Nestled discreetly along the deep scoop of harbor between Nice and Cap Ferrat, this pretty watercolor of a fishing port seems surreal, flanked as it is by the big city of Nice and the assertive wealth of Monaco. The town is a stage set of brightly colored houses—the sort of place where Pagnol's Fanny could have been filmed. Genuine fishermen skim up to the docks here in weathered-blue barques, and the streets of the Vieille Ville flow directly to the waterfront, much as they did in the 13th century. Some of the prettiest spots in town are around Place de la Paix, Rue du Poilu, and Place du Conseil, which looks out over the water. The deep harbor, in the caldera of a volcano, was once preferred by the likes of Onassis and Niarchos and the royals on their yachts. But the character of the place was subtly shaped by the artists and authors who gathered at the Hôtel Welcome—Diaghilev and Stravinsky, taking a break from the Ballet Russe in Monaco; Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh; and, above all, Jean Cocteau, who came here to recover from the excesses of Paris life. Nowadays, its population consists mainly of wealthy retired people, though families do head here to enjoy its sandy (well, gravelly) beach and jellyfish-free zones. The only fly in the ointment is Villefranche's popularity: between the endless stream of cruise ships sending their passengers ashore in very, very large numbers and a flood of new construction so villas now virtually elbow each other out of the way up the hillsides, the town's physical beauty has become more challenging to appreciate peacefully. Still and all, quaint alleyways and the heavenly panoramas of the town from on high nicely remind you why everyone headed here in the first place. A piece of advice: wear sensible shoes as cobblestone is no friend to thinly-soled footwear (and there are lots of steps).
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