Welcome Hotel stories
A place steeped in history
The Welcome Hôtel has stood the test of time, with its many interesting stories.
Trace the 100-year history of the Welcome Hotel, discover the iconic artists who have made this hotel a place like no other, and rediscover the play "Le testament de l'orphée" by the famous Jean Cocteau, the Welcome Hotel's emblematic figure.
The Welcome hotel through the ages
The birth of a village
The Villefranche roadstead, sheltered from winds and currents, has served as a port for Greek and Roman ships since ancient times under the name Oliva Portus.
The Count of Provence, Charles II, aware of the strategic importance of the harbour, founded Villefranche in 1295.
To encourage the inhabitants who had taken refuge in the hills to move to the coast, the Count provided them with protection (ramparts, towers) and exempted them from taxes: Villa Franca was born.
In the 16th century, the village was visited by Pope Paul III and Francis 1.erby Charles V.
Villa Franca became a strategic military point that had to be fortified to counter attacks from the Franco-Turkish fleet attempting to invade.
The Citadel, Mont Alban and Saint Hospice fort were built to defend the County. The port of La Darse, the private port of the Duke of Savoy, was also created. It was redeveloped and became a royal port in the 18th century.
Villefranche also welcomed Emperor Napoleon III and Presidents of the Republic such as Sadi Carnot.
The building that was to become the Welcome Hotel was erected in 1710, 35 years before the construction of the port of Nice, which reduced the importance of the port of Villefranche. In April 1860, the County of Nice was annexed by France.
Villefranche then developed its commercial port and finally became a peaceful little fishing village.
The Golden Age
In 1864, the railway reached Villefranche, linking the village to the capital. Queen Victoria, the Tsar and Tsarina and the King of the Belgians came to spend their holidays here.
After the First World War, the bourgeoisie replaced the aristocracy. Villefranche was reborn, offering fishermen, sailors, artists and yachtsmen a picturesque and welcoming place in the most beautiful harbour in the world.
At the same time, the US Navy, which would later make Villefranche its official European base, began to punctuate life in Villefranche.
On the quayside, the girls await the arrival of the sailors who come to drink at the Welcome Bar or at Mère Germaine's until daybreak. The wives of admirals and officers live there permanently.
At dawn, Villefranche falls into a momentary silence before the fishermen resume their activities. Spreading nets around discussions of society and politics, which inevitably end up in arguments.
As the days passed, sailors and villagers shared laughter and moments of complicity until France left NATO's integrated command in 1967. However, the US Navy continued to visit Villefranchois regularly.
A Rock N Roll period
In the spring of 1971, the Rolling Stones arrived, fleeing the UK tax authorities. Keith Richards rents the Villa Nellcoyouin the heart of Villefranche's harbour. The basement of the famous villa became a studio where they began recording their famous album "Exile On Main Street".
With them, a huge drug trade of all kinds took root, attracting some unsavoury characters. As Cocteau put it, Villefranche became a place where "the little people took their cue from the gangsters", although of course the soul of Villefranche still appealed to artists and holidaymakers alike.
Villa Nellcote was open to the four winds. One day, burglars came through the front door with nine of Richards' guitars, Bobby Keys' saxophone and Bill Wyman's bass.
Mick Jagger got married in St Tropez. The international press and famous pop stars flocked to the coast to attend the event. The celebrations continued for a week at the Villa Nellcote. In 1973, Keith Richards was convicted of drug trafficking and banned from entering France for two years.
The Family Saga
A building at the heart of the soul of Villefranche
Before it became a hotel, the building already welcomed travellers. At the time, they were known as pilgrims and the hotel housed a convent. The oldest part of the building dates back to the 13th century, the same date as the rue obscure (the north-east section on the ground floor consists of a vaulted ceiling with a metre-wide base).
It is also said that the building once housed a garrison.
A letter from 1956 tells us that the 4-storey building dates back to 1710.
In 1787, it officially became a hotel under the name "Hôtel, bar, café de l'Univers" and around 1890, a fourth floor was added. In 1956, two further floors were added, including an attic floor, as well as a lift.
Until the 1920s, the establishment's activity was limited to visits from villagers' families and the occasional adventurer in transit.
In 1920, with the English having become unconditional friends of the Côte d'Azur, the Hôtel de l'Univers became the Hôtel Welcome, a place out of time.
Very quickly, around the 1930s, tourism began to evolve. Paid holidays and cruises became the norm, attracting a new category of holidaymaker. Tourism developed.
The Galbois and the hotel business
In 1943, Platon Sylvestre, Reine Galbois' father, bought the Welcome Hotel.
Two weeks later, the German army detonated 7 mines around the hotel to render it unusable by the Allies. Fortunately, the building remained standing thanks to the thickness of its walls.
It will take two years to restore the looted and dilapidated establishment to its former glory.
Through hard work and goodwill, the Welcome Hotel has succeeded in changing its image and the clientele who come here in search of tranquillity, refinement and impeccable service.
French, British, Belgians; authors, film-makers, industrialists, fashion designers... The Welcome Hotel has received praise from all over the world.
The arrival of Gérard Galbois
In 1971, after many years devoted to his establishment, Guy died of a heart attack, leaving his wife Reine at the helm.
Gérard, the youngest of the three children, aged 26 at the time, came to help his mother.
The task was a delicate one, and its beginnings were not without pitfalls.
For almost 50 years, Gérard gave Welcome the stature we know today.
His training as a public works engineer has enabled him to carry out the necessary renovations to embellish the premises over the years.
He quickly realised that the most important thing for a Hotelier Restaurateur was to surround himself with a team of passionate professionals, which enabled him to raise the hotel's standing.
Extremely involved in various local employer and institutional bodies, he was awarded the tourism medal by the Senator and Mayor of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat in 1997.
Until 2000, in addition to the hotel, Gérard ran two restaurants: a gourmet restaurant, Le Saint Pierre, opened in 1974 and was located in what is now the reception area; and a bistro in the adjoining square, Le Carpe Diem, opened in 1984.
Welcome in the 21st century
In 2000-2001, Gérard retired from the restaurant business to devote himself entirely to the hotel. He began work to install a reception area on the quayside, as well as a lobby and a lounge. The veranda was used as a breakfast room and the Wine Pier bar, which opened in 2002. Four additional rooms and a junior suite were created.
In the early 2000s, it embarked on a quality initiative that was unprecedented for an establishment of its size and obtained ISO 9001 certification, proof of its commitment to a high quality of service and to a working environment that is constantly evolving towards greater professionalism.
Always in search of performance, he earned his 4th star in 2010.
In 2016, his son Charles took over the management of the hotel. The hotel is entering a new era, with new challenges awaiting the fourth generation of owners and operators of this family institution.
Yet Charles Galbois strives to ensure that the values passed on to him live on: the pleasure of welcoming guests and the quality of service. To achieve this, the Welcome Hotel is constantly reinventing itself and undergoing constant renovation.
Our aim remains the same: to offer our guests a unique experience in the heart of the Côte d'Azur.
Artists and Welcome
Cocteau and the Welcome Hotel
In the 1920s, the Welcome attracted free-spirited artists. Jean Cocteau came here to rest after the death of his great love, the writer Raymond Radiguet, on 12 December 1923. The Vigouroux brothers, who owned the hotel at the time, became its first patrons and welcomed the artist on numerous occasions.
Villefranche was his second home. Jean Cocteau often quoted the Welcome in his books and articles.
In fact, in one of his books, "La difficulté d'être" (1946), we read: "A haunted hotel was the Hôtel Welcome in Villefranche. It's true that we haunted it, because nothing predisposed us to do so. There was the covered street. There were the ramparts and the barracks which, at night, evoke the absurd magnificence of dreams. There was Nice to the left and Monte Carlo to the right, with their sneaky architecture. But the Hôtel Welcome was simply charming and seemed to have nothing to fear. Its rooms were painted with ripolin. A coat of yellow paint had been applied to the Italian-style trompe-l'œil on the façade. The gulf was home to the squadrons. The fishermen mended their nets and slept in the sun...".
The parade of world leaders
Cocteau, Picasso, the muse of painters Kiki de Montparnasse, the famous dancer Isadora Duncan, artists from all over the world come to soak up and be inspired by the unique atmosphere of the village!
In "La difficulté d'être", Jean Cocteau wrote :
As in Le Sang d'un poète, our rooms became theatres from which we watched the battles between the sailors of the French, English and American units. Christian Bérard, Georges Hugnet, Glenway Wescott, Mary Butts, Monroe Wheeler, Philippe Lassell lived in the hotel. People drew, invented and visited each other from room to room. A mythology was born, the style of which was summed up by Orpheus. Stravinsky lived on Mont Boron. I brought him the Latin texts of Œdipus Rex. He composed the oratorio as he went along. The hotel was filled with these invisible people who came whenever they wanted and kept an eye on us. They put drama, vertigo and sacred fire into it".
The Jean Cocteau legacy
Jean Cocteau occupied what is now room 22 (redecorated expressly as a tribute to the poet-graphic artist). This is confirmed by the reproduction of a postcard he sent to his mother in which he encircled the window of his room. According to the former owner, the "poet of all the arts" occupied two rooms free of charge: one official, room 22, where he was normally kept (especially during police checks) and the other where the smell of opium smoke was not to be smelt by the maréchaussée.
At Welcome, he produced a number of drawings, including those for Mystères de Jean l'oiseleur (1925).
In 1950, he began decorating the walls of the Villa Santo Sospir in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and Francine Weisweiller became his patron, but he continued to talk about the Welcome.
In 1956, he decorated the chapel of Saint-Pierre next to the hotel.
He left Guy Galbois a drawing (reproduced on a mosaic at the entrance to the hotel) and a dedication: "To my very dear Welcome, where I spent the best part of my life" - Jean Cocteau 1957.
A few quotes
"I live in a strange place, the Welcome Hotel, a box completely suspended from the last branches of a sparkling Christmas tree..."
1926 Letters from Jean Cocteau to Marcel Jouhandeau
"Mama, darling, Villefranche is a marvel with its ships, its cannons, its hymns and its jazz. This excessive life overwhelms me and I watch it wisely from my bedroom as if from an opera box".
1925 Letter from Jean Cocteau to his mother
"Right here in Villefranche, every evening, I sit alone on the harbour. The routine is gentle. A star lights up on the right, another is about to light up above Saint-Jean.
I know the order in which the stars light up; between the first and the second an old man passes by with a goat on a leash. The boats clash, the lighthouse carries its megaphone across the sea.
When I look at Villefranche I see my youth, make the men it never changes
From time to time, you need a break from doing nothing