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Nice and Villefranche Ports




I am going to cover both the port of Nice and the port of Villefranche in this blog post as there is often confusion about these port stops. Both ports serve the city of Nice and are gateways to the French Riviera.

First, I will begin with Nice and give you a little history of the port. Construction of the port in Nice began in 1748 when the King of Sardinia, Charles Emmanuel III, ordered it to be built. They say Rome was not built in a day and the same holds true for this port. Named, Port Lympia, it took over 150 years to be completed. If you are asking yourself why the port was ordered built by the King of Sardinia, you should know that the city and the surrounding region were once part of the Kingdon of Sardinia, which as you may know, is a state in Italy. Nice, and its port, were ceded to France in 1860 in a treaty between France and the Kingdom of Sardinia. For those doing the history math, the port was still not finished at that time so the French continued work on it and finished it around 1909. There have been additions and improvements over the years such as the underground car park with the glass ceiling.

This port is not massive nor is it a place where a large cruise ship would normally dock. Your cruise ship, if over 190 meters in length, will anchor offshore and passengers will arrive by tender boats. There is only a small cruise terminal in this port which is why most of the cruise ships either dock, or have tenders arrive, at the nearby port of Villefranche (which is sometime referred to as the second port of Nice – hence the confusion).

If you are arriving from a cruise ship, your tender boats will let you off here but enroute from the ship to the shore you will be entertained by the navigation of the tenders around the ubiquitous fishing and pleasure boats. Once onshore, you can walk from one side of the port to the other but in the summertime, there is a free boat crossing called Lou Passagin which will take you from one side of the port to the other. You can walk along the breakwater rocks on foot and take a look at the lighthouse. There has been a lighthouse in this location since 1862 but the current pyramid shaped one, with a light range of 37 km (20 nautical miles), was built in 1952.  

Cafes and Restaurants

You can also sit and soak in the ambiance at one of the nearby cafes while watching the ferries arrive from Saint Tropez, Sardinia and Corsica. These dock on the south-east side of the port. There are a number of cafes and restaurants in the area and some little shops selling assorted tourist goods such as perfume and chocolates.

Pharmacies
There are two pharmacies at, or near, the port. Pharmacie Port Lympia located at 50 Bd Stalingrad, 06300 Nice, France (east side of the port), and Pharmacie du Port located at 17 Rue Cassini, 06300 Nice, France (north-west end of the port).
Liquor Store

Located not too far from the Pharmacie du Port is a store selling liquor. DVS Spirits France can also be found on the north-west side of the port at 7 Pl. de l'Île de Beauté, 06300 Nice. Check out the prices for Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados.  For those wanting to know the difference between these liquors, Cognac goes through a double distillation process while Armagnac goes through only one. Calvados is made from apples and sometimes pears, while Armagnac and Cognac are grape-based.

Language and Money

French is the local language although I have found English was widely understood in the nearby markets and in the cafes. The Euro is the local currency. If you need to obtain some euros, there is a Bank of Nice with an ATM at the port. It is located at 1 Pl. de l'Île de Beauté, 06000 Nice, France (the north-east side of the port).

Market in the Port

For antique lovers, there are antique shops and sellers in the daily flea market. The flea market operates every day except Monday and you can find it on the road called the Quai Papacino. Look for the entrance marked Les Puces de Nice. You will most likely  get off your tender boat on the same side as the ferries arrive (near Boulevard Franck Pilatte or along the Quai des docks which is on the right side of the port). The market, old town and the Promenade des Anglais are all on the left side of the port. In order to walk to the market, you will have to go around the port (walk north, west and then south – basically walk the “U” shape of the port). If your tender lets you off on the left side of the port, then you are in luck, you have less distance to travel to see most of the sights.

Nice - the City

As mentioned, in and around the port, you can shop for a variety of things and enjoy the antique market. If you are feeling adventurous, and want to walk a little further, enter into the Old Town. Nice is a UNESCO listed city and has a number of things to see and do in the historic area.

I want to start with the Promenade des Anglais which is the most iconic seafront in France.  Stretching for 7km (you will quickly appreciate the views on offer after only a short walk of about 1.5 km). There are loads of photo opportunities and great views of the Baie des Anges. Here is a little map to give you an idea of the routing.

For art lovers, there is the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (MAMAC), Place Yves Klein, 06000 Nice, France is located between 1.2 and 1.5 km from the port depending on where the tenders dock.

Every time I went to Nice I heard that I should visit Castle Hill which is the highest point in Nice. When doing my research, I learned that the castle was a military citadel that was destroyed in 1706 under the orders of Louis the XIV (who ruled for 72 years). On my third visit to Nice, I walked up the hill and found great views and a manmade waterfall. However, aside from the lovely view, I was underwhelmed. For those not wanting to walk the hill, there is a little tram and a lift to take you to the top. The hill is located on the west side of the port and to the east of old town (you can’t miss it 😊).

The Cathedral Saint Réporate de Nice can be found in old town (which is to the west of the port – if you take Rue Cassini it will take you 10 - 15 minutes of walking to get to Place Garibaldi and the entrance to old town. The cathedral was consecrated in 1699 and is located in one of the busiest squares in the old town. It was built in the Baroque style and boasts ten chapels and three organs. This is an impressive cathedral and well worth a visit.

Some of the buildings in the old town are beautiful and photograph well. For those with mobility concerns, there are cobblestone streets and you will be walking on uneven surfaces. Cours Saleva is a pedestrians only street and there is a daily market there. Look for bargains on Provençal textiles, perfume, chocolate and Niçoise soaps. On one visit I bought some delicious fresh bread and cheese and had a wonderful al fresco picnic on one of the benches.

In my opinion, Nice is a walkable port stop depending on your level of fitness. You can pretty much see everything you want to see within a 5km square (3.1 miles). However, you can also take the tram, bus or train to get you to other points of interest. All modes of transportation can be accessed from the north side of the port.

Port of Villefranche

Before I talk about things to see and do in the area, I am going to cover the port of Villefranche-sur-Mer (often referred to as simply the port of Villefranche). Officially called the Port de la Sante it is the usual cruise ship port that serves the city of Nice.  Every time I have arrived by cruise ship, the ship has either docked, or had its tender boats dock, at Villefranche. Therefore, I have always had to make my way to Nice from this point.

Located 5 km (3.1 miles), east of the port of Nice, the entire town of Villefranche-sur-Mer has a total area of around 5 km. Although some tend to think of this as the “new” port of Nice, the area is rich in history and has been settled since prehistoric times. It is a natural bay, that reaches a significant depth quickly from the shore which makes it great for serving large ships. It is the most popular cruise ship port of call in France, beating out the Normandy ports of Cherbourg and Le Havre.

Upon arrival, you will see portions of the old, fortified wall built around 1550 (but now sporting evidence of modern repairs). The “great works” were started around 1730 when the lighthouse and dry dock basin were added. Portions of the old port (called the Royal Port of Darse), are listed in the historic monuments inventory and are a magnet to maritime historians.

As mentioned, the two ports are fairly close to each other and are about 5 to 7km apart depending on where you start and finish. Local SNCF/TER Trains stop in every town along the Riviera between Nice and Monaco-Monte Carlo. You can usually catch a train from Villefranche-sur-mer to Nice around every 30 minutes. See the map below for details on where to catch the train in either port.
Town of Villefranche sur Mer

If your cruise ship docks or tenders at the port of Villefranche sur Mer, and you don’t want to stray far afield, you can walk around this port and see pretty much everything there is to see in half a day. Visit a nearby beach or do a little shopping at the small open-air market in Villefranche. Visit the small shopping area of Rue Obscure or stop and see the Citadelle Saint-Elme (see photo below).

I did visit one church in this location, Eglise Saint Michael (a Baroque Italianate church built in the 1750s), but for those who like to tour churches for their historical and artistic offerings, I recommend a quick trip into Nice.
You can travel to Nice from the port of Villefranche sur Mer (or vise versa), by taking bus #100 or you can take the train which is quick and easy. The train station is about  half a km from the port and located at 496 av Georges Clemenceau, 06230 Villefranche sur Mer. There are signs marking the way.

If your cruise ship takes you to Nice, and you want a beach day, take the bus to Villefranche.

What to See in the Area

The first two times I went to the area by cruise ship, I chose to visit Eze and Monaco. The first trip was taken as one of the ship’s shore excursions. It was crowded, expensive and annoyingly slow in terms of walking pace and sights to see in both Eze and Monaco.

The road from Monaco back to the port at Villefranche was so congested that traffic was at a crawl. It was soon evident that our bus was in danger of missing the return time to the ship. One woman in our group, had a number of fears, one of which was missing the ship. As it became evident that the bus was going to be late, her level of anxiety increased. Reassurances that we were on a ship organized shore excursion and we would be taken care of if the boat left without us, did not seem to make a difference. I had read in advance of the trip that the road south from Monaco, could become congested and slow and so I was not alarmed by the delay and the fact that there were a large number of buses in front of, and behind us, led me to believe the ship was not going to depart as there were simply too many passengers stuck in traffic. I merely mention the incident in case some readers decide to do a self-driving tour to Monaco or points north of the port. Give yourself plenty of time to return to the port as the road can be slow and traffic congestion a problem. If you are a fearful traveller, take a ship organized shore excursion or the train.

The second time I arrived by ship in Villefranche, I booked a private van and driver. Along with the couple with whom we were travelling, and another couple we recruited from a social media cruising site, the six of us equally split the costs. The price was less than a ship’s shore excursion and we saw and did more. Overall, we had a much better day and an excellent port stop experience.

Eze   (about 7km from the port of Villefranche sur Mer & 12 km from the port of Nice)

This charming medieval village is situated between Monaco and Nice and is perched on a cliff 427 metres (1,401 ft), above the French Mediterranean. Eze dates back to Roman times but much of it today, consists of stonework buildings that range in age from the 12th to the 19th century. You can get to Eze by rail from Nice and from Villefranche sur Mer. The train costs €3 - €8 depending on where you catch it and the journey takes about 10 min.

There a direct bus between Èze and Villefranche-sur-Mer and Nice. The bus departs/arrives from Gare SNCF and arrives/departs from La Barmassa every 10 minutes, daily.

There is an 18th century Baroque church: Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption which is worth a visit and there are several charming little shops to inspect. For those who have mobility issues, please be aware that you have to walk up the hill as tourist vehicles will drop passengers off at the parking lot below. In addition to the hill, there are a number of buildings that have stone steps that need to be navigated in order to access the shops. I have added a photograph of my husband Dan and our friend Leo, navigating one of the stone pathways in Eze to give you an idea or what you can expect.

There is a look-out point enroute up the hill which is a great vantage point for taking photographs of the scenery below and the Mediterranean. You can usually see your ship from this vantage point.

Monaco

The Principality of Monaco, is the second-smallest sovereign state in the world after the Vatican City. It is a sovereign city-state with a monarchy and is widely recognised as one of the most expensive and wealthiest places in the world. If you question that, have a look at the yachts in the harbour or check out the real estate prices. The official language of the principality is French however, English and Italian are spoken and widely understood by many residents. The euro is the currency used in this country.

Three five-star hotels in a tiny area, a world-famous luxury casino and the cathedral are all places of interest in Monaco. I will start with the Cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate (also known as the Saint Nicholas or Monaco Cathedral). This is the place where Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III are buried. Built in the Romanesque revival style between 1875 to 1903, this cathedral was consecrated on 11 June 1911. It is on the site of the first parish church in Monaco, which had been built in 1252 and dedicated to Saint Nicholas. As cathedrals go, it is not on my list of the top ten in the world but for those who are interested in architecture, or the history of the Garibaldi family, this is a must see stop.

Next up I suggest the casino which is opulent and charges an entry fee of €17. Named the Monte Carlo Casino, I paid the entry fee because I wanted to see the inside and be able to say that I tried my luck in the casino. Fortunately, I was dressed appropriately and I was allowed in. No shorts, muscle shirts, flip-flops etc. are allowed. Jackets for men if visiting in the evening. I had set aside €40 for my casino adventure and after I paid my entry fee, I had a whopping €23 to spend. Expecting to lose my money in short order, I found a room with slot machines and tried my luck.  I came away with two positives from my visit, the first was a win on a slot machine which covered my entire day’s expenses and the second is the memory of a luxurious and extravagant building that caters to those with money but welcomes people like me who merely want to look around at the decor.

As mentioned, there are three, five star hotels in such a small area and one of those is the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo which is located to the left of the casino. The Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo is also located nearby on the Carré d'Or and is less than 100 metres from Casino Square. The third hotel is listed as an historic monument Hôtel Hermitage and it too is a luxurious five-star hotel featuring Belle-Époque décor. You can find this hotel just 200 metres from the Monte-Carlo Casino. As you can tell from the descriptions of where to find the hotels, all three can be found very near the casino. Nearby you will also find luxury boutiques and high-end shops.  Fear not though, you will be able to find a few souvenir shops and I bought some reasonably priced items. I walked through the lobby of one of the five star hotels but bought my coffee at a nearby café.

On my last visit to Monaco, I stopped by the Oceanographic Museum which is in a beautiful building and offering up exhibits on sea life in the Mediterranean. The cost of the ticket is €19 for an adult and €12 for a child for a one-day pass.

You can get to Monaco by train which leaves from Nice and Villefranche Sur Mer and goes to Monaco (Monte Carlo) every 30 minutes. Tickets range from €4 - €9 (depending on where you embark), and the journey takes 13 – 16 min. (including transfers)

You can also catch a bus from La Barmassa to the Monte Carlo Casino every 10 minutes. The tickets cost €3 and the journey takes approximately 30 minutes.
Alternately you can rent a car or hire a car and driver.

Whether you dock at Nice or Villefranche, I hope you enjoy this port stop.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog, please feel free to contact me at gailgauvreau@gailgauvreau.com or leave a comment on this blog.



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