A place of art and history with an exceptionally mild climate, the medieval city of Vence is situated in the hills not far from Nice and Antibes. Behind it stand the majestic Baous, steep mountains planted with olive orchards, orange trees and flowers, and, before it, the Mediterranean coast stretches out as far as the eye can see...
Vence has a rich past: a Roman city called Vintium, of which some Gallo-Roman vestiges and inscriptions still exist, an important bishopric from 439 up to the French Revolution and the Villeneuve family's fiefdom in the Middle Ages.
It was in the Middle Ages that the walls surrounding the old town were built. Five gates still remain: the Portail Levis (13th cent.), the Tour-Porte du Signadour (13th cent.), the Porte du Peyra (1441), the Porte Pontis and, from much later, the Porte de la Brèche (18th cent.). When this last one was built the neighbouring houses were realigned to permit Monseigneur Pisani de la Gaude, bishop of Vence, to arrive directly at his palace's door without having to get out of his carriage.
The old centre, with its narrow streets, its medieval and Renaissance houses, its big and little squares, has not changed over the centuries. In the middle stands the very pretty Romanesque cathedral built in the 11th century and the Saint Accolade Tower built in the 12th. The cathedral houses the marble sarcophagus of Saint-Véran, the bishop of Vence, dating from the 6th century and which serves as the altar. You can also admire a beautiful 16th century altarpiece, copper busts, an ensemble of statues in coloured wood and a mosaic by Marc Chagall.
The old village of Vence
The cathedral of Vence and panoramic view of the village
Dome of the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs in Vence
Vence has always been an important market town, as can be seen in the Rue des Marchands with its stands of fish, fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, cheeses and wine as well as other small boutiques and galleries.
And every Friday morning the enormous Provençal market takes place on the Place Clemençeau in the old town and on the big Place du Grand Jardin.
To guide you during your visit of the historic centre, numbered panels in a discreet grey indicate the gates, châteaus and fountains.
And fountains there are! Vence could even be called “city of water”. Several fountains are scattered around the town, all fed by the Foux spring. The water from this spring is known for being so good that there is sometimes a line of people waiting to fill up their bottles. On the Renaissance-era Place du Peyra, a beautiful fountain erected in 1822 bears a plaque that lists the water's minerals and virtues.
Vence also offers a good and varied selection of bars and restaurants but the nightlife leaves a bit to be desired.
Except during the “Nuits du Sud” festival of world music that takes place every summer on the Place du Grand Jardin. Big names in rock, reggae, pop and more perform on the outdoor stage.
Also to see in Vence:
The Château de Villeneuve - Emile Hugues Foundation: former home of the lords of Vence and today an important, modern and contemporary art centre with a permanent collection, temporary exhibitions and cultural activities.
The Place du Frêne: next to the Porte du Peyra, with its ash tree said to have been planted to commemorate the visit of François I and Pope Paul III in 1538, and the Fernand Moulet Belvedere from which you can make out the ruins of Queen Jeanne's château;
And, not to be missed, at the city's limits: the Rosaire Chapel, completely designed and decorated by Henri Matisse;
In the area around Vence
The Col de Vence, hiking on the baous and along the “balcony” of the Côte d'Azur;
Tourrettes-sur-Loup: a very pretty medieval village clinging to a high hilltop, with many crafts and spectacular views.