La Maison du Frene

Vence, Cote d'Azur, France Book from Eur170

Reviewed by Tom Bell
A traditional old stone townhouse filled with gorgeous contemporary art, situated at the edge Vence's picturesque old town
Matisse lived in Vence and painted it repeatedly, while Soutine drew this actual house. Fitting, then, that this utterly beguiling home is packed with original works by all the best names. Owner Thierry grew up here, moved to Paris and became hairdresser to the stars of the 60s and 70s. Now he's back for the peace, and to enjoy his collection. Marvel at works by Hockney, Arman, Gilbert and George, pop-art, pastiches of Picasso and Lichtenstein, and a terrific canvas above the sofa by a local Hockney-trained artist.

Beauty also filters up to the rooms: Marilyn screenprints above a black bed, gold ceramics and exquisite old oils. Mickey Mouse is gilt-framed on the wall of the terracotta-tiled staircase, a Rennie Macintosh chair waits halfway up, and a candle chandelier hangs at the top. Red everywhere - walls, chairs, cushions, vases. The beautiful exterior is the only understated part of the house, which stands opposite the contemporary art museum. Even breakfast cannot escape the artist’s touch - elegantly served on royal Limoges crockery and eaten under white painted beams.

Highs

  • The stupendous salon - a private art gallery stuffed with sculptures, paintings, busts and abstract work - is a real jaw-dropper
  • The suites are extremely plush and each one is individually decorated
  • Vence is a small town, not a big village; there’s lots to see, and some night life
  • Thierry and his partner Guy are incredibly welcoming; staying here feels like you’re visiting one of your oldest and dearest friends

Lows

  • The price is high, but this is the Cote d’Azur and all hotels are expensive; the difference here is that the art makes this place very special
  • There’s no garden or pool, but there are gorgeous beaches a short drive away
  • You’ll need a car to make the most of the area, but there’s no on-site car park
  • Vence’s old town can get pretty busy in high season

Best time to go

The area is packed with holiday-makers in July and August so best not to come then. The hotel is open all year, and Vence would make a lovely short break in early spring or late autumn.

Our top tips

Head down to Nice to see the works of Matisse and Chagall who both have museums dedicated to their work here. There’s also the flower market and the old town is worth a peek.

Great for...

Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 4
  • Breakfast only (restaurants nearby)
  • Older kids accepted
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

Each of the 4 suites is individual. Pop Art has the Marilyn screen prints (one green, one red) above the big black bed with pink, orange and lime-green cushions to add some colour. There is a chandelier hanging from the bedroom ceiling and a giant swordfish from the bathroom ceiling. The sitting room has a black leather sofa with splashy colours on the wall behind.

Creamy white La Chapelle, up on the top floor, is huge. A wide double has ornate wrought-iron bedheads and room for a couple of armchairs. It also has gorgeous ceramics in a small display case, and a wonderfully extravagant bathroom.

Chateau is more demure by comparison, with carved wood bedheads and a bust on the black marble fireplace flanked by gilded lamps. There is a hand-painted decorative has an additional single bed in the living room so is a good option for families.

Cubist-inspired Vallauris was occupied the day we visited, but comes with the same delicious style and fittings: crisp white linen, quilted Provencal bedcovers, raw cotton curtains, shuttered windows, varnished wood desks and TVs (not that you need them).

Bathrooms are excellent, with huge cymbal-sized shower heads, contemporary porcelain sinks, heated towel rails and fluffy white bathrobes to pad around in.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Coffee tea making
  • Safe box
  • Tv
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

Breakfast (included in the price) isn’t a rush. You eat in the kitchen with oils on the walls, a rather grand country dresser to one side, decanters on plinths, colourful tea tins lined up neatly on one shelf and a white beamed ceiling above you. A couple of baguettes are laid neatly across the bread board, there are baskets of croissants, pretty glasses filled with freshly-squeezed juice and various jams.

At night, if you want to stay in, Thierry will organise a plate of French cheeses with a salad, some bread and a bottle of Provencal wine. In the winter months, when it’s not too busy, table d’hôte dinners are available on request for a set price; you can discuss menus directly.

If you want to eat out at the poshest place in the area, head 2km down the hill to St Paul de Vence (an impossibly pretty hilltop village which is besieged in summer by tourists) and try to bag a table at Le Colombe d’Or, where Madonna and Robbie Williams like to hang out. Wildly expensive, and it might have had its day, but still the reputation lingers. But there's plenty of choice in Vence. Try L’Amoise for exceptional fish, or Le Clemenceau, a simple bistro in the old town for good local food and reasonable prices.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Coffee tea making
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Restaurants nearby
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • The Museum of Modern Art is bang opposite the front door in the Chateau de Villeneuve. Lots of contemporary exhibitions pass through and its shop will satisfy all post-card needs. Also on your doorstep is Vence’s old town; beautiful, old narrow stone streets, arches to duck under, windows to shop in, and churches to pop into
  • While Matisse lived here he decorated the ceiling of the Rosary chapel. It’s just out of town. You can walk over and take a look, then walk back to Vence and get the best view of the town up on the hill, its houses seemingly clinging to a stone wall. You can also pick up pamphlets in the tourist office around the corner and follow in his footsteps, see the spots he painted. If you want to go the whole hog you can take painting lessons in the master’s old house
  • The beaches of Nice, Cannes and Antibes are worth a day out. You can hire a sun-lounger on a private beach, be served on hand and foot, saunter down to the clear blue sea and dip in a toe. Try La Garoupe on the Cap d’Antibes for the real Riviera experience, a little like being an extra in a Jean-Luc Goddard movie. Fabulous
  • Markets. Biot, Tourette-sur-Loup, Valbonne - all ancient small towns of impeccable architectural beauty to which the loveliest of local produce comes once a week. You’ll find a nearby market for every day of the week. Wander, stop for coffee, watch the beautiful people pass… Vence has a small broquante market on Sunday mornings
  • There’s plenty more to do in this pretty corner of France. For more suggestions, see our destination guide

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Museums / galleries
  • Nightlife
  • Shopping / markets
  • Traditional cultures

Kids

Children aged 6+ are accepted, but do be aware that there are valuable art works everywhere!

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
9/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

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