SEP 12,2015 - SEP 12,2015 (1 DAYS)
Main Attractions: Halte Routière de l'Ara, Vence Tourist Office, Porte (Place) du Peyra, Rue du Marché, Place Clemenceau, Porte du Signadour, Boulevard Paul André, Place Frederic Mistral (Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs), Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence (Chapel of the Rosary).
Duration: 1/2 day. Weather: avoid rainy or windy days. In this hilly area of the Riviera - you may expect a sudden pour of rain even during sunny days. Distance: 6 km.
Introduction: Vence is an hilly market town with a strong sense of community, which you can feel at the market in the Place du Grand Jardin square. Standing alongside the few bigger markets - you can see the smaller shops there which are still thriving. The big markets are:
There is also a sense of exotic grandeur with the huge and exciting walls running around the town. The main attractions are: the historic city with its ramparts dating from the 13th century, the Cathedral “Notre Dame de la Nativité”, the numerous chapels built over the centuries (The chapel of the Penitent Blancs, rue Isnard, the Chapel Sainte Anne, on the boulevard Emmanuel Maurel) and the fountains and especially many many unique medieval houses. Vence is also a town of special light. It had become the city of past famous painters: Matisse, Soutine, Chagall, Dufy - to name few. In the footsteps of these artists, several cultural places contribute in making Vence a renowned artistic city (The Rosary Chapel, The Museum of Vence - Fondation Emile Hugues, The “Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs”, The Blue gallery - The “Galerie Bleue”). These places invite you to come and discover their heritage and exhibitions.
The #400 bus (see below) lands in Vence new town. Vence is a real town and outside of its ancient central core, the new town can have a slightly gritty feel compared to the fairytale sights of St Paul. Consequently, we recommend a short visit in the old town core. Vence’s pedestrian and circular old town is a treasure trove of beautiful streets with nice views over the hills surrounded by medieval walls. Unlike Saint Paul, it is a bit more functional, with outdoor meat and fish markets every morning but also plenty of beautiful squares, small alleyways, fountains and old streets with beautiful facades to get lost in. It also houses France’s smallest Cathedral, Notre Dame de la Nativité, located on Place Clémenceau with a beautiful golden Virgin Mary on the façade.
Access to Vence:
By Bus: Bus no. 400 goes between Nice and Vence via Saint-Paul de Vence. The bus departs from rue Verdun/Albert 1ere bus stop, opposite Hotel Meridian. The ticket costs just 1.50€ and you can buy it from the driver as you board. If you are using a Nice day pass/week pass/or ten-trip card, it will work for going to Vence, but not to Foundation Maeght or Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Nice - Vence ride takes 75 minutes. If you want to make a free transfer within 2 1/2 hours, you can drop by the Lignes d’Azur boutique (across from train station or just off Place Garibaldi) and buy a Ticket Azur for the same price. This could be useful if you take a tram or bus in Nice before catching the bus # 400, or if you want to see the Foundation Maeght and/or stop at Saint-Paul-de-Vence - before / after visiting Vence. Bus #94 departs from the same place, goes to Vence and DOES NOT STOP at Saint-Paul de Vence. For complete, up-to-date time table of line 400 (Nice-Vence- Nice) (in French): https://www.departement06.fr/documents/A-votre-service/Deplacements/transports-en-commun/dpt06-cadredevie_lignes_400.pdf
The last bus #400 leaves Vence at 19.15 on weekdays, and 19.30 on weekends and holidays (picking up in Saint-Paul-de-Vence 5-7 minutes later). If you miss the last bus, the least expensive way to get back is to take a taxi (or Uber) down to the Cagnes-sur-mer train station and then take the train back (last one around 23.00).
We start at the #400 bus stop at Halte Routière de l'Ara: the Place du Marechal Juin - a square in the new town where Avenue de la Resistance meets Avenue Emile Hagues. This is a wonderful square on its own:
Cross the square from west to east and walk along Avenue de la Résistance eastward. We walk 350 m. along Avenue de la Résistance until we arrive to the Place du Grand Jardin. Here resides (on your left) the The Tourist Office (amid the row of shops). Opening hours: from MON to SAT : 9.00 to 19.00, SUN 10.00 to 18.00. Pick up the free self-guided walking tour of Vence. It marks the main attractions and tells you what they are.
Place du Grand Jardin:
We continue eastward. With your face to the Tourist Office - continue walking to your right (east) and we arrive to Porte du Peyra (The Gate and Fountain Peyra). The name ‘Peyra’ comes from the ‘pierre’ (stone) used for executions. In its current form, the door of Peyra dates only from 1810. The fountain was refurbished in 1822 instead of another fountain, which dated from 1578. From here we shall wander round the circular streets through the main squares: Place du Peyra, Place Clémenceau, Place Godeau and Place Surian.
The Peyra Gate leads to the Place du Peyra (Peyra Square). Here were traditionally the market place and the speakers' stand. People gathered there to discuss the business of the town. In 2005 the site has been fully restored. Here stands Musee de Vence - Chateau de Villeneuve (or: Fondation Emile-Hugues) with its adjoining 12th century watch-tower (which was for long the home of the Lords of Villeneuve). Entirely renovated, the Castle of Villeneuve/ Fondation Emile Hugues is today a leading centre for modern and contemporary art. The buildings were beautifully and tastefully restored. The Chateau functions as an art gallery / museum. The entrance fee is 7€, no concessions. The exhibitions change every few months but seem to be themed around art done in Cote d'Azure. Opening hours: TUE to SUN from 10.00 - 12.30, 14.00 - 18.00. Closed: Mondays, 01.01, 01.05 and 25.12. The west face of the watch-tower retains its original appearance with its arrow-slits indicating an internal staircase:
If you go down the rue du Portail-Levis from the Place du Peyra, you will notice the Place Vieille, mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records, 1996, as the one of the smallest square in France.
in the north side of the square - there is a viewpoint overlooking the Alpes-Maritimes and the villages - north-east to Vence:
From Place du Peyra - we turn right(south-east) along Rue du Marché. Today this is a commercial street typical of a Provençal village. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, it had almost no shops. The ground floors were used for stables or kitchens for the houses:
We head southeast on Rue du Marché toward Ruelle du Marché, 60 m. Turn left onto Rue Alsace Lorraine, 15 m. We turn right onto Place Clemenceau. On our right - there is an arch (and behind it - the town hall or Hotel de Ville) and on our left - a cathedral and a statue. Initially named Place Mirabeau, it later became the Georges Clemenceau Square. Of the former Bishopric remains only the oldest part of the building that closes the northern arcades square, and the Tour (Tower) Saint Lambert. Over the centuries various buildings of the Bishopric were joined at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Nativité (see below).
The 12th century Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Nativité is a tiny cathedral, quaint and cute and comparing to other cathedrals there is a sense of humbleness about it. Built in the fourth century on the site of a Roman temple. The cathedral took its final shape in the eleventh or twelfth century. Inside: inscriptions dated to the early third century AND a, tucked away in a corner wall - wonderful mosaic of “Moses saved from the waters” by Marc Chagall. This mosaic radiates a special glow, with side light streaming onto these colorful stones vividly illustrating flowers, fruits, the sun, a rainbow, angels and a newborn Moses being baptized. Next to it is is a charming bulletin board of photographs of babies that have been baptized in the cathedral, showing this is still very much an active church. This is the smallest cathedral in France:
The Tity Hall is next to the Cathedral in the usual pattern forming the main square of a typical European town, with church, civic building, shops and open space, clustered in the center of town. There was a castle here in the 13th century for the Lords of Vence:
From Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Nativité head south on Place Clemenceau toward Place Surian, 40 m. Exit this plaza on the south end, turning left into a small market square, Place Surian, with a few restaurants, cafes, food stores and bars, nice for browsing or a snack. On far end of the plaza continue left at the fork along Rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville for two short blocks, passing more nice shops, to Porte du Signadour, a watchman’s tower dating to the 13th century. Until the French Revolution, it was topped by a watchtower that allowed lookouts to watch the horizon. Exit the Old Town through the stone gateway onto bustling Avenue Marcellin Maurel.
Paintings in a gallery opposite Porte du Signadour:
You walk along Avenue Marcellin Maure 150 m. eastward and you have arrived at a lovely square, Place Antony Mars (former Mayor of Town, author of comedies and vaudeville), with a fountain, pizzeria and art gallery. This square was first laid out in 1431, with a fountain built in 1439 for those residents outside the walls.
From here you get a revealing look at the outside curve of the Old Town, where you see houses that used the town wall for foundations or are themselves remnants of the wall, but before 1840 was a solid fortified wall. From the 15th century the inhabitants were allowed to build their homes against the wall, on condition they had an iron grill on their windows.
We continue surrounding the Old Town along Chemin de Sainte-Colombe - passing: Avenue Général Leclerc (on our right), Rue Saint-Veran (on our left), We slight left (west) to Boulevard Paul André and pass narrow, old roads from the 17-18th centuries (Impasse de Cimitiere Vieux, Rue Saint Elisabeth, Rue Pisani) until we arrive to Rue Saint Luce:
On our right (north) - stunning sights of mountains and houses out of the walls, north of the city:
Boulevard Paul André ends in a fork and four roads diverge from it. We continue westward, in the same direction along Rue Fontaine Vieille. Continue and head west on Rue Fontaine Vieille toward Chemin Saint-Pierre, 55 m. Turn left to stay on Rue Fontaine Vieille, 75 m. Turn right onto Avenue Henri Isnard, 140 m and you arrive to Place Frederic Mistral. On your left the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs dedicated to Sainte Agathe and Saint Bernardin. It was built in the 17th century by the friary of the same name. It can be seen from the avenue de la Resistance thanks to its varnished polychromatic tiled dome, and can be entirely discovered from Rue Isnard and Place Frederic Mistral. Classified as a "Historic Monument" in 1944, it is today a place of temporary exhibitions of mostly local artists. Free entrance:
The street continues west as Avenue des Poilus and we walk until its end in a bustling roundabout. Take the turn to the right - Avenue Henri Matisse. Follow the signs of "Chapelle du Rosaire Matisse". We start our walk in the long Avenue Henri Matisse - actually on a BRIDGE OVER A DEEP CHASM. Unbelievable, breathtaking sights on both of the sides.
Over the bridge - on your right the mountains around Vence:
On your left (south) Old Vence:
It is 15 min. walk to the Rosart Chapel.In the fort - we turn left and after 2-3 min. walk we arrive to the Maison Lacordaire, Dominican-run rest home (former girls' school), near the Rosary Chapel:
The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence (Chapel of the Rosary) (Rosary Chapel) designed by Henri Matisse is located 466 Avenue Henri Matisse in Vence. It is a good walk from the bridge above. Be sure it fits your taste and check hours it is open before hiking out there (see below). When you arrive it’s easy to believe you’re in the wrong place. Could this simple white building really be “one of the great religious structures of the 20th century”? May we remark now, before you walk - that WE WERE TOTALLY disappointed. First, we introduce the information concerned - and' later, we'll detail, in brief, why we had been so upset with this church...
From the years 1948 to 1951, legendary French artist Henri Matisse worked tirelessly on plans for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, (the Chapel of the Rosary), designing every element if the building, from the exterior to the details of decoration. This may sound strange, given that Matisse devoted most of his career to painting, and considered himself an atheist. A culmination of his long artistic trajectory, it was the first time that a painter had entirely designed every detail of a Chapel in such a comprehensive way, and remains a potent manifestation of Matisse’s artistic sensibility in his mature years. Matisse drew up the plans for the edifice and every detail of the decoration — from the ceramics, stained glass windows, ornaments, and paintings, which Matisse created specifically for the chapel. Matisse was involved in every part of the work. He chose the warm brown stone of the altar because of its resemblance to the colour of bread. He designed the bronze crucifix on the altar, the candlesticks on the altar, the confessional door, the three holy-water stoups, and the blazing patterns adorning the priest’s chasublesthe candle holders, the small tabernacle and even the priests’ vestments. In 1941, Matisse developed cancer and underwent extensive surgery, which he almost didn’t survive. The artist lived for most of the year in Nice in the south of France, and during his long recovery there, he sought help from a lady named Monique Bourgeois who responded to his advertisement seeking ‘a young and pretty nurse’. Bourgeois tenderly took care of the ailing Matisse, and took great interest in his work. Matisse built the chapel for this nurse who had cared for him during the latter years of his life in which his health was compromised: a celebration of human relationship. This huge undertaking of Matisse's final decade, which he made so feverishly, was no less intense and no less important than his early paintings.The Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary was inaugurated on June 25th, 1951.By the summer of 1951, when the chapel was finished, Matisse was so frail that his physician forbade him to attend its consecration. The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence is a unique building which was designed and constructed by Henri Matisse, as a monument to the gratitude he felt towards his nurse Monique Bourgeois. The history of the chapel and the purpose behind its construction are proof of a labour and love, rather than a purely religious undertaking. It has a simple white exterior measuring 15 by six metres, with a roof of blue and white tiles. The white chapel is famed for its stained glass windows that reflect a myriad of exquisite colours onto the white marble floors. The completed chapel contains three sets of stained glass windows — making use of a THREE COLOURS: green (nature), dominant yellow (sun) and deep ultramarine blue (sea) - reflecting the Mediterranean surroundings. The two windows beside the altar depict abstract theme, entitled the ‘The Tree of Life’. The opposition between the richly coloured stained-glass windows and the monochrome murals dominates the chapel. On the wall behind the altar is a large image of St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Dominicans. Adorning the side walls are abstract images of flowers and an image of the Madonna and Child, all created in black outlines on white tiles. The child is supported by nothing. On the back wall of the chapel: the Via Dolorosa: the traditional fourteen stations of the cross. Matisse chose to incorporate all of them on one wall in a single cohesive composition.
The Rosary Chapel is open: MON, ,WED, SAT - 14.00 – 17.30. TUE, THU 10.00 – 11.30, 14.00 – 17.30. Mass on SUN at 10.00. Closed from 15 NOV to 15 DEC and holidays. Admission entry: 6 euros (!). NO PHOTOS ALLOWED INSIDE.
We found that regional French Riviera museums associated with Matisse, Picasso and other famed painters (in Nice, Antibes, Vence, St. Tropez) need to upscale their site or attraction and are, basically, tourists' expensive traps ! The Matisse Museum in Nice presents 3rd league pictures and the Rosary Chapel in Vence is, more or less, the same. Totally commercial, uninspiring, uninviting, the stained glasses are very basic. You hardly see the chapel from the entrance or from the street outside. The "gallery" that one enters after the chapel is no more than a corridor with "works" displayed which are unattractive sketches. The garden at end of the 'corridor' is inaccessible. And, you are charged with €6 for almost nothing. There were two frustrating experiences in our trip to the French Riviera - and the two of them concerned with Matisse...
'Tree of Life' Stained glass behind the Altar:
The Rosary Church is built on a terrace with a panoramic view south towards the ancient town of Vence, View of Old Vence from the Rosary Chapel:
We walk 750 m. (15 minutes) back from the Rosary Church to Vence Bus station (Halte Routière de l'Ara). Head west on Avenue Henri Matisse toward Chemin du Claoux Supérieur, 250 m. Slight left to stay on Avenue Henri Matisse, 300 m. Turn left onto Avenue Victor Tuby, 160 m. Sharp left onto Avenue Emile Hugues, 50 m and we face the Halte Routière de l'Ara.