Villa Rocamar is located in Vence, a lively town directly up into the mountains from Nice Airport. The town has a very active town council and tourist office, with open-air concerts, markets and events organised throughout the summer. The biggest market, where all sorts of things are on sale, is on a Friday morning, while there is a smaller antiques market on Wednesday mornings, and an organic food market on a Saturday morning.
There is a 25m outdoor swimming pool with separate kids’ pool in Vence (about 20 mins walk from us), which is open from mid-May to mid-September. The town also has loads of great restaurants, including several which are Michelin starred or recommended in the Michelin guide.
The town was very significant in history: in fact we are told that the term ‘Provence’ which describes the larger region comes from ‘proche de Vence’ or ‘near Vence’. It was the first significant town after the Italian border, when Nice was part of Italy.
Vence has the smallest cathedral in France, which is home to a mosaic by Marc Chagall representing Moses saved from the waters. Chagall lived in Vence from 1950 to 1966. The town is more famous, however, for the chapel created by Henri Matisse – who also lived in Vence – and declared by the artist to be his greatest work, Chapelle de la Rosaire. Look out for the town’s two water sources, La Foux and Le Riou, said to have mythical health properties. The water from the sources, which runs freely from fountains all over town, is delicious and worth a taste. This spring water was canalised into the town since Roman times. It fed the town’s water system for nearly 2000 years and is now available as free drinking water to anyone who comes through Vence.
The town, itself on a plateau of 325m altitude with stunning views over Nice and the Côte d’Azur, is overlooked by four imposing mountain plateaux: les Baous (pronounced like taking a bow). They are called le Blanc, le Noir, St Jeannet and La Gaude (the last two named after two pretty nearby villages which can be visited by bike or on foot through the forest). The mountains are easily accessible on foot or by bike from the town and are a mecca for hill-walkers, trail runners and rock-climbers, with all levels and types of climbing available, year-round.
St. Paul de Vence
St. Paul de Vence is a pleasant 40-45 minute walk from Villa Rocamar along forest path and country lanes. There is also a bus which goes approximately hourly, the 400.
St. Paul is a cute little medieval walled village, home to many art galleries. It is one of the biggest art markets in France. It has been immortalised in the paintings of many artists, in particular the Impressionists. It makes for a lovely day trip from Vence.
St. Paul is also home to the Fondation Maeght, a world-renowned private modern art collection. A large part of the permanent collection is outdoor art, including sculptures, mosaics and permanent installations set amongst the lovely, purpose-built gardens.
The beautiful city of Nice, nick-named Nice-la-Belle, is 20km from Vence and Villa Rocamar. The 400 bus or the 9 bus both go from just beside Villa Rocamar to Nice. There is a bus every 30/60 minutes between about 05:00h and 01:00h, depending on day of the week and time of day. The bus leaves you at Parc Phoenix near the start of the promenade, from where you can take tram 2, your feet, or numerous other transport options further into the city centre.
Nice is well worth a day-trip, even just to stroll its 5km-long Promenade des Anglais – named after all the English aristocratic families who were fond of spending their winters here in the late 18th century – and to wander into the old town for lunch.
There are lots of lovely squares and good museums and galleries in the city. We also love to climb Colline du Chateau for the panoramic views of the city from one side and Port Lympia from the other.
Grasse – the famous perfume-making town, is about 40 minutes’ drive from us. The town itself is quite industrial, but there are some interesting museums to visit nearby: the International Perfume Museum and its gardens and the Villa Fragonard.
The countryside around Grasse is beautiful. North of Grasse, on the Caussols plateau, lavender grows. It flowers from late June until early August. You can drive a scenic loop from Grasse to the Caussols plateau and back to Vence via Gourdon (which is a pretty village with amazing views, at the top of the Gorge du Loup).