« When I see Villefranche, I see my youth again. Pray Heaven it may never change » Jean Cocteau on Villefranche-sur-mer
When considering which part of the Côte d’Azur might be most recognisable from TV and films, I assumed Nice or Cannes would come top of the list. However, when I visited the small town of Villefranche-sur-Mer, just 8km from Nice, I realised they had some competition.
More than 150 films and TV series have been shot in Villefranche-sur-Mer, beginning with 1939’s Macao L’Enfer du Jeu and continuing to recent years with films such as 2009’s The Killers. The town’s bright seaside buildings, which stretch up the mountainside and around the coastline, make a glamorous backdrop for filmmakers trying to capture the essence of the French Riviera in just a few shots.
Designers from the Walt Disney Studio were so enamoured with the harbour that they rebuilt some of it in Florida for their Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show!
On entering the town from the Bld Impératrice Feodorovna and stopping outside the Welcome Hotel, I was immediately faced with the harbour visible in countless films, including The Persuaders! (1971), Ronin (1998) and W.E (2011).
In The Persuaders! episode, The Gold Napoleon, Lord Brett Sinclair (Roger Moore) and Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis) can be see walking in front of the harbour building on the top left of the above image, while Robert De Niro can clearly be seen standing beside the harbour and the Welcome Hotel (see below) in a few scenes in Ronin.
Andrea Riseborough’s character of Wallis Simpson is seen disembarking a boat onto the harbour in W.E as Villefranche-sur-Mer doubles for the Italian town of Portofino.
The harbour can also be seen in the 1996 action film, Maximum Risk, as Jean-Claude Van Damme crashes through a barrier after a chase:
Jean Cocteau, whose name appears elsewhere on this blog, also has a strong connection to Villefranche-sur-Mer, as he decided to make the town his home in the 1920s. Cocteau’s stayed at the Welcome Hotel on the seafront, which was also my accommodation during my stay.
It may have welcomed the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, David Niven and Cary Grant in later years, but Cocteau is perhaps the Welcome’s most famous resident, staying in room 22 overlooking the harbour.
If you walk just a few yards from the harbour you’ll find the Chapelle Saint-Pierre, otherwise known as the Cocteau Chapel. Built in the 14th Century in memory of Saint Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, the chapel was used a store for fishermen’s nets for many years until Cocteau decided to paint it in 1957. Visitors can now enter this stunning building for a small fee.
The Chapel can also be seen in the 1953’s, Act of Love, when Kirk Douglas walks past it in a scene from the film.
Place Amélie Pollonnais
Just a few minutes away from the water is the Place Amélie Pollonnais (below), a small square used in both the 1983 James Bond film Never Say Never Again and 2002’s The Transporter, as well as briefly in the Maximum Risk clip above.
In The Transporter, Jason Statham can be seen waiting in his car for a new delivery near the beginning of the film (top photos), while Sean Connery approaches the square and stands beside the tree and railings in the lower photo above.
In part two I’ll take a look at other parts of the town, including more James Bond locations.
The Côte d ‘Azur, within three hours of over 30 European destinations, offers a wide range of themed stays all year round. With France’s second airport, Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport, the French Riviera is within reach of over 33 countries, 103 destinations and served by 56 airlines. The 2013 schedule is available at www.nice.aeroport.fr. Visit the Côte d’Azur Tourist Board website for more information on the region.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is located approximately 8 kilometres from the town of Nice. Visit the local tourist office at www.villefranche-sur-mer.fr.
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Main image © CRT Riviera Côte d’Azur – Photographer: Robert Palomba