There’s a reason it’s called high season. There’s a reason more people flock to an area at certain times, that the prices skyrocket and the city fills up so full that it nigh on impossible to imagine it any other way.
Except that there is a low season. There does exist a time when visitors are few and far between, that hotel rates are affordable and a good amount of the businesses are shuttered because it isn’t really worth their time to open up with such a sparse population to serve.
And while there is a very real charm to having a city to yourself, to getting a fancy room at the hotel that looks out onto the water for a reasonable price and to wandering a beautiful seaside place that looks a little like a ghost town. There’s definitely charm in that. But it’s also…a little depressing.
This was our latest experience of Villefranche Sur Mer on the French Riviera. We had found an incredible deal on a flight, and on hotels, and all of the wine tasting and landmark viewing we wanted to do—it all seemed to line up perfectly, so we booked. Never mind that it was off season. We didn’t care for crowds anyway. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t the height of summer—surely, there was more to do by the sea than bathe in it or sunbathe near it.
Villefranche Sur Mer is a typical postcard lovely Riviera village. A pharmacy, a bakery, a patisserie, a wine store—or three, multiple seaside bistros serving French, Italian and of course seafood. There is a marina with enormous yachts tied up, as well as quick little cruising boats and rowboats alike. Also, a fisherman’s dock, with a decidedly casual little restaurant perched alongside and just a bit farther down—fancy restaurants headed by some of the top chefs in France.
But while we are visiting it is cool—sometimes cold. The upscale eateries are closed, most with a sign announcing that they will reopen with the season. Although, not the season we are visiting in. Another reminder that we hav come at the wrong time. The beaches are all but empty. Just sand and water and sky. And it’s gorgeous, it’s lovely, it’s staggeringly beautiful—but there is also something slightly off about it. Like arriving to a party after the guests have left—or, perhaps, before anyone has arrived. Before the music has come on and definitely before the cake has been put out. The beach is more than empty, it looks …abandoned and forlorn. It is early spring and the flowers are blooming and the weather is mostly mild, but we are too early. We will never see the full bloom of the flowers or the beach full to bursting—with nary a space to lay our own towel down.
Our hotel room is one of the best the place has to offer. High up, with a clear view of the Mediterranean, and one can almost pretend that Italy can be seen across the expanse if you screw your eyes up just right and see through the waves. But the few boats that are tied up on the water are empty too. Their occupants having anchored them and then come into shore—in search of excitement we are too foreign to know about.
And Villefranche is charming, and it is lovely and there are lace curtains hanging up in windows and spring is in the air. But we are too early. We’ve come too soon. There’s a reason it’s called off season, because everything about visiting now is slightly…off. A solid reminder to pay the premiums and put up with the crowds, to fight for space on the beach and arrive to the party in the high season.