A Hinterland Escape Minutes from the Riviera
A microcosm of the arriere-pays, the rolling backcountry beyond the coastal Riviera, Vence was long a Provencal magnet for artists and writers. Nestled in the hills covered with pines, cypresses, and olive groves, it still attracts well-heeled visitors who want to escape the coast’s comme-des-sardines crowds.
Cognoscenti are attracted to the open-air market, regarded as one of the best in the region, and to Yence’s unpretentious everyday feel. The Matisse Chapel here is a 20th-century tour de force. After recovering from a long illness in 1948, Henri Matisse promised a Dominican sister, who was one of his nurses and sometimes his model, that he would decorate the Dominican Oratory connected to the home.
Brimming with enthusiasm, he began the Chapelle du Rosaire at seventy-seven and died three years after its completion. “Despite its imperfections, I think it is my masterpiece,” declared Matisse after five years of work, “the result of a lifetime devoted to the search of truth.”
Visitors can prolong the experience by checking into the elite Château du Domaine St.-Martin, a handsome inn tucked away on a wooded hillside above the town. The secluded hostelry sits on the site of a 12th-century Crusader castle whose drawbridge and chapel still remain. The present structure was built in 1936 and, with its hillside villas, encompasses 35 acres, with magnificent panoramas at every turn and a soothing pool area shaded by olive trees.