After our wet and windy start to spring we’ve seemingly rushed headlong into summer. Daytime temperatures this week have finally gone over 20°C. We’ve been enjoying cocktails, mixed by my beloved – see, he does have some uses – on the terrace, and have also started to eat our meals outside. Having a large wrap around terrace means we can choose to eat in either the sunshine or the shade.
On Wednesday, I shed my 3/4 bib-shorts and long-sleeved jersey a couple of weeks ahead of schedule for summer kit. Riding in these temperatures is such a joy, it’s a glorious time of year. Of course, when you cruise along at my speed, you have time to note nature’s changes. The recent mix of sunshine and rain means the grass is a long, lush, Kelly green, the new leaves are a vibrant lime green and the heady scent, and vibrant dash of colour, provided by cherry blossom and purple wisteria is omnipresent.
The other day I rode back home via Vence, an inland town I typically and regularly ride past on my way to elsewhere without stopping to check out its charming Old Town. This time I decided to stop, grab a drink, enjoy the weather and see what changes had taken place since I was last there in early November. When I’d been there in early March for Paris-Nice, I hadn’t ventured further than the race finish on the outskirts of town.
Aside from being a very popular current day tourist spot, many artists and writers have also enjoyed Vence’s charms in times gone by: Matisse – famous for the Rosarie Chapel on the outskirts of Vence – Chagall and DH Laurence but to name a few.
Vence’s Old Town, like many of the old and perched villages in the area has some history and some great views of the surrounding countryside. It was the former ancient Roman settlement of Vintium, before it became the bishopric and seigneury of the Villeneuve family. The Old Town has fortunately conserved much of its historical heritage including the Marsellais Columns, the remnants of a Roman triumphal arch and later additions, such as the 13th century Signadour tower-gate and Levis portal, the Peyra gate (15th century) and the Breche gate (18th century).
Once you enter the Old Town, it’s lovely to wander around its maze of cobbled alleyways, stopping to admire the Renaissance Place du Peyra and its much photographed fountain. Not forgetting the wonderful ash tree on Place Thiers planted in memory of François 1st’s 1538 visit, and the Chateau des Villeneuve, now a contemporary art museum.
Vence’s small but picturesque 11th century Romanesque Cathedral, adjoining the Saint Lambert Tower (12th century), contains 15th century stalls sculpted by Jacotin Bellot, a beautiful 16th century altar piece, a unique set of 17th century polychrome wooden statues, a mosaic by Marc Chagall (“Moses saved from the waters”) and a Saint-Veran sarcophagus dating back to the 5th century!
Aside from the Old Town’s historic charms, there are plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants scattered around pretty squares, where you can just sit on their terraces and soak up the atmosphere over a meal or just a refreshment. I made for one of my favourite patisseries which also serves coffee and light refreshments and was pleased to note that a number of new restaurants had opened which were animating the main street.
As I headed back home I passed the Chapelle des Penitents blancs, which boasts a cupola covered with colourful varnished tiles and a Renaissance bell tower. Thereafter, it’s a swift downhill descent whereby I swoop past St Paul du Vence and La Colle sur Loup, both worthy of a visit if you’re over this way.