On Tuesday afternoon we took the #81 bus from Nice along the coastal highway to Villefranche sur Mêr. It is just a ten minute ride from here, spectacular vistas at every bend in the road both back towards Nice, across to Cap Ferrat, and ahead to the charming old, old village that was our destination. This was the place where I stayed for five weeks while attending a French language immersion class about twelve years ago, where I returned many times afterwards until I could not longer scamper up and down all the steps that traverse the tiny streets where cars are never permitted. Michael Honegger and I were in the same “intermediate” class for that month of studies…it is where we first became acquainted and is when I first met his partner Tim. That gift of the school experience is one that keeps on giving.
Parts of the old village date back to 1550. Houses there are stacked one above the other on streets that are cantilevered on a steep, rocky hillside. The little passages, or walkways wind around, up and down with few flat surfaces among them. Rue Obscure is just as the word sounds…it is a covered passage that was obscured from the prying eyes of sailors out in the harbor who raised monoculars in order to ascertain activity in the village. Dotted along these little streets is a boulangerie here, a bucherie there, a petit Casino (smaller than a 7-11 store), a laundry, a savonnerie (soap and lotion shop) and a few boutiques, mainly to serve the tourists.
There is perhaps one handrail throughout the entire village so descending the steps can be treacherous if one is not very careful. With one leg that functions poorly, this lady did manage to gamely traverse the passages and stairs in order to point out to Jan all the fun little nooks and crannies. We paused to take photos outside the entrance to the apartment where I stayed a number of times on rue Volti, to record the petite balconies where everyone’s laundry is hanging to air and dry. We strolled along the waterfront, watching a sailor paddle his little dinghy out to his sailboat, command his VERY unhappy dog to stay while he clambered onto the larger boat and proceeded to disrobe and prepare for a swim. Alors…the thrill of the day.
We stopped for a gelato, shopped in the Terres Dorées Savonnerie for soaps and lotions. That boutique had just barely opened when I commenced classes in the early 2000’s and is now thriving with a world-wide market for their soaps. It was a pleasure to see such success for this once very tiny family run homemade soap business.
Finally, at 6:15 PM we caught the tiny little bus (riquier) that goes from the bottom of the village up to the moyen col (middle level) where we caught the #100 bus back to Nice. At the end of the day my Fitbit had recorded 9635 steps and the blisters on my feet today are painful reminders!!