Vence – Provence – Alpes – Cote d’Azur, France

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.

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