Posted by: Brad Nixon | December 2, 2015

À Vence

I’ve got that cooped-up feeling: too much time staring at this screen and writing about language and books. Let’s do something. Let’s go somewhere.

How about France? Allons à Vence! (Click on photos for larger images.)

Vence Brad Nixon 6918 (640x480)

Vence is a thriving little city of about 20,000 people in Provence, properly, Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur. We won’t be the first travelers to discover it, and if you go in high season, as we did, expect the cafes and shops to be bustling, although the place won’t be mobbed like Venice or Disneyland.

A Brief History

Vence sits on a prominent hilltop, surrounded by steep ravines, which has been occupied since at least Neolithic times. When the Romans got there some time in the first Century BCE they built a town, Vintium. When the Romans left Gaul, they took all th e hard “Ts” with them and the locals pronounced it Vence.  They did leave behind some of their very clever paving, still extant in Vence:

Vence Brad Nixon 6926 (640x450)

During the Middle Ages, the town acquired city walls, gated towers, cobblestone streets and an array of fascinating buildings. The present-day town preserves a great deal of those attributes.

Vence gate Brad Nixon 6934 (480x640)

Vence is about 20 km (12-1/2 mi.) from Nice, and is an excellent day trip from there. We got there and back via bus from Nice with ease. The route passes another attractive walled town, Saint Paul-de-Vence, which is also a popular tour destination.

St Paul-de-Vence Brad Nixon 6984 (640x379)

Travel means choices, and and we continued a few miles further to Vence.

Vence is eminently walkable, although the cobblestones of some streets may offer a challenge for some visitors. It’s compact enough to explore by casually strolling, without constantly referring to the Guide Michelin or whatever map or guide you’re toting.

Vence Brad Nixon 6916 (640x472)

The Cathedral of the Nativity of Mary was originally built on the site of a Roman temple in the 4th or 5th Century, and most of the structure today is a lean, hard Romanesque from the 12th Century.

Vence cathedral Brad Nixon 6927 (480x640)

At every turning there are picturesque streets …

Vence Brad Nixon 6951 (640x480)

medieval buildings, like this 13th Century house …

Vence 13C house Brad Nixon 6924 (640x480)

and views out to the mountainous countryside surrounding the city.

Vence Brad Nixon 6917 (480x640)

To paraphrase Hemingway, one might ask, “How does one eat there?” “Well. One eats very well there,” is the appropriate answer. The Romans, despite their awesome creativity, never invented pizza, but later Italians exported it throughout the Mediterranean, and we had an excellent one, crispy-thin, made all the tastier by being enjoyed in the lambent Provencal light suffused through an overhead awning.

Vence pizza Brad Nixon 6940 (640x432)

There are plenty of dining options in Vence. If you like seafood, you’ll select from the display the morning’s catch from just a few miles away in the Mediterranean.

Vence Brad Nixon 6963 (640x480)

We included some additional photos and description of food and dining in Vence in a previous post, HERE.

Vence has attracted numerous artists and writers. D. H. Lawrence died there (although that’s not necessarily a recommendation). An easy walk of ten or fifteen minutes outside the old walled town is the Chapel of the Rosary, designed by one of the most noted artists associated with Vence, Henri Matisse.

Vence chapel Brad Nixon 6955 (640x480)

The Chapel interior, which is spare in decoration save for tile murals Matisse made for the wall, is worth seeing. Photography isn’t allowed inside, so I have no photos. Here’s one exterior design by Matisse:

Vence chapel Brad Nixon 6976 (640x480)

Don’t miss the display of church vestments, also designed by Matisse. Some interior photos are available at this website.

We’ll explore a few other spots in France, and probably cross the border into Italy, as well, so stay with us. If you’ve been to Vence, we’d love to hear about your travel tips.

I will add this postscript once, but let it stand for all travel here in 2015 and beyond. I intend to go back to France, including Paris. The world is a treacherous place, and it’s not going to get less dangerous in the near future. But, staying home, I could just as easily be a victim of violence in my car or at the local shopping mall. One should exercise caution, and be alert, but not cower. Bon voyage pour nous tous.

This is the first of a series of posts about southern France. Use the navigation below to click to the next one.

I wrote a second post with more photos of beautiful Vence: CLICK HERE TO VIEW IT.

A number of the photographs in this post and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2015, 2017

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