Just up a lush winding mountain road from the beautiful little village of St-Paul de Vence resides its bigger sister, the no less pretty town of Vence. Despite having spread into quite a substantial modern town, not all of which exhibited the most picturesque of sights, the core little old town, nestled within a tight ring of medieval walls and set up on a high hill above a cool mountain spring in the valleys below, is the very epitome of a quaint Riviera gem.
Through the ancient Peyra Gate into the pastel-coloured square bearing the same name, we entered a medieval fairytale of a town whose shuttered houses, little gift shops and typically French restaurants spilling out onto the cobbled streets and squares made for the most idyllic of scenes. Photographing the picturesque sights as rapidly as I took steps to discover them, I was completely enamoured by this beautifully appointed little gem of a town, from the grand Peyra fountain at the entrance dating back to the early 1800s, to the stunning Place Clemenceau, whose baroque little cathedral is allegedly the smallest Cathedral in France.
However in addition to the little old town, Vence boasts another attraction which we trekked the 20 minute hot walk out of town to see – the Chapelle du Rosaire designed by Matisse himself. I remember extolling the originality of Matisse’s designs for this little chapel when I visited his cut-outs retrospective at Tate Modern last year. But nothing in that exhibition came close to seeing the Matisse Chapel in reality, with the light shining through his vivid blue and yellow stained glass and bouncing off the white walls of the interior. I wasn’t as sure about the rather sketchy ceramic tiles which otherwise dominate the interior and fell somewhat flat compared to the magnificence of the windows, nor the exorbitant entrance free for such a small space, but seeing Matisse’s chapel surely made our visit to Vence complete.
Chapelle du Rosaire, by Matisse