Vence, Alpes-Maritimes, France

Vence is a French commune located in the department of Alpes-Maritimes in the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Stroll through the medieval village and its ramparts to discover its incredibly rich history. At the bend of the alleys, many monuments are revealed such as the Castle and its 12th century tower or many fountains, including the famous Peyra fountain, classified as historical monuments. The highlight is the Cathedral, the smallest in France, built on the site of a Roman temple and on a Carolingian church, which houses exceptional polychrome wooden statues as well as a mosaic by Marc Chagall.

Located about 20 km from Nice, between sea and mountains, overlooked by the Col de Vence. Vence offers a fairly irregular relief when you go from the small hills of Baous to steep slopes. These limestone mountains, the “baous”, give the region a very rugged relief.

The historic part of Vence is revealed within a completely preserved medieval wall: this city center is full of history while being full of life. Discover many alleys inside the ramparts where life is good and where we want to stroll. With family, lovers or friends, this walk invites you to meet the locals and traders: an experience on a human scale. This is the opportunity to take the time to drink a coffee; to sit on a bench in the sun…

A journey through 2000 years of history, discover the heritage riches of the city through its alleys, its squares, its monuments… or even its fountains. Enter through one of the five doors that pierce the medieval walls, you will discover a magnificent Cathedral where you drink water from the Foux which flows from the multiple fountains including that of Peyra, listed as historical monuments. Walk in Vence, you will have the chance to visit the smallest cathedral in France or even stop at the smallest square in Europe, the Place Vieille.

The territory of the commune of Vence has given evidence of occupation dating back to the oldest times. Some baous caves seem to have been occupied in the Paleolithic and Neolithic. Some of them seem to have served as sheepfolds or shelters for shepherds during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. They are also frequented during Antiquity, the Middle Ages and modern times. The existence of fortified habitats on certain heights. The largest number is busy at the end of the Iron Age, the excavations on the site Bau Blacks however delivered traces of occupation dating back to the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. The Baou des Blancs seems founded at the end of the Iron Age, but was the object of a major reoccupation during late Antiquity.

Before the conquest of the Alps by Augustus and the creation of the province of the Maritime Alps in the last quarter of the I century BC. AD, the territory of Vence is under the control of the tribe of Nerusii whose name appears on the Trophy of the Alps with that of the other local tribes defeated by Augustus. From the Christian era, Vence was founded and became the capital of the city. Little is known about the ancient remains of the city of Vence, with the exception of the milestones delimiting the Roman road via Ventiana, and inscriptions mostly uncovered in the basement of the city center and currently integrated into the masonry of Vence Cathedral dating from the XI and XII centuries in its current form. Founded by the Ligurians, then Roman city of Vintium she saw grow its power with Christianity and became an important city episcopal from the IV century.

In the V century, Vence has a bishopric under the reign of Emperor Constantius III. The first bishop of Vence whose existence is proven is Severus (419-442 According to local tradition based on ecclesiastical sources, the cathedral was built on the site of the temple of Mars Vintius whose existence is evidenced by an inscription. In 973, after his victory against the Saracens in Tourtour battle, Guillaume I de Provence creates one of his captains, Léotger Ruffi or Laugier Rufus, Earl of Cagnes and Vence and offers her hand his daughter Odille. The son of Léotger, Raimbaud, not having had any male descendants, the county returned to the count of Provence in 1189. It was at this time that the Templar Commandery of Saint Martin was founded, on the territory of the commune on the Baou des Blancs.

By the sharing of the empire of Charlemagne, Vence and Provence are attached to the Holy Roman Empire. In 1191, Emperor Henry VI granted the Republic of Genoa the city and territory of Monaco, which led to the rebellion against the Counts of Provence in the city of Nice. TheJuly 6, 1215, the party of the Nice aristocrats takes control of Nice and proclaims the independence of the city from the count of Provence. In 1228, worried about the new influence acquired by Raimond-Bérenger V through his marriage with Béatrice de Savoie, the city of Nice concluded an alliance with the cities of Grasse and Draguignan and signed an agreement with the Republic of Pisa. In reaction, Raimond-Bérenger sent his army commanded by Romée de Villeneuve, viguier and baile de Provence. He subdues Nice in 1229 and Vence in 1230. In 1231, he will build the ramparts of Vence. The seigneury of Vence was then given by the Count of Provence to Romée de Villeneuve who paid him homage on February 7, 1230.

The family of Villeneuve-Vence and the bishops were coseigneurs of Vence until the French Revolution. During the Italian wars, the city as well as a large part of Provence will come under the domination of the troops of Charles Quint. Legend has it that in 1538, present in the area for the signing of the Nice peace, François I visit Vence and offers residents an Ash still visible today on the square of the same name. Among its many bishops, there was a pope, Paul III, two academicians, Godeau and Surian and three saints, Prosper, Véran and Lambert. The Revolution drove the last bishop, M Pisani, who refused to take an oath on the constitution and abolished the bishopric.

Henri Matisse moved to Vence, villa “Mon Rêve” in 1943, he designed the entire interior of the chapel of the Rosary of Vence also known as “chapel Matisse”, and it is the artist Jean Vincent de Crozals who serves as a model for the drawings of Christ. In June 1976, it is ranked fourth in the list of the most beautiful towns in Europe published by National Geographic magazine. Vence is a member of the French Association of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (AFCCRE).

Like Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a twin city internationally known for its artists’ workshops and galleries, a jewel of the Côte d’Azur, rich in its exceptional setting and cultural heritage, Vence is home to the historic city and its surroundings many Art galleries (more than 35), two museums and cultivates the Provençal art of living.

Historical heritage

Freinet School.
Place du Grand-Jardin, place of the market.
The Ramparts of the historic city, medieval village.
The castle of Villeneuve (Émile-Hugues Foundation).
The former Beaubourg gallery of Pierre and Marianne Nahon – Château Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs.
Place Clemenceau in the historic center.
Place du Peyra, a former forum in the Middle Ages and its fountain.
Ash planted in 1538, hosted by François I.
The Roman Columns or Marseillais Columns, Place du Grand-Jardin, Place Godeau.
Commanderie de Saint-Martin (Château St-Martin).
Les Fontaines de la Foux, 25 in all.
War Memorial.

The fountains
Vence is a city in which water has all its importance: with three rivers, a washhouse and two sources, Vence has always had a very unique history with water. This is manifested by the presence of more than twenty fountains that can be discovered while strolling in the city. Each of them has its own history or its own particularity: for example the Basse Fontaine, place Antony Mars, immortalized by Raoul Dufy. The best known remains the Peyra fountain, renovated in 1822 and listed as a historical monument. To add to their particularity, the fountains of Vence are fed by spring water: la Foux. It has many qualities: fresh, weakly mineralized and low in sodium, it would also have diuretic properties. Every year in May, the fountains are honored with a floral decoration and a musical parade as part of “The feast of the fountains”.

Religious heritage
Land of welcome and exchange, Vence has had a very strong Christian establishment. Bishops, Saints and even a Pope have marked the history of the city. Seventy bishops succeeded one another from 374 to 1801. Even today, you can admire numerous chapels which bear witness to the past. These chapels are closed to the public for the most part, but it is possible to appreciate them from the outside.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Nativity
It is the smallest cathedral in France. A jewel of the religious heritage of Venice, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Nativity, listed as historical monuments, built from the 11th century, was the seat of the former diocese of Vence. Built on the site of a Roman temple then a Carolingian church, it reflects in its architecture and its furniture the incredible wealth of Vence’s heritage. One can see there a Gallo-Roman sarcophagus of the 5th century called “tomb of Saint Véran”. On several pillars and in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament one can admire magnificent carved Carolingian plaques with very beautiful intertwining decorations.

On the first floor, you can admire a remarkable collection of polychrome wooden statues as well as the stalls, which are an excellent specimen of 15th century woodcarving in Provence. This set of polychrome wooden statues makes up one of the most precious elements of the Vençois religious historical heritage, exhibited at the Cathedral. From the Calvary chapels of the Ara district, these unique pieces ranging from the 16th to the 19th century constitute one of the rarest collections of polychrome fruit wood statues. These unique pieces constitute one of the rarest collection of polychrome fruitwood statues from the 17th and 18th centuries. From the Calvary chapels built in the Ara district, damaged and crushed during the Revolution, these statues, testimony to popular fervor, reconstruct the various Stations of the Cross. The agony of Christ, the judgment, the death sentence, the descent from the Cross, the crucifixion, the entombment… are thus staged in this cultural place.

To the left of the entrance, the Saint Lambert Tower dates from the 12th century. Behind, Place Godeau, the former parish cemetery, offers an excellent view of the Romanesque apse of the cathedral and its bell tower adorned with battlements (13th century). Over the centuries, the various buildings of the bishopric were attached to the cathedral.

The Chapel of the Rosary
Entirely designed and decorated by Henri Matisse, the chapel is an artistic marvel, considered by the painter himself as his masterpiece. Close to the center of Vence, you will discover a sacred place that is unique in the world: the Chapel of the Rosary. Entirely designed and decorated by Henri Matisse, the chapel is an artistic marvel, considered by the painter himself as his masterpiece.

This small building, very simple in appearance, arouses curiosity with its colorful stained glass windows. It is only once inside that the Chapel reveals all its splendor thanks to the reflection of the stained glass windows on the marble floor and the three wall panels representing the Stations of the Cross, the Virgin and Child and Saint Dominic. Upstairs, it is possible to admire the chasubles created by the artist especially for the chapel and to contemplate the breathtaking view over Vence. Also to discover: the preparatory work of Henri Matisse for the design of the chapel: sketches, models…

The Chapel of the White Penitents
The architectural originality of this chapel lies in its bell tower: a dome with polychrome tiles. It was listed as a Historic Monument in 1944. It now hosts many temporary exhibitions in connection with the Vence Museum / Emile Hugues Foundation. Located on the old Roman road leading to Castellane, enlarged in the 17th century, this chapel was the seat and place of prayer for the brotherhood of White Penitents, committed to the service of the poor and the sick.

Other religious buildings
Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady, XII century and the gallery organ.
Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, 40 avenue Henri Isnard, avenue, built in 1614, Resulting from the brotherhood of mercy 1523, the brotherhood of white penitents was founded in 1567 under the patronage of Saint Bernardin (now a place of exhibition).
Notre-Dame des Missions Chapel, avenue des Alliés (modern).
Sainte-Anne chapel, chemin du Baric under the name of Our Lady of Sorrows, consecrated in 1617.
Rural St. Raphael Chapel, ruins of the first chapel built Plantiers path of the XIV century (renovated in 1988). Religious center of the former municipality of Malvan attached to Vence in 1792.
Saint-Lambert rural chapel, chemin de Vosgelade built in 1881
Rural chapel Sainte-Colombe, chemin de Sainte-Colombe built during the High Middle Ages.
Rural Chapel St. Elizabeth, old path of St. Paul XIV century
Sainte-Bernadette Chapel, 14 rue Saint-Michel at the La Vençoise retirement home.
Chapels of Calvary, six chapels along the path of the great Calvary.
Chapel of the Rosary of Vence, known as the “Chapelle Matisse”, avenue Matisse. The first stone of the chapel was laid, theDecember 11, 1949. The inauguration and consecration to Our Lady of the Rosary took place onJune 25, 1951.
Chapelle Saint-Croix, now private property.
Chapelle Saint-Pons, avenue du colonel Meyere, opposite the media library which has become private property.
Saint-Crépin chapel, avenue des Alliés.
Notre-Dame de Bon Voyage chapel, 521 chemin des Anciens Combattants.
Chapelle Saint-Martin, Domaine Saint-Martin, 2197 avenue des Templiers.
Chapel of the Crottons, now Notre Dame des Fleurs, at the Château Notre-Dame des Fleurs, alleys des Cerisiers.
Chapel of the Black Penitents, was demolished in 1911 to allow passage of the tram, which also disappeared.
Chapelle Saint-Pancrace or Saint Michel (destroyed in 1926). Donated by the lords of Villeneuve.
Saint-Laurent chapel at the Baou des Blancs castle (ruins).
Chapelle Saint-Pierre rue Henri Isnard, destroyed in the 1950s.
Protestant and Anglican temple Saint Hugh’s 21 rue de la Resistance.
The statues of Calvary Vence: Polychrome wood of the XVII and XVIII centuries.

Cultural heritage
A stroll in Vence and its historic city invites you to appreciate art on a small scale, outside the museums. This circuit of galleries offers you the opportunity to meet the artists of Venice and their creations: sculptors, ceramists, painters etc. The painters’ route allows you to discover Vence through the prism of the various artists who lived or stayed there and who painted the city. Thanks to reproductions installed on the very places where the originals were made, it is possible to follow in the footsteps of painters and understand their fascination for the unique light and authenticity of Vence: Dubuffet, Soutine, Cahours, Dufy etc.

Witold Gombrowicz Museum Space
The “Witold Gombrowicz” museum space opened its doors on September 23, 2017 in the Villa Alexandrine, the same where the Polish writer lived from 1964 to 1969 with his wife Rita. The Villa Belle Epoque from 1911, acquired by the City in 1988, has been rehabilitated by the Municipality of Vence with the precious support of the Polish State.

The exhibition sheds light on the complex and ambiguous personality of the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz, slayer of the sacrosanct ideals and the intellectual stereotypes of his time. Reading selected extracts from his works introduces us to Gombrowicz’s world of thought, which reveals, explains and comments on the mysteries of his art. Using intellectual provocations, fictions or fantasies, borrowing different postures, donning and removing successive masks, this iconoclastic author forces the viewer to take a step back and to enter with him in a “game” contrary to mass mythology and extolling the rights of the individual. It should be noted that the intention of the authors of the exhibition was not to present an already completed portrait of the writer,

The exhibition begins with the Biography of Witold Gombrowicz in the form of an extremely summary calendar of his life and work. Written by Gombrowicz and Konstanty Jeleński for the review L’Herne, it appeared in 1971, long after the writer’s death, in a version completed by Dominique de Roux. This very special calendar can be divided into three periods: Poland (1904–1939), Argentina (1939– 1963) and Europe (1963–1969). The photos selected to illustrate this Biography come from the collections of the writer’s family. However, this collection has been enriched by photographs belonging to other collections, and in particular by those – very precious – which bear witness to the Polish period, some of them dating back to the 19th century.

Vence Museum
Built in the 17th century by the Lords of Villeneuve, facing the legendary ash tree immortalized by Soutine, the castle was bequeathed to the town in 1966 by Emile Hugues, former minister and mayor of Vence. At the heart of the historic city, the Musée de Vence / Fondation Emile Hugues is one of the unmissable events for cultural escapades on the Côte d’Azur. Throughout the year, in the bright spaces of the castle, the museum develops a program of thematic exhibitions representative of modern and contemporary, French and international creation. A specialized bookstore offers a choice of books, posters, maps and objects related to current events in the Museum.

Provencal museum
The Provençal Museum exhibits objects used in the daily life of the Vençois until the beginning of the 1980s. From the forge to the tools for working the earth, including the clothes worn until the First World War, the spirit of the Provence hovers in the walls of this old census oil mill.

Organic and local market – Place du Grand Jardin
To better support producers and satisfy consumers who choose agriculture that respects people and the environment, the City of Vence encourages access to responsible food for all and wishes to enhance its natural heritage. Every day throughout the city, traders are already offering you specialties rich in exceptional flavors and aromas. On Saturday morning, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., an organic market with its local products, mainly from our mid-mountain territory, will enrich the Vençoise offer. It is also a way of creating a place for meetings and exchanges that invites consumption that favors short circuits and respects seasonality.

Cultural events and festivities
Easter weekend, with folk dancing on Sunday and Flower Battle on Monday.
The Feast of the Fountains.
Feast of Saint Elisabeth.
Festival of Traditional Music for 30 years, the 1 Saturday of July to the park organized Conch no association Lo Cepon.
Nuits du Sud, world music festival held at the end of July and beginning of August on the Place du Grand-Jardin.
Since 1971, the folk group La Brissaudo has maintained the culture and traditions of Venice.

Surrounding villages

This village took on its final appearance around the 11th century. From 1620 and until the French Revolution, Coursegoules was “Royal City”. Leaning against a ridge on the eastern slope of the Cheiron chain, the village offers a magnificent overview. But above all, you have to stroll through the maze of alleys and stairs, appreciate the door lintels, all sober and yet different, porches and vaults that adorn the smallest barns. From the ramparts one will not fail to admire the magnificent view of the Cheiron ridges.

La Colle sur Loup
City of Antiquarians and Creators of Art, Colle-sur-Loup is a pleasant health resort and tourist resort surrounded by green wooded hills. The “Le Loup” river is one of the main attractions of La Colle sur Loup. Its shores are true oases of freshness, its peaceful and murmuring waters are very popular in the hot summer hours and they are also famous for the trout that can be caught there, and a paradise for image hunters. The municipal park of La Guérinière is also at your disposal with a fitness trail, games for children. The city center is charming and typical with its shopping streets and small old alleys where you can discover the rich architectural and religious heritage. There are many culture events there. A town where we cultivate a “certain art of living”.

Saint-Paul de Vence
Originally a natural defensive site, Saint-Paul de Vence is surrounded by ramparts built in the first half of the 16th century by order of François 1st. The village became a “royal stronghold” opposed to the powerful citadel of Nice. As you walk through the small picturesque alleys of the village, from the Porte de Vence to the Porte de Nice via the rue Grande, you will discover magnificent old medieval and Baroque facades. You will stroll to discover unsuspected alleys and gardens, small squares, fountains, delicately carved porches and windows that delight even photographers. The beauty of the site, its relaxed rhythm of life and its exceptional light have inspired many famous artists, writers, poets and painters, some of whom have made their home there. The Saint-Paulois open their village and reveal their secrets to those who know how to take the time for an intimate and sincere meeting.

City of Arts and Violets, Tourrettes-sur-Loup enjoys an ideal geographical location, between sea and mountains, 20 km from Nice and 30 km from Cannes. A site fortified around its imposing Castle in the 14th century, Tourrettes-sur-Loup has an original architectural wealth articulated around a central half-moon artery. Secret village, it only reveals its mystery after passing through the doors on either side of the square. The violet of Tourrettes-sur-Loup has made the village famous for over a century. Fragrant, colorful, very popular for its bouquets as in perfumery and confectionery, the “Victoria” is still cultivated. The Fête des Violettes, celebrated on the 1st or 2nd weekend of March, heralds the spring and decorates the floats for the occasion. For more than fifty years, in the maze of alleys and dead ends, old houses have housed workshops and shops. At their workbench, in front of their tower, their oven, easel or loom, painters, sculptors, weavers, potters, mosaicists, stylists… invite visitors to discover unusual and unique works through their creations.

Saint Jeannet
A picturesque hilltop village, it was once built in the shelter of its Baou for the sake of protection against the enemies of the time while enjoying a southern exposure conducive to the cultivation of olive trees, vines and flowers. The Baou de Saint-Jeannet (at an altitude of 807 m) also contributes to the development of the village thanks to its renowned climbing site in France offering up to 500 access routes to its summit. At the top of Baou, you will appreciate the beautiful view of Nice and its hills, the Esterel, and the Var Valley as well as the hinterland with its often snow-capped alpine peaks in the distance. The old Saint-Jeannet is crossed by winding streets and many dead ends. The rue de la Tour being quite characteristic, because it is the only street of Saint-Jeannet which is at the same time wide, rectilinear and carefully paved.

La Gaude
A small town in the Middle Country, it also has its Baou which rises to 796 m. Less steep than that of Saint-Jeannet, its relief allows paragliders to take flight. On your next ascent of Baou de La Gaude, enjoy the panoramic view of the Côte d’Azur and, stop a few hundred meters further to admire one of the oldest and largest trees in France, the Daumas oak over 500 years old. Once the sporting side is over, you can come to the heart of the village to admire the alleys steeped in history, the St Ange Chapel decorated by Alexis Obolensky and Alain Peinado as well as the Living Eco-Museum of Provence.


As part of the Famille Plus label, Vence can pride itself on offering several walks for the whole family from or around Vence.

From Vence to Saint Paul:
Saint-Paul de Vence is certainly one of the must-see villages of the Côte d’Azur. A little gem in itself and a veritable open-air museum, Saint Paul is to be discovered with the family. Only 1h30 on foot from Vence, the path leading there will delight young and old. Through the woods, your children will then project themselves into a setting of legends or fairy tales, and upon their arrival will discover a village where all fantasies are possible. Poetry reigns there and art is a key word to his visit.

The Baou des Blancs
Small rocky mountain overlooking Vence, this baou is easily accessible. After having taken the start of the Route de Coursegoules, towards the Col de Vence, park your car well after the quarry, and on your way for a nice family walk. The arrival at the top of the baou will reserve you a breathtaking panorama.

Queen Jeanne Castle & St Raphaël Chapel
Here is a walk through the very nice scrubland. It will allow your children to frolic on the paths and go back in time, to the ruins of a castle dating from the 10th century.

The Plan des Noves (Col de Vence)
Discovering the Col de Vence with the family is amazing. The surprises are at the end of the road with an extraordinary panorama, and here it is all of Provence which perfumes your nostrils. Go to your sneakers to smell the savory and rosemary.

Starry sky observation at Col de Vence
At the foot of the Alpine arc, the Col de Vence overlooks the Mediterranean and marks the main entrance to the Préalpes d’Azur Regional Nature Park and the Alpes d’Azur Mercantour International Star Sky Reserve. A real natural “portal” that links the coast and the Pays de Vence to the mountainous foothills of the Mercantour National Park, it is a magnificent and easily accessible observation area just a few minutes from Vence town center. The stargazing session is hosted in a friendly atmosphere by Florent Bailleul, scientific mediator and member of the National Association for the Protection of the Sky and the Night Environment and in partnership with the hoteliers and camping of Vence.