SITTING at a chic harbour-front brasserie overlooking the Med, I could just picture Patsy and Edina knocking back a bottle of “Bolli” here for breakfast.
The fashionista haven of Villefranche-sur-Mer featured in the 2016 film Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, with locations including the harbour and fashion designer Pierre Cardin’s Bubble Palace — a psychedelic villa with no right-angles.
In the movie, during a slapstick three-wheeler police chase, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley crash into one of the futuristic mansion’s three pools.
Villefranche-sur-Mer was also where The Rolling Stones recorded their classic 1972 album Exile On Main Street while holed up in the harbour town’s Villa Nellcôte, living the full-on rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.
Nestled between Nice and Monaco, the location is dominated by Mount Boron, with a narrow coastline carved between sheer rock and the Mediterranean.
Twisty, pretty lanes in the 14th Century old town utilise every nook and cranny.
Rue du Poilu teems with inviting restaurants, rustic bakeries, ice cream parlours and creperies.
A stroll down Rue de l’Eglise towards the sea uncovers yet more eateries, with water-facing tables along the harbour’s edge and fishermen pulling in their catches.
I stayed at the well-situated 4* Welcome Hotel next to Place du Marche, a square that can get lively in the evening — with al fresco dining, children tearing around and occasional live music events.
But unlike neighbouring Cannes or Antibes, Villefranche is not a party destination.
It has charm by the bucketload, with a colourful mix of French locals, holidaying families and well-to-do couples, but things start to wind down after midnight.
The town is overlooked by the Fort du Mont Alban — built between 1557 and 1560 as a defence against the Franco-Turkish armies after the siege of Nice in 1543.
Now, the only fighting is the scrum to bag a ticket for the open-air community-run summer events.
In previous years, the battlements provided a stunning backdrop to pop concerts and Pixar films such as Cars.
For sun worshippers or water-sport enthusiasts, the Plage des Marinieres is perfect.
To do it in style, the Deli Bo beach club is hip and happening — providing modern European cuisine, drinks and sunbeds for the day.
At the far end, paddle boards are available for hire, offering the chance to work off that lunch, and a good vantage point for a nosy at impressive seafront villas
If you’ve had enough of the crowds, there is Plage de la Darse, a smaller, pebble beach behind the harbour’s main jetty.
Villefranche is connected to Beaulieu in the East and with Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat to the south east on the Cap Ferrat peninsula, and is the perfect base for day trips to surrounding areas.
Nice, where I flew into, is a seven-minute train ride away.
So I visited the city for top shopping and a stroll along the seafront Promenade des Anglais before venturing up Castle Hill.
It is accessible by lift (next to the Hotel Suisse) and well worth the effort. Colonised by the Greeks in 500BC, it is a forested oasis with panoramic views of the city and coastline, ancient ruins, an impressive waterfall, picnic area and cafe.
A little further away from base (30 minutes) is Monaco.
I arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard in front of the royal entrance on the Palace Square.
It happens daily at 11.45am, but be warned, it is a popular attraction, so learn from our mistake and get there early for a good vantage point.
Next stop was the Casino de Monte Carlo.
You can almost smell the money and even if gambling is not your thing, hanging around outside is one of the biggest shows in town.
High-powered sports cars revved their engines on arrival, while valets scurried to be of service to the pampered and preened international jet-set.
And after a hard day of sightseeing — and gawping at the monied classes — Larvotto Beach, close to the Avenue Princesse Grace, is the only public beach in the principality for a welcome chance to have a dip and cool off before heading back.
For families, a day out at the Aquasplash water park, a 20-minute bus ride from Antibes or 40 minutes from Villefranche to Biot train station, is also a winner with the Sidewinder, Rainbow cannon and the Lazy River.
And Antibes Land amusement park, next door, provides a great way to dry off and unwind.
It had a slightly dated, kitsch feel to it, but offered all the classics — rollercoaster, ghost train, go-karts, and carnival games.
All in all, absolutely fabulous.
GETTING THERE: Flights to Nice are from £24.99pp one way. See easyjet.com.
STAYING THERE: One night’s room-only at the 4* Welcome Hotel is from £125pppn based on two sharing. See welcomehotel.com.
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