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G + 5 : Crossing Old Borders - Sailing from Villefranche-sur-Mer to Antibes


The Rade de Villefranche-sur-Mer where we stayed for the night - our boat is 2nd right

It is amazing how well you sleep in a gentle swell. Feels like being in a cradle. We arrived late afternoon in Villefranche-sur-Mer and anchored half way inside the Rade which once served the US 7th Fleet as natural harbour. For a change, we arranged dinner on shore in a nice fish restaurant. Our crew deserved a break. The most favourite dish was "Moules Frites", mussels in creamy wine sauce with French Fries. Was it a Belgian or a French? We could not find out but agreed that it was delicious.

The Old Town of Villefranche-sur-Mer feels as Italian as Nice. It joined France in 1860

We did not stay up late. We had big plans for the next day. We wanted to climb up Fort Alban on the ridge between Villefranche and Nice. In 1543, this position had served the Turkish Forces under Admiral Heyreddin as gun platform for the Siege of Nice. For 14 days, Nice's citadel was relentlessly bombarded. Allied with France, the Turks had come with 100 galleys and 30'000 men. They disembarked in Villefranche.

Fort Alban is visible just behind Captain Richard

After a few days, the town surrendered but the citadel held out. Eventually, the Turkish fleet withdrew. Heyreddin did not want to do battle with the Genovese Admiral Andrea Doria. Nizza was not important enough to risk the Ottoman Fleet. Heyreddin brought his ships to Toulon where he could stay for the winter. The French King Francis allowed him the use the town, the cathedral and the harbour. It was a European scandal.

The Chemin du Fort Alban, a nice walking path, is rather steep

Luckily, we left at 8 am. There was no cloud cover like yesterday in Monaco. From here to Marseille, the Alps rise further inland thus cloud formation does not happen over the shore line. The sun was already burning relentlessly. Some parts of the path to the Fort were in the shade though. It took us 30 minutes to get up. It was a hot and sweaty climb.

Fort du Mont Alban in the Morning Sun. The Fort is closed. It was built in 1557

The Duke of Savoy understood the vulnerability of Villefranche and Nice after the French-Turkish attack and decided to fortify the area. The walls of Nice were strengthened and bastions added; a gun fort on Mont Alban made sure that the ridge could never be used again by an enemy; Villefranche was protected with a small citadel, the Fort to Saint-Elme which houses today the town hall, a few public buildings plus a small hotel.

The larger Citadel Saint-Elme to the south of Villefranche-sur-Mer was completed in 1564

The view from Fort du Mont Alban was rewarding. One one side we could look down on the Rade and wave to he crew of the Manatee (top photo). On the other side, we saw Nice and its old citadel. It was the same view that brought the Turks here almost 500 years ago.

View from Fort du Mont Alban on Nice and its former Citadel - now Park Cimiez

It was time to get back, swim for a few minutes to cool down and then lift anchor. Today's destination was Antibes, founded by Greek settlers in the 4th century BC. They called it Antipolis. During the Middle Ages, Antibes was part of the Provence and came - through heritage - to France in 1486. Before that it had been part of the Holy Roman Empire for almost 500 years. For centuries, the Rhone river was the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire. Now it was the Var. Antibes had become a border town.

Whilst we were leaving the Rade de Villefranche-sur-Mer, new Sailboats came in

Being a border town was a new and not always pleasant experience. Twice, in 1524 and 1526, Antibes was sacked by Spanish Troops which attacked from Nice in the East. No wonder that the French Kings wanted to control the whole Var Valley (including Nice) and move the border to the Alps which were more difficult to cross. But Nice stayed with Savoy.

On the Way to Antibes we crossed Nice's Summer Sailing School for Kids

Despite its rich Greek and Roman history, Antibes is now a typical Provencal town. There is almost nothing left from its glorious antique past. People used the magnificent Roman buildings as quarries for the town walls to better defend their homes. On old 17th century maps, the oval shape where once the Roman Amphitheatre stood, is still visible. Now the area is completely overbuilt.

Arriving and Anchoring just outside Antibes in the early Afternoon

Given the continued wars between France and the Spanish-Genovese Alliance, the French Kings were forced to improve Antibes' defences. It was not done in one sweep but over several decades. Work on the Fort Carré which protects the harbour, started in 1552. Over the next few centuries, the fort's defences were upgraded several time until Vauban gave it the final shape.

Plan of Antibes in 1750 - the Bastions are long gone but still give the Old Town its Shape

Antibes' status as French border town lasted for almost 400 years. Only when the King of Sardinia ceded Nice to Napoleon III in 1860 did the border move further east. Antibes is now a inland town again and fully benefitted from the development of tourism without being distracted by defence considerations.

The mighty Fort Carré, once built to deter the Spanish, is now a Tourist Attraction

The Center of Antibes feels like any other Provence Town

This House could also stand in my beloved Avignon

There is the annual Jazz Festival in Antibes this week - of course we have no tickets - but we may try anymore.

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