Witold Gombrowicz, a Polish writer of international renown, spent the last years of his life in Vence. In the village you will find traces of his presence. It is worth to see the Old Town in Vence and fountains from which mineral water flows.
Vence is a village on French Riviera that the well-known artists particularly liked, including: Ida Rubinstein, Raoul Dufy, Marc Chagall, D.H. Lawrence, Henri Matisse and of course the already mentioned Witold Gombrowicz. Nostradamus was also infatuated with the city, he wrote: garden of Vence, marvel of Provence.
The history of the Old Town in Vence dates back to the 12th century. It is surrounded by a tight wall of tenements, and you can enter it through 5 gates. Each of them comes from a different age and tells a different story. For more information, please see the vence.fr website (surprisingly also in English). Entering any gate and walking around this small area you can come across some interesting places, about which I write below.
What to do in Vence?
In the center of the Old Town, next to the city hall building stands the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Mary. In the entrance to it, on both sides there are stones engraved with dedications for the emperors, from the first century. Inside the cathedral, you can see a mosaic by Marc Chagall.
Strolling through the old and narrow streets you can walk to Place Godeau, where the cemetery used to be. Opposite the belfry is the entrance to the dark and roofed street: rue des Portiques. It is the remains of an old Roman road that led to the episcopal city of Cimiez, today’s Nice district.
From the fountains in Vence flows mineral water, drinkable and supposedly having health properties. Information about the mineral composition is placed on the boards next to some fountains.
The former castle of Villeneuve (le Château de Villeneuve) can be found outside the walls of the Old Town. You just have to go out through the gate nearest the square at which the Gombrowicz tenement house stands and look right. You will then be at Place du Frêne, on which there is an impressive ash planted according to legend by the French King Francis I staying in Vence in 1538. The castle stands just behind the tree. Currently, it houses a museum of contemporary art with over 80 valuable works, including artists creating in Vence.
Another attraction is the Chapel of the Rosary (Chapelle du Rosaire) decorated by Matisse, which stands outside the medieval village at 466 Avenue Henri Matisse. Visiting costs €6 (payment only in cash), open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10AM to 11:30AM and from 2PM to 5:30PM, and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 2PM to 5:30PM.
Gombrowicz in Vence
Witold Gombrowicz was a respected and well-known Polish writer. One of his famous works is Ferdydurke. He lived right next to the Old Town in the historic Villa Alexandrine building. It stands at the corner of the Place du Grand Jardin. This Belle Époque-style building stands out from the surrounding area, so it’s not difficult to find it.
On the right side of the entrance to it there is a commemorative plaque with information about the outstanding former inhabitant of this tenement house. Gombrowicz lived on the second floor in the years 1964 – 1969. At that time, he was already internationally renowned for his nomination for the literary Nobel Prize in 1968. The writer died the following year, and his grave is in the municipal cemetery in Vence. From Place du Grand Jardin you can walk there a few minutes.
How to get to Vence?
You can reach Vence from the Promenade des Anglais in Nice by buses no. 400 and 94. The journey lasts about an hour, and the ticket costs standard, €1.50. Of course, you can also get there by car or scooter. I do not recommend traveling by bike because the village is located quite high. There are no train connections from Nice.
Just a few kilometers from Vence is the beautiful small medieval village of Saint-Paul de Vence. It is worth visiting them along the way!