After our jaunt to Italy and walk through Eze, we headed to Vence, a small town near the more well-known and visited, Saint Paul de Vence.
Once home to artists and writers such as Chagall, Matisse, Duffy, Soutine and D. H. Lawrence, who spent his last days in Vence, this lovely village is as the 12th-century troubadour Pierre Vidal noted, “le doux repaire” (the sweet nest) and Nostradamus said “Garden of Vence, marvel of Provence”.
The streets leading up to the town were excruciatingly narrow and winding so it took us a couple of tries to make it up to our hotel. One reason I love Vence is because it is an authentic provincial village where you don’t find yourself in a crush of tourists and there is something of a poetic grace about its history, people and architecture.
Since Medieval times, the town has grown and spilled over outside of the original walled village, but the charm of Vence extends beyond the walls where it is beautifully quaint and oh–so-French.
During my last visit to Vence, I stayed at La Maison du Frene and found it and the owners, Thierry and Guy, wonderful. The rooms range from pretty to avant-guard with their amazing collection of contemporary art. This time we stayed across the street at the more traditional Auberge des Siegneurs.
Our room was cozy and furnished in pretty French “Indienne” fabrics and country furniture, with a wonderful view of the hillside villages.
Years ago I had dinner in Vence by myself on the Place Clémenceau, a stunning courtyard within the walls of the old town. I had just been to Norway for my mother’s memorial, I was single and feeling very lonely. It was such a romantic place that I swore the next time I came here, I would be with someone I loved with whom I could share this experience. So to sit in the square at sunset, looking across at my husband was indeed very special for me.
We enjoyed a remarkable meal from start to finish at Les Lavandes. I just can’t say enough about the food and service here. Our meal was fresh, beautiful as could be and tasted spectacular.
The following morning was a treat. It was Sunday and all of the townspeople were out and about at the farmers market or taking a stroll after church. There were so many chic men and women dressed in their finest for a promenade, greeting each other with smiles and kisses on both cheeks. We sat at a table at a small cafe, sipping our lattes while thoroughly enjoying the scene.
Later in the day, we made our way to Avignon by way of Cassis. Cassis was described to us as similar to St. Tropez but without the pretense – sort of the poor man’s St. Tropez.
The cliffs that rose straight up from the sea were a stunning sight, and in fact, the marina itself did look quite similar to St. Tropez, but for me, it lacked the charm.
I found it very touristy and while St Tropez is very ritzy and pretentious with the enormous yachts that line the marina and nightclubs that are a who’s-who of the rich and famous, the town is gorgeous, it makes for fun people watching and shopping is stellar.
Then we arrived at the alluring Avignon. Within the walls of the magnificent ancient city we were immersed in a pristine and exquisite world.
Bordered by the left bank of the Rhone River, Avignon was home to seven successive popes between 1309 and 1377.
Walking through the narrow streets that opened up to the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) could have inspired a fairytale or two.
I could easily imagine fair maidens and knights on white chargers, but this is also a very modern city filled with an international crowd and students from the University.
The city square is a huge plaza lined with cafes, shops and hotels. We stayed at the Hotel de l’Horloge, in a room that overlooked the central square.
Avignon has a rich theater culture celebrating the arts with the Avignon Festival which began in 1947 and draws over 100,000 attendees.
Feeling enamored with Avignon, I hope to return here again soon as we only scratched the surface but we had an important dinner date to make with my son and a friend in Barcelona.
Early the next morning we drove to Perpignan to catch a train to Spain.