The Welcome Hotel & Jean Cocteau in Villefranche sur Mer, France

Copyright Millie Brown

Copyright Millie Brown

 ‘A mon très cher Welcome, où j’ai passé le meilleur de ma vie’.
(To my very dear Welcome, where I have passed the best moments of my life’) Jean Cocteau

Copyright Millie Brown

Copyright Millie Brown

Copyright Millie Brown

Above left and below Jean Cocteau's room no 22

Copyright Millie Brown

Copyright Millie Brown

Copyright Millie Brown

Above and below first floor suite dedicated to Cocteau's cinematic career (The cinema Junior Suite)

Copyright Millie Brown

 Cinema Junior Suite

Copyright Millie Brown

The view onto the little fishing harbor early in the morning from the terrace of the Cinema Junior suite 

Copyright Millie Brown

 Cinema Junior Suite

Copyright Millie Brown

 Above left Place Amelie Pollonnais

Copyright Millie Brown

Copyright Millie Brown

 The top floor in the mansard has Nautical themed rooms, this is the Bateau Suite

Copyright Millie Brown

 Bateau Suite

Copyright Millie Brown

 The chapelle Saint Pierre (decorated by Jean Cocteau) opposite The Welcome Hotel and Place Amèlie Pollonnais

Copyright Millie Brown

 Chilling out with a glass of wine at The Welcome's Wine Pier bar, is a favorite pastime of mine!

Decades ago, Villefranche sur Mer had me 'at hello'! No other village or town in France has captured my heart quite in the way this charming, colorful mediterranean fishing village has.  And if I was to move into any hotel in the world I would take a leaf out of Jean Cocteau's life and plant my belongings and rest my head at The Welcome Hotel, (the center of my Villefranche beating heart)! J'adore!

Jean Cocteau the great 20 Century Artist / Creative (1889 - 1963) had a strong connection with this hotel over many years and its impossible to miss this, with references to him and his art all around you. Omnipresent is one of Cocteau's original designs given to Monsieur Galbois (proprietor of the hotel at the time) by the man himself, and is the design reproduced in a floor mosaic at the entrance of the hotel and on the walls of the hotel.

Cocteau moved in here (not for the first time) in 1957 while he was decorating the Chapelle Saint Pierre, (situated only meters from the hotel).  It was also at this hotel that he wrote his film Orphée (Orpheus), released in 1950. (see more of Cocteau's connection with the hotel further down the post).

The Welcome has not always been the four star boutique hotel that it is today, however it has always lead a colorful and interesting life standing on the Villefranche shoreline as it has now for over 220 years.  If only the walls could talk, they could tell a tale or two I imagine! (see history below).

Cocteau was by no means the only artist to have passed time here, and some of the black and white photos adorning the walls give a clue as to just how many artists were attracted by its charm. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton loved to sit up at the bar,  Picasso was often seen here with Cocteau, Kiki de Montparneasse,, Somerset Maugham and Isadora Duncan amongst many others have all passed through its doors.

The current owners, the family Galbois have owned The Welcome since 1943 and it was Catherine Galbois-Sigwalt who greeted me so kindly and enthusiastically when I contacted the hotel in regards to taking photographs. She generously gave me free rein to move from the breakfast room to some of the hotel's guest rooms. A big thank you Catherine.

The Welcome is a four star hotel, however it has that special something that some hotels never manage to attain no matter how many or how few stars they have, and that is a family warmth.....the care and attention to detail and to guests makes spending time here special, and it is this warmth that has drawn my family and myself to stay at the Welcome whenever we are holidaying here.

The unique location of The Welcome does it no harm either! There are certainly not too many hotels sitting literally meters from the mediterranean shoreline on what has to be one of the most beautiful bays in the world, in a village that dates back to the 13th Century.  And unusually for a seaside hotel its every guest at The Welcome that can enjoy a view of the mediterranean, its tiny little fishing harbour and the Peninsula of Cap Ferrat from their window and balcony......and in my opinion life doesn't get a whole lot more gorgeous than that!

SOME HISTORY

During the 18th Century the building that is now The Welcome Hotel was a convent and received the first known 'tourists' in the region when it accommodated pilgrims making their way on their spiritual journey. It was not until the reign of Queen Victoria that the convent became a hotel, (l'hotel de l'universe), and remained as such until the roaring twenties when the French Riviera became the popular stamping ground for the English aristocracy and the hotel de l'universe became The Welcome Hotel.

It was also from the 1920's onwards that the then owners of the Welcome Hotel The Vigouroux brothers starting attracting the artistic and literary crowd through their doors, including Cocteau. In fact the Vigouroux were Cocteau's first sponsors allowing him to reside in the hotel rent free for 2 years. Cocteau often quoted The Welcome in his books and articles (including the book 'The difficulty of Being' 1948).

According to one of the Vigouroux family members the reason that Cocteau took up two rooms of the hotel (no 22 & 23) was so he could smoke his opium (in no 23) in relative safety (apparently the smell was undetectable from there during the many police checks that took place in those days), and his 'cleaner' living was done in no 22. It was in this room that he also wrote many of his letters to his mother.

It was during these early years in Villefranche that Cocteau fell in love with the tiny chapelle Saint Pierre (photo above) standing opposite The Welcome, the chapel he was to later decorate at the ripe age of 68 (in 1957).  It took Cocteau years of bureaucratic haggling to get permission to paint the walls of this chapel and some stiff opposition from the fisherman who stored their nets inside, but gain it he did.  The murals he painted depict the life of Saint Peter and also paid homage to the fishermen of Villefranche and the women who carried the baskets brimming with fish. Cocteau describes these murals as some of his most important and best work....and he is quoted as saying 'in doing it I did not use my mind but my heart'.

Photo courtesy
The Welcome Hotel

 Photo taken in 1948 when the hotel still only had 4 levels (the 4th level was added in 1890). In 1955 2 additional floors were added with a mansard roof and that is how it stands today.

 

In 1943 Mr Guy & Mrs Reine Galbois (parents of the current owners) purchased the hotel, only to see it requisitioned during WW II. It was returned back into their hands at the end of the war but by this time it was in a state of dilapitation so they set about restoring it back to its former glory, and from then on continued to welcome guests from far and wide.

Photo courtesy
The Welcome Hotel

 Place Amèlie Pollonnais 1947 - 1950

During the time this photo was taken the entrance to the hotel was from the Place, where the terrace for Cosmo restaurant is now located. The lobby, lounge and dining room were all on the first floor. The entrance, lobby and bar is now situated at the front of the hotel on the ground level (There is no longer a restaurant).

Millie xx

Note; this year is the 50th anniversary of Cocteau's death.

You can also see Cocteau's work at the; Jean Cocteau Museum in Menton, Le Bastion, Jean Cocteau Museum in Menton, the Registry office (The Marriage room) in the Menton Town Hall, the registry (The wedding hall) at the Town hall in St Jean Cap Ferrat.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Hotel Welcome

3 Quai Amiral Courbet

Closest international airport to Villefranche sur Mer is in Nice, 20 minutes by car from the airport, 10 to 15 mins by bus to Villefranche from the centre of Nice, 7 mins by train from Nice Ville station to Villefranche. Buses run between the Nice Ville train station and the airport. There is no train from Nice Ville to the airport.

Bus no 99 runs from the Nice Ville Train station to the airport (direct).

Bus no 98 runs from Place Garibaldi in Nice to the airport (it usually departs from the Gare Routière (Nice bus station)), however it is temporarily closed.

Both buses and trains run regularly to and from Villefranche to all other towns along the coast – Voyage sncf for train information.

Lignes D’Azur for bus timetables.