Vence, France the Many Reasons to Live Here
Steve Wilkison is a web designer, writer and photographer who lives in Vence, France, with his wife Carole Richmond and their dog Myla. Originally from southern California, he first became enchanted with France when he backpacked throughout Europe at the age of 18. He fell in love with Vence the first time he saw it in 2007 while passing through one day on his bike. It only took him 12 years to talk Carole into moving there! He loves to explore France, especially Vence, the Alpes-Maritimes and the Côte d’Azur, be it by car, bike, or foot. On any given day, you might find him exploring a medieval perched village in the southern Alpes, cycling along the Mediterranean coastline or hiking in the Mercantour National Park. He writes about his adventures and discoveries on his website Steve and Carole in Vence.
Below is our interview with Steve about living in Vence and the many reasons to visit.
Living in Vence, France
Tell us a bit about Vence.
Vence is a former Roman town situated in the hills just a few kilometres northwest of Nice. It’s only a short distance from the glittering jewels of the Côte d’Azur (Cannes, Antibes, Nice), but you’ll find the atmosphere and pace of living here to be quite different from those well-known hubs of opulence and luxury.
Tourism is an integral part of the economy, but Vence doesn’t get overrun with tourists and visitors during the peak summer months as some of the towns and villages in this area do. People live here and work here year-round. With just under 20,000 residents, it has that perfect “small town” feel, not too big and not too small. Everything you need is just a short walk from your house or apartment. There is a large selection of excellent restaurants, cafés, hotels, grocery stores, boulangeries, pharmacies, shops, etc. Situated between some of France’s finest beaches and some of the most impressive mountains in the Alpes, it has a location that can’t be beaten. It’s no wonder that famous painters like Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, Raoul Dufy and more have called Vence home or spent considerable time here.
How long have you lived in Vence?
My wife Carole and I moved to Vence permanently in May 2019. However, before moving here, we spent a considerable amount of time getting to know the town. I would usually spend two months here in the summer and often another month in the winter for over ten years. Unfortunately, Carole’s job wasn’t as flexible as mine, so she didn’t spend as much time here as I did.
What do locals love most about Vence?
The charm, the grace, the subtle charisma. Vence is unlike any other town in the south of France. Big enough to provide all the necessities of life, yet small enough to still feel like a village. It’s hard to walk down the street without bumping into someone you know. The locals treasure the history and heritage of their town and work hard to keep it a place where everyone can feel at home.
Why (in your opinion) is Vence a great place to visit?
Vence is a perfect place to visit for an afternoon, a day, a week, a month or even longer. There is so much to do right here in Vence that you can stay as busy as you like. If you love the outdoors, you’ll be astounded by this area’s hiking and biking options. Breathtaking hikes around the Cap d’Antibes and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat are only 30 minutes away.
The Vence Museum hosts rotating exhibitions and a permanent exhibit dedicated to Henri Matisse. In addition, visiting the dozen (or so) chapels in and around the town makes for a fabulous afternoon.
Or, if you want to chill out and relax, Vence’s calm, peaceful ambience will let you unwind and enjoy the clear air and sunshine. Its proximity to the ocean and the mountains and larger cities like Nice, Antibes, Grasse, and Cannes, make it an ideal place for a short stopover or an extended vacation.
Does Vence have a must-see attraction?
I’d say it’s a toss-up between the Matisse Chapel (Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence) and the old town. The Matisse Chapel is probably the most visited landmark in the city and with good reason. Henri Matisse considered it the crown jewel of his life’s work as an artist, and it is an exceptional place. A walk through the old town is like stepping back through the centuries: you’ll find an endless array of sunny squares, lovely fountains, delightful shops and boutiques, impressive buildings and more, all laid out in a maze of crooked, narrow streets. And the smallest cathedral in France.
What is the best day trip from Vence?
A visit to the perched village of Gourdon. is a terrific day trip from Vence. One of the official “Most Beautiful Villages in France,” Gourdon, is about 45 minutes away by car. It’s a beautiful drive through the country that will take you past another delightful village, Tourrettes-sur-Loup. Gourdon rests high on a rocky cliff above the Loup River, and the view of the coast is magnificent. Full of small shops and boutiques, it’s the one place we make sure to take anyone who is visiting us here in Vence.
What day(s) is the market in Vence?
Almost every day! The big markets are on Friday and Saturday in the Grand Jardin, where you’ll find all kinds of local foods: olives, cheeses, loaves of bread, pasta, eggs, vegetables, fruits, meats and much more. The Friday market also features lots of clothing. In addition, there is a large antique market on Wednesday and smaller markets on Tuesday and Sunday.
Do you have a favourite market stall? Please tell us why.
For me, it’s the bread stall at the Saturday market. I always wait until then to buy our bread and freeze some of it to last through the week. While the boulangeries here in town also have excellent bread, this stall has the best. The prices are excellent, the bread is always fresh, and they have a large variety. There’s also a bookstall at the Wednesday antique market that I never miss. I collect old books about Vence, and I’ve found some real treasures there.
If you are going out for coffee in Vence, where do you go?
Well, I have to say, I don’t drink coffee. But if I did, I’d go to Henry’s, just outside the Place du Peyra. That’s where most of my friends sit in the sun, drink a coffee and watch the world pass by.
Do you have a favourite bakery in Vence?
Another tough question! We are lucky to have many excellent boulangeries and pâtisseries here in Vence. If I had to pick just one, it would be Pâtisserie Palanque, just off the Grand Jardin. They have the best overall selection—lots of bread, pâtisseries, sandwiches, quiche, salads, etc. I’m a chocolate lover, so my favourite item is the “Trois Chocolats,” a wonderful concoction with three different types of chocolate. But close runners up would be Denis Petesic and Debenais.
37 Av. Marcellin Maurel,
Where would you recommend for lunch with friends?
Maison Marc is a wonderful little eatery right in the centre of town on the Place Grand Jardin. There’s no inside seating, but we go there year-round (in the winter, there are outside heaters). They have a great menu of simple, fresh dishes and amazing smoothies and juices. It’s a great casual place to chat with friends and eat good, healthy food.
10 Pl. du Grand Jardin,
Where is your go-to spot for an apero in Vence?
La Régence Café on the Grand Jardin is very popular with the locals. A huge terrace provides dozens of tables for people to sit at any time of the year. We get around 300 days of sunshine each year here in Vence, and having drinks with friends at a sidewalk café is something that we never get tired of.
La Régence Café
10 Pl. du Grand Jardin,
What is your top pick for a romantic dinner in Vence?
For a romantic dinner, I’d head to l’Ambroisie, situated in a 17th-century chapel just east of the old town. The restaurant serves delicious gourmet French Provençal cuisine prepared from regional products. Chef Bruno Seillery brings love and enthusiasm for cooking, making l’Ambroisie special. You’ll pay a bit more than you will at most of the other restaurants in Vence, but it’s worth every centime for a special occasion.
37 Av. Alphonse Toreille,
Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays
Where do you like to go for dinner with friends?
We often eat at Chez Luigi on Place Antoine Mars. Excellent, authentic, home-cooked Italian food with very reasonable prices. They have indoor and outdoor seating, so it’s perfect any time. The owner and staff are very helpful and friendly. I’m a vegetarian, and I can find many dishes here that I enjoy.
22 Pl. Antony Mars,
Closed on Sundays
What is your pick for nearby family-friendly dining?
An excellent place for the family is Crêperie Bretonne in Place Surian inside the old town. They have a large selection of both sweet and savoury crêpes, as well as salads, omelettes and more. But, of course, who can resist a warm crêpe filled with chocolate and topped with ice cream?
If money was no object, where would you recommend staying in Vence?
For me, money is an object, so I can only recommend the Château Saint-Martin & Spa based on its reputation and word-of-mouth because I’ve never actually stayed there. A 5-star hotel located on 34 acres in the hills just above Vence, their spa was awarded “Best Luxury Spa Destination in Europe.” It’s said to be a quiet refuge from the glamour and elegance of the French Riviera. However, they are usually quite busy, so be sure to make reservations far in advance if you want to stay there and keep in mind that they are closed for a few months during the winter.
Château Saint-Martin & Spa
2490 Av. des Templiers,
For comfortable accommodation in Vence, where do you recommend?
Either Hôtel Diana or Hôtel Miramar. Diana is a more “modern” hotel, located right in the centre of the town, making it very easy to get around. We’ve stayed there, and the rooms are nice, the price is right, and the owners are accommodating. The Miramar, situated in an old French villa, has a more “authentic” feel if you’re looking for that old French ambience. It’s only a ten-minute walk from the centre of town and has a fantastic view of the valleys behind Vence. Both are rated 3-stars.
79 Av. des Poilus,
167 Av. Joseph Bougearel,
Any last comments on why someone should consider visiting Vence?
I’m biased, but I’m not alone. Vence is a special place. Vence feels like a small town with the advantages and benefits of a much larger centre. There are tons of activities to keep you busy in Vence and an endless list of things to do within a short drive. You could ski in the morning and swim in the Mediterranean in the afternoon at certain times of the year. Many restaurants and shops, friendly locals and daily markets make it accessible. I fell in love with Vence the first time I saw it, and I won’t be surprised if you do too.
All the photos were provided and published with Steve Wilkison’s permission, and the image descriptions are as follows:
01 – Place Antony Mars in Vence
02 – A five-hundred-year-old Ash tree in Vence
03 – Carole Richmond in the Vence old town at night
04 – The hills behind Vence at sunset
05 – The Notre-Dame de la Nativité Cathedral in Vence
06 – The Chapel of the White Penitents in Vence
07 – A rooftop view of the Chapel of the White Penitents in Vence
08 – The Peyra Fountain in Vence
09 – The Porte du Peyra and Peyra Fountain in Vence
10 – The Porte d’Orient in Vence decorated for Easter
11 – The mountain village of Gourdon
12 – Hiking in the hills above Vence
13 – The Chapelle du Rosaire à Vence (The Matisse Chapel in Vence)
14 – The Procession of Saint Véran and Saint Lambert in Vence
15 – The Passage Cahours in Vence
16 – The Château Saint-Martin & Spa with the Baou des Blancs behind it
17 – A small street in the old town of Vence
18 – Looking down on Vence from the Baou des Blancs