Visiting the railroad station at Villefranche-sur-Mer, France: surely one of the most spectacular in the world?

Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Harbour, Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Harbour, Villefranche-sur-Mer. | Source
Map location of Alpes-Maritimes department, France
Map location of Alpes-Maritimes department, France | Source

An explosion of light and colour

Take the train from Nice-Ville, as that city's central railroad station is called, towards Monaco and the Italian border, and, after another stop, the train will enter a tunnel. One eyes become accustomed to the articificial light of the train's interior, and an unremarkable blackness beyond the train windows.

And then?

What happens next is a truly remarkable experience. To those who are unfamiliar with the region, when the train suddenly emerges from the tunnel at Villefranche-sur-Mer, it is as if all France's practitioners of Expressionist and Fauvist art have suddenly flung their paint at the unsuspecting traveller, as a symphonic explosion of primary colours screams for attention, while eyes are still becoming accustomed to natural light again.

This is the Côte d'Azur; this is the French Riviera, or whatever else one wants to call it. This is, in fact, Villefranche-sur-Mer, the 'Mer' in the name — the Mediterranean (French: Méditerranée ) becoming suddenly an immediate presence just below the railroad station into which the train draws, even as its rear continues to emerge from the tunnel.

This must indeed be among the world's most spectacularly placed railroad stations, at any rate.

The railroad came to this stretch of the coastline — previously isolated from the land — in the 1860s. One can just imagine the thrill of first time visitors to this area in the 19th century, when previously almost unknown, scenic treasures such as the natural environment around Villefranche-sur-Mer became suddenly very accessible and easily and widely known.

Villefranche-sur-Mer is situated in Alples-Maritimes department, which, very evidently at this locality is most aptly named. because the Alpes really do come sweeping down to the sea. The harbour here, with the natural protection of two peninsulas at Nice and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, is known as la Darse . Before Villefranche-sur-Mer belonged to France, the port of la Darse was developed from the 17th century by the Dukes of Savoy, to which the town owed allegiance.

February 16, 2013

Also worth seeing

At Villefranche-sur-Mer itself, Mont Alban fort recalls a battle in 1744. Ecclesiastical architecture includes St. Michael's Church (French: Église Saint-Michel ) and St. Peter's Chapel (French: Chapelle Saint-Pierre ) and many other visitor attractions.

Monaco Town (distance: 13 kilometres); among its many visitor attractions are: the guard changing ceremony at the Prince's Palace and the Napoleon Musuem in a wing of the Palace; the Oceanographic Museum; the Cathedral, the Princess Grace Rose Garden, the Museum of Stamps and Coins, Saint-Charles church in Monte Carlo, and many others.

...

How to get there: Delta Airlines flies direct from New York to Nice, France (Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur ), where car rental is available. The French railroad company SNCF maintains services to Villefranche-sur-Mer from Downtown Nice. You are advised that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. Travellers particularly from overseas countries should check for any cross-border visa requirements which may apply.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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