925km (575 miles) S of Paris; 31km (19 miles) N of Cannes; 24km (15 miles) NW of Nice
Travel up into the hills northwest of Nice—across country studded with cypresses,
olive trees, and pines, where carnations, roses, and oleanders grow in profusion—and
Vence comes into view. Outside the town, along boulevard Paul-André, two olive
presses carry on with their age-old duties. But the charm lies in the Vieille Ville. Visitors
invariably have themselves photographed on place du Peyra in front of the urnshape
Vieille Fontaine, a background shot in several motion pictures. The
15th-century square tower is also a curiosity.
GETTING THERE Frequent buses (no. 400 or 94) originating in Nice take about
an hour to reach Vence; the one-way fare is 4.70€ ($6.10). For information, contact
the Compagnie SAP (& 04-93-58-37-60). The nearest rail station is in Cagnes-sur-
Mer, about 10km (6 miles) southwest from Vence. From there, about 20 buses per day
priced at 2.60€ ($3.40) make the trip to Vence. For train information, call & 08-
92-35-35-35. To drive to Vence from Nice, take N7 west to Cagnes-sur-Mer, then
D236 north to Vence.
VISITOR INFORMATION The Office de Tourisme is on place Grand-Jardin
(& 04-93-58-06-38; www.ville-vence.fr).
EXPLORING THE TOWN
If you’re wearing the right kind of shoes, the narrow, steep streets of the Old Town are
worth exploring. Dating from the 10th century, the cathedral on place Godeau is
unremarkable except for some 15th-century Gothic choir stalls. But if it’s the right day
of the week, most visitors quickly pass through the narrow gates of this once-fortified
walled town to where the sun shines more brightly.
Chapelle du Rosaire It was a beautiful golden autumn along the Côte d’Azur.
The great Henri Matisse was 77, and after a turbulent time he set out to design and
decorate his masterpiece—“the culmination of a whole life dedicated to the search for
truth,” he said. Outside Vence, Matisse created the Chapelle du Rosaire for the
Dominican nuns of Monteils. (Sister Jacques-Marie, a member of the order, had
nursed him back to health after a serious illness.) From the front you might find it
unremarkable and pass it by—until you spot a 12m (40-ft.) crescent-adorned cross rising
from a blue-tile roof.
Matisse wrote: “What I have done in the chapel is to create a religious space . . . in
an enclosed area of very reduced proportions and to give it, solely by the play of colors
and lines, the dimensions of infinity.” The light picks up the subtle coloring in the
simply rendered leaf forms and abstract patterns: sapphire blue, aquamarine, and
lemon yellow. In black-and-white ceramics, St. Dominic is depicted in only a few
lines. The most remarkable design is in the black-and-white-tile Stations of the Cross, with Matisse’s self-styled “tormented and passionate” figures. The bishop of Nice came
to bless the chapel in the late spring of 1951 when the artist’s work was completed.
Matisse died 3 years later.
Av. Henri-Matisse.& 04-93-58-03-26. Admission 2€ ($2.60) adults, free for children under 12; contributions to
maintain the chapel are welcome. Dec 16–Nov 14 Tues and Thurs 10–11:30am; Mon–Thurs and Sat 2–5:30pm. Sun
Mass 10am, followed by visit at 10:45am. Closed Nov 15–Dec 15.
WHERE TO DINEWHERE TO DINE
Auberge des Seigneurs (see above) is an excellent place to dine at reasonable prices.
Auberge des Seigneurs This 400-year-old stone hotel gives you a taste of old
Provence. Decorative objects and antiques are everywhere. The guest rooms are well
maintained, but the management dedicates its energy to the restaurant. Nevertheless,
the Provençal-style rooms are comfortable, with lots of exposed paneling and beams.
Two have nonworking fireplaces. The small, tiled bathrooms contain showers. The
restaurant is in a stone building that used to be the kitchen of the Château de Villeneuve,
where François I spent part of his youth. The specialty is grills prepared on
the open spit in view of the dining room, which holds a long wooden table and an
294 C H A P T E R 7 . T H E E A S T E R N R I V I E R A
open fireplace with a row of hanging copper pots and pans. Set menus cost from 30€
to 40€ ($39–$52).
Place du Frêne, 06140 Vence.& 04-93-58-04-24. Fax 04-93-24-08-01. 6 units. 65€–75€ ($85–$98) double. AE,
DC, MC,V. Closed Nov–Mar 15. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; limited room service; nonsmoking rooms. In room: Dataport,
La Farigoule PROVENÇAL In a century-old house that opens onto a rose garden,this restaurant specializes in Provençal cuisine. Menu items are conservative but flavorful;they include bourride Provençale (bouillabaisse with a dollop of cream and lotsof garlic); shoulder of roasted lamb with a ragoût of fresh vegetables, served with freshthyme; aioli; and such fish dishes as dorado with confit of lemons and fresh, aromaticcoriander. In the summer, you can dine in the rose garden.15 rue Henri-Isnard.& 04-93-58-01-27. Reservations recommended. Main courses 22€–27€ ($29–$35); fixedpricemenu 29€–43€ ($38–$56) dinner. MC, V. Thurs–Mon noon–2pm and 7:30–10pm. Closed Dec 7–Jan 7.
La Table d’Amis Jacques Maximum MODERN FRENCH This deluxe
dining room is justly hailed as one of the Riviera’s grandest restaurants. The setting is
an artfully rustic 19th-century manor house that was transformed in the mid-1980s
into the private home of culinary superstar Jacques Maximin. Today, it’s the target of
pilgrimages by foodies and movie stars venturing north from the Cannes Film Festival,
including Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Hurley, and Robert De Niro. You can sample a menu
devoted to the seasonal produce of the surrounding countryside. Stellar examples are
salads made with asparagus and truffles, Canadian lobster, or fresh scallops; line-caught
sea wolf Niçoise (with stewed tomatoes and peppers); pigeon breast with cabbage and
lentil cream sauce; peppered duck; and some of the best beef dishes in the region.
Expect surprises from the capricious chef, whose menu changes virtually every day.
689 chemin de la Gaude.&04-93-58-90-75. Reservations required. Main courses 25€–65€ ($33–$85); fixed-price
menu 50€ ($65) including wine. AE, MC, V.Wed–Sun 12:30–2pm and 7:30–10pm. Closed Nov 12–Dec 12. From the
historic core of Vence, drive southwest for 4km (21⁄2 miles), following signs to Cagnes-sur-Mer.