Soothe Of France: Welcome Hotel Ville franche sur Mer
Tucked away on the eastern side of Nice’s Mont Boron is the small village of Villefranche-sur-Mer, one of the jewels of the French Riviera. Easy to miss, easy to love, Villefranche sits discreetly below the tracks of what must be one of the most beautiful railway lines in the world, spilling down the hillside to the glistening blue bay for which the town is famous.
Though only ten minutes by car from central Nice, comparatively few tourists venture to this relaxing place. Villefranche-sur-Mer’s most famous attraction, after the bay, is a small chapel that sits beside it. From the outside, it looks like just another of pretty French chapel; inside the Chapelle St Pierre, though, is a different story. Decorated by Jean Cocteau, the interiors are exemplary of Cocteau’s creative imagination and vivid artistry.
Right across the street from the chapel is Welcome Hotel, a local landmark that has been in operation for decades. Newly refurbished rooms have brought the property in line with the expectations of modern-day travellers and today Welcome Hotel remains the preferred place to stay in Villefranche-sur-Mer for everyone except those of us lucky enough to have friends who own one of the beautiful villas along this affluent stretch of the Mediterranean. Some of the most atmospheric rooms on the French Riviera are Welcome Hotel’s nautical rooms, decorated to resemble the cabin of a yacht by using materials and features typical of seagoing vessels. With the harbour right out the French doors, the nautical theme is a natural choice for the visitors and hotel guests who come to the town on their boats. The other, more traditionally decorated rooms and suites at Welcome Hotel are no less charming.
In the neighbouring town of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is the splendid Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, now a museum open to the public. The mansion is of course grand, but it is the perfectly manicured gardens that create the most vivid impression. Among the most expensive real estate in the world, the fact that the vast gardens exist have not been consumed by construction is already quite astonishing. Divided into nine themes, each separate garden is a masterpiece of landscaping. The French, Spanish, Japanese, Provençal, Exotic, Florentine, Rose, and Stone Gardens are all found beyond the fountains and walkways of the main garden. Next to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is Beaulieu-sur-Mer, another multi-hyphened town with a mansion open to visitors, this one very different from Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild despite a family connection. Villa Kérylos, occupying a privileged seaside position, was built in an ancient Greek style as commissioned by its archaeologist owner. For visitors accustomed to more traditional European mansions, Villa Kérylos is a revelation. The floorplan is different, the rooms decorated in a bewitching style that melds historical atmosphere with modern necessities.
Welcome Hotel serves as an ideal base to enjoy the French Riviera from a tranquil base rather than a busy city. Aside from the rail link, Bus 100 running between Nice and Monaco also makes stops in Villefranche-sur-Mer and costs a very reasonable 1.50 euros. Visitors who like to walk can easily reach both places on foot from Villefranche-sur-Mer if time and stamina permit; the walk is one of total serenity and beauty.