Villefranche is actually a name which many destinations in France share but when it comes to river cruises, the name refers to Villefranche-sur-Saone, which is, as you may have perhaps guessed, a port of call on a number of French river cruises which explore the beautiful and historic Saone River. As a settlement, it dates back to 1212, when it was founded by Guichard IV the Count of Beaujeu and became the capital of the Beaujolais region which is of course today synonymous with one of the country’s most famous wine exports. This pedigree ensures Villefranche enjoys a strong role in the wine trade and it remains one of the town’s strongest economies today.
The Municipal Paul Dini Museum is a popular tourist attraction in this picturesque riverside town, offering a wealth of exhibitions in a contemporary setting. It’s a great way to get a flavour of what life was like in the region as though it houses a number of rotating artwork exhibitions, a permanent display involves a panorama of the Rhone-Alps region which is not only artistically impressive but also informative. There’s also a factory and granary which offer a practical look at how industry was for the town and indeed the region in days gone by. Another popular museum in the town is Maisons du Patrimoine, which is a beautiful building in itself and home to a variety of artistic and cultural exhibits.
For lovers of all things natural and serene, Sapins Lake is certainly worth closer inspection, being home to some truly beautiful scenery. As well as being a popular spot for a variety of water sports activities, the lake also houses a large landscaped pool section, which is the perfect place to soak up the rays and then cool off if you’re visiting the town in the summer. Boats are available for hire and there’s also a crazy gold course, should you wish to practice your putting skills.
Local landmarks include the Church of Notre Dame des Marais, which has an attractive façade and a Romanesque tower which dates back to the 13th century, and the Pelican Niche; and eye-catching jewel-encrusted gothic sculpture which is mounted on a building close to the town’s post office.
Owing to its location in the Beaujolais region, Villefranche is a great place to sample French wine and it’s possible to try some for yourself either in any of the local cafes or restaurants or perhaps by booking a tour to a nearby wine estate. If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting Villefranche on the first Sunday of the month, you can get in the Paul-Dini Museum for free.