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Review: Vence and Environs

Specialist Holiday - Sightseeing

Vence, France

Vence et Environs, Alpes Maritimes

  • By SilverTraveller John-Hayden-Halsey

    16 reviews


  • 2014
  • Partner

36 people found this review helpful

Vence, an ancient seat of regional alpine maritime Greek and Roman governance affords us with gloriously inviting and enticing memories of the magnificent examples of freshly harvested citrus fruits of the Alpes Maritimes. Including lemons, oranges, clementines, satsumas, mandarins and grapefruit. Many with their original stocks and clusters of shiny bright green citrus fruit leaves are all displayed by various ‘Fruits et Legumes’ vendors in the Vieux Marche at Vence. Often with freshly picked bunches of fluffy balled exquisitely scented seasonal mimosa, from local gardens and the mountainside mimosa plantations of Le Massif de L’ Esterel between Cannes and Frejus.

All combine to draw us back again and again to a region that we have been familiar with and have such happy memories of built up over many decades ever since we were so fortunate and privileged to spend our childhood days of sunshine filled days holidaying in Les Alpes Maritimes and on the Cote d’Azur, prior to the coming of mass tourism that has destroyed so much of the Cote d’Azur.

Hence, we always look forward to re-visiting this region of temperate winter climate that rejoices in such a bounteous mixture of many of the very best of good things in life with which we have become exceptionally familiar and very well versed. Most particularly enjoyed when the weather in England is seasonably usually at the very worst of the year.

Flying down form Bristol to Nice Cote d’Azur Airport on the first morning flight of the day, departing a breakfast time brings us down to the Cote d’Azur during the mid-morning. The last section of the flight follows the Mediterranean Coastline from Marseilles to Nice, whilst flying over many of the most famous and legendary beach resorts in the world. Including, Cassis, Bandol, Le Lavandou, Cavalaire, St. Tropez with the notorious Plage de Pampelonne and (Tahiti Page made famous by Bridgitte Bardot following her glorious film debut in Roger Vadim’s ’ God Created Woman’ shot on location in and around St. Tropez) onwards over St. Maxime along Le Corniche de l’Esterel over St. Raphael, Le Trayas, Miramar, across Golfe de Napoule passing Cannes as you fly past Cannes over the Iles de Lerins of St. Marguerite and St. Honore with it’s famous abbey founded by St. Francis ( who banished all venomous snakes from these island paradises) over Golfe Juan, passing Juan-les-Pins. Flying over some of the most expensive real estate in the world at Cap d’Antibes.

Villas & Legendary Owners of Cap d’Antibes Amongst which are Villa Eilen, Chateau de la Croe once ownce the home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Ex King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson) later owned by Aristotle Onassis, and latterly by Stavros Niarchos whose heirs sold this vast and unique Cote d’Azur domain to Roman Abramovich. Adjacent is the even larger domain of Chateau de La Garoupe which once included its own vineyard and a farm.

Antibes Flying past the great fortified sea walls and maritime fortress of Fort Carre, both built by Vauban on the orders of Louis XIV at Antibes which was in the 17th century the easternmost and heavily port town in France, which then shared a common border with Savoy.

Aerial Views of Hautes de Cagnes, St. Paul de Vence and Vence The last few kilometres of this awesomely spectacular flight route runs over the Baie des Anges behind which can be indentified the spectacular fortified medieval walled towns of Hautes de Cagnes, St. Paul de Vence and Vence a short distance inland all served by the ancient onetime frontier route, now designated D2 on the Michelin Maps of France.

First things first. Visit the Office de Tourisme at Vence, 8 Place Grand Jardin. The small staff here are really amazingly helpful and multi-national. Who are very well versed in all the best things to see and do in Vence and in the environs of Vence. So be sure to visit this valuable reference at your earliest opportunity, armed with your Michelin Green Map No 115 in order that you can better discuss your own ideas and interpret their own recommendations. They all speak excellent English too.

An historic town of astonishing antiquity with endless places to explore on foot in and around the Vieux Ville inside the walls.

Chateau de Vence and 15th century Porte de Peyra Enter the Vieux Ville beside the Chateau de Vence that features one of the five fortifed limestone towers that once defended Vence (Once owned by the Lords of Villeneuve Loubet – Comtes de Grasse) walking through the famous Porte de la Preya built in 1441 past the lovely Place de la Peyra fountain. Once the Roman Forum for Vence.

Rue de Marche
Follow the Rue de Marche on your right hand where you will be astonished at the quality of all the food shops which are simply ‘world class’ and justly world famous. You will ant plenty of time to explore these wonderful family owned shops for all manner of exceptional items of food and wines. There is simply nowhere else on earth that you will find such wonderful things to eat and drink within such a small medieval street in France.

Place de Clemencau – Open Air Market
Turn left at the end of the Rue de Marche into Rue Alsace Lorraine into the Place Clemenceau where you will find an amusing street market of stalls which is fun to trawl through for simple, inexpensive presents for children, grand children and friends that are light and easy to pack!

Dominating the Place Clemenceau is the magnificent Marie (Town Hall ) adjacent to which is Vence Cathedral which is built on the 5th century site of a Roman Temple that was dedicated to Mars the Roman God of War of which little remains except for a fine column in the Place Goudea outside the eastern door, a 5th century sarcophacus that is said to have contained the body of the Roman Christian, Bishop Veranus, that now serves as an alter piece in the third chapel on the right within the cathedral.

Port du Orient
Taking the Passage Cahours under an archway beyond the main entrance to the cathedral brings you into Rue de l’Eveche where you turn right, which continues into the Place Godeau to see the Roman column from where you can exit this via Rue St. Veran and out through the ancient walls through the 18th century Porte d’Orient above which is carved in stone to commemorate the unsuccessful Seige of Vence in 1592 by the Huguenot ’ Lesdiguieres’.

Port du Signadour
Turning to the right into the Avenue Marcellin Maurel brings you to the 13th century Gothic Porte du Signadour from where you can walk back through the Vieux Ville to the Place de Peyra through the Place Surian past the Fontaine de Surian and then retrace you footsteps through the Rue de Marche.

The Medieval Ramparts
Passing through the Place de la Frene beneath the branches of a magnificent example of a Mediterranean Ash Tree planted during the reign of Louis XIV leads onto the ancient ramparts from which there are superb views of Les Alpes Maritimes and the magnificent Chateau St. Martin under the Baou des Blancs and the lower aspects of the awesome Col de Vence.

Aston Martin at Vence
The Aston Martin D9 was launched to the international motoring press at the Chateau St. Martin where the manufacturers took over this venue to showcase their new model on the mountain roads of the Col de Vence and on the D2 Mountain Route that joins the Route Napoleon at Logis du Pins. Nine cars were available for test drives under the supervision of Aston Martin ‘factory test drivers’. I was taken on a drive through the mountains over the Col de Vence Pass to Greollieres and back by the Chief Test Driver during this marketing exercise, which is an experience that I shall never forget. Sufficient to say the D2 Route was a mass of black rubber tyre marks over a distance of some twenty miles or so along one of the most famous and demanding mountain roads in the world…Aston Martin even had a full size example of a DB9 sports car cut in half front to back, displayed on a stand in the entrance lobby to the Chateau Martin. I believe that I was one of the very fortunate few private individuals to have had the privilege of experiencing this car which took place quite by chance when I met the Aston Martin Chief Test Driver whilst filling up my car at the only fuel station at Vence, at which Aston Martin were daily re-fueling their cars.

Chapelle de Rosaire, 466 Avenue Henri Matisse
A Provencal town house which Henri Matisse decorated between 1947 and 1951. The building is infact a chapel envisaged and designed by Matisse which he believed to be " my masterpiece..the result of a lifetime devoted to a quest for the truth." In any event it is a pace to be visited by those interested in Matisse when in Vence. However it is not remotely as interesting, let alone colurful as his works that can be seen at the Musee de Matisse at 164 Avenue des Arenes de Cimiez, Nice.

Environs of Vence – Recommended by us for others to be certain to visit.

Col de Vence
The route up the Col de Vence is immensely tortuous featuring a seemingly unending series of lacets (hairpin bends) that seem to climb towards the sky. Two thirds of the way up there is the only habitation by way of a remote farmhouse on the left hand side set back from the road along a rocky track between ancient lavender terraces which featured in a Hollywood Gangester movie shot on location on the Cote d’Azur and in Les Alpes Maritimes . Starring Charles Bronson (Once married to Jill Ireland) which included the most amazing car chase scenes with Bronson driving away from this farmhouse over the rough limestone mountainside at high speed. These scenes were accommodated by building a temporary military style steel ramp down the mountainside over the rocky terrain, (masked out in the film) which was later removed, post production. Just below the summit of the Col de Vence prior to the road running the last half kilometre to top the summit, there is a remarkable panorama that stretches from Italy in the east beyond Monaco to beyond L’ Esterel Massif Mountains to the West along the Cote d’Azur and correspondingly for a vast distance inland to the French and Italian High Alps.

One of the most unspoilt Village Perche in the Alpes Maritimes which stands above a mountain plateau land of amazing natural beauty above which the snow capped Mont Cheiron forms a magnificent backdrop. The River Cagne rises in the Cheiron Range and flows gently as stream through the high mountain meadows below Coursegoules before plunging down into the Canyon de Cagnes over a limestone cliff in which the waters of the Cagne have gouged out of the limestone a series of spectacular rock pools, one of which is the size of a resort hotel swimming pool but much more spectacular. Fixed belaying points in stainless steel have been installed for canyoning pursuits which are forbidden except when under the guidence of professionals by arrangement. Details available from the Vence Office de Tourisme.

D2 Route Greollieres to Coursegoules
The route runs down from Coursegoules towards Greollieres across beautiful meadows flanked by Mediterranean/ Alpine Mountain Oaks, Rowan Trees and Box bushes. Hereabouts are wild things! Wild Boars, mountain hares, Eagles and Hawks.. The route descends through a limestone canyon clinging to the cliff edge and where necessary blasted out of solid mountainside. Just prior to the beautiful remote mountain hamlet of St. Pons, a remarkable view opens up of the Greollieres Rift Valley that stretches away between the mountains to the West beyond Greollieres some 4 miles distant from St. Pons. There is a viewing picnic area and trestle tables here for travellers, most ideally situated.

Greolliers And Haute Greollieres
The two villages were once guardians of what is now the D2 Mountain Route since Romans times, substantially prior to Christ. The ancient fortifications lend themselves to locations for films, bith historical and contemporary. Glorious places to spend time exploring and for picnics above the entrance to the great Gorges du Loup below.

D2 Col de Vence Mountain Route at Greollieres
This road is one of the most scenic and photographed mountain roads in the world and not without good reason. Scenes for a number of James Bond movies have been shot along this road together with a ongoing host of television commercials for a host of different makes of cars, most particularly along the D2 just above Greollieres where the road runs through a series of what are amongst the most awesome rock tunnels in Europe. Blasted out of limestone from the cliffs of the Greollieres Rift Valley of Mont Cheiron with precipitous an d vertiginous drops of thousands of feet to the valley floor far below. Cars have from time to time skidded off the road in this vicinity of the D2 and plunged over the unguarded roadside to bounce and roll down the mountainside quickly ending up as a mass of twisted steel.

Tourettes- sur- Loup
Just west of Vence is the ancient walled village and violet growing centre of France. An awesome medieval venue where according to legend the Witches of the village are re-incarnated as cats. Sufficient to say, there do seem to be an unusually large cat population. Once Paul Gallico the author, conducted a ‘Cat symphony’ on the ramparts.

Read my review about St Paul de Vence

1. Money no object – a fabulous experience of a lifetime
Chateau St. Martin & Spa

2. Excellent food – amusing rooms – incomparable value
L’ Auberge de Seigneurs (Primarily an excellent Provencal restaurant – with rooms)

Auberge des Seigneurs
La Regence Cafe (free Wi-Fi)

CAR RENTAL – An absolute essential + MIchelin Green Map ‘Cote d’Azur No 115
Picking up our Car Rental at Nice Airport. (Always choosing a medium sized fast diesel or on occasion a sports convertible) we usually drive out of the airport and along to Juan-les-Pins for lunch at La Pinede if the weather is good, otherwise we find a bistro in Cagnes-sur-Mer or Hautes de Cagnes prior to driving up the D2 Route to Vence via St. Paul de Vence.

I. Leclerc Supermarche Vence NB. Excellent for all items required to make up a wonderful picnic quickly! Cold meats, pate, cheeses, fruits, wines and bread Allied to easy park.

Specially researched, photographed, written & compiled by John Halsey

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