First, we need to make sure we have located the correct Villefranche.
There is only one Villefranche-sur-Mer. However, there are eight (08) Villefranches in France. They are alphabetically Villefranche-d¡¯Albigeois, Villefranche-de-Lauragais, Villefranche-de-Lonchat, Villefranche-de-Panat, Villefranche-de-Rouerque, Villefranche-du-P¨¦rigord, our famous Villefranche-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Saône. There are some disappointed tourists who have been duped into Villefranches which are not on the sea, or anywhere close to the Med.
So, now you know the real Villefranche about which we speak and in which we have properties to rent (and sell). For brevity, it is normally written on postcards as Villefranche-s-m. It is a spectacular setting and very valuable real estate. However, walking from the level Port area up to the Basse Corniche is not for the faint of heart or handicapped persons.
Villefranche-s-m has one of the most magnificent natural harbors in the world. Today, it is a cruise ship haven and heaven. It is protected from the Med to its south by its harbor mouth, on the north by the hills of the village, to its east by Cap Ferrat and to its west by the terrain of the upslope of the village. Yachts of every size and as many as three large cruise ships can have their proper berths in this magnificent setting. Between the western most point of Cap Ferrat, and the mouth of the harbor of Villefranche, the maximum depth is 78 meters, about 240 feet, deep enough for the largest ship of any nation¡¯s fleet or modern cruise liners.
The history of Villefranche and its natural harbor dates back to 1295 and predates any port commerce in Nice which actually did not develop until 1751. Coastal pirates were the first to try to monopolize its unique garrison-like village. In the 1770s, the Russians tried to control its access, and continued into the mid-1800's with developmental work in the emerging science of the sea. They developed and built a very large laboratory on the Port of Villefranche to study marine life in the Med. By comparison, St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat, as a Port, did not develop until the 1890's when Queen Victoria's crowd began to develop commerce there. However, due to the shallow gradient in the Bay of Angels, neither Saint Jean nor Beaulieu have larger yachts that in the 400 foot range as patrons. (The basic reason is they are too large for the inner harbor and the small boat ride to the port is too long a distance. Those yacht owners who have helicopter pads on their "boats" really could care less.)
The competition for control of this wonderful anchorage is well documented in an excellent work by Didier Gayraud in his book, "Villefranche-sur-Mer, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Le Temps Retrouv¨¦," published by Equinoxe, now out of print and only available only through collectors.
Villefranche-s-m was also the center of the development of aviation on the French Riviera. Single-engine and twin-engine float planes were soon the rage for sight-seeing by the rich and famous who were quick to take advantage of this new thrill medium as early as 1910. Names like Auguste Maïcon and Olivier de Montalent began their world-wide claim to fame as the new breed of men who "flew." From 1910 to 1913, the names of Ernest Laurens, Jacques Schneider, Emile Devienne and Paul Scoffier became flying heroes. They set up hangars in Beaulieu and St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat to do their shows and charm the tourists.
This area was then (and to some degree now) truly the playground of the "rich and famous." As one of the sayings about such things go is, "The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys."