.
Our very last night in Villefranche-sur-Mer, we took a final bittersweet walk along our now familiar route, cherishing each step. Down by the glittering sea, we toasted a perfect trip (with Prosecco for us and diabolo grenadine for the kids), hoping to return one day to the charming seaside village that would forever hold a place in our hearts.
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