We have had a lot of 10-14 mile walking days in the past few weeks. On the higher end was our hike this week-end from Nice to Villefranche-sur-Mer. It is the next harbor over from Nice.
On the way, we passed the terminal for car ferries to Corsica. We briefly watched camaraderie of the tailgate parties that passengers enjoyed, some with musical instruments, as they waited to board the boat. We were told it takes about 6 hours for the crossing unless you take the slower moving overnight run. Just east of the terminal, if you pay close attention, there are steps that lead to the water, wide stone steps that blend right into the rocky outcrops.
The long, curvy walkway is simply one of the best shore paths we have ever taken. The only problem, it ends near what could be a solution, a funicular (cliff railway), that is part of what appears to be a so far unsuccessful effort by a billionaire to turn a one-time hotel into a very high end condo resort. This huge property, originally built with the failed intention to be a gambling casino, also had been a villa owned by a famous Belgian poet before it was a hotel.
At one time, the sea path used to go all the way to Villefranche. For whatever reason, it now ends, and the funicular is fenced off. We could find no reasonable way to scale the cliff, so we simply had a round trip on this fabulous stretch of seafront.
Back on a main coastal road, we walked alongside one beautiful villa after the next, some with cliffside elevators leading to their residences. As you come along the west side of the Villefranche harbor, you can see more fabulous villas above and below the road and still more across the harbor in one of the ritziest areas in the world, Cap Ferrat.
To give you an idea of the neighborhood here, there is Villa Leopolda, built on property that once was the summer residence of King Leopold II of Belgium. It has changed hands several times since the current villa was built 85 years ago. The most recent owner is a Swiss banker, who has held lavish parties there and had former Israeli commandos for security. A Russian billionaire had an agreement to buy it for more than $500M in 2008, but then the last financial crisis hit and he tried to get out of the deal. He lost his $60M deposit following his unsuccessful lawsuit, and it went to charity. Had the deal gone through, this, by far, would have been the most expensive house ever sold in the world.
That is the type of area that is the French Riviera.
Little Villefranche has its not so new “new town”, which we found nearly deserted on a day when two cruise ships were in harbor. Local vendors put up craft-fair style tents in the small medieval “old town” on the harbor, and cater to cruise passengers who don’t go on shore excursions to Nice or Monaco.
We enjoyed a great lunch at a restaurant overlooking a small 1500’s church, St. Peter’s Chapel. A quick walk through the old town and a stop at the larger St. Michael’s church yielded another fabulous church with an unusual pipe organ that has worked since 1790. It has four large wooden pedestals, each with a wooden statute that is on top of the pipes.
We passed on walking to the next village Beaulieu sur Mer or taking the beautiful Cap Ferrat path. And, we settled for distant photos of the fortress up on Mount Alban instead of taking the hike up there, so we could get back to Nice before dark.