There was a time, not so long ago, when it was said that the rolling hills around Vence were carpeted with a delicate variety of rose known as the “Rose of Vence.” Today they are still cultivated and sold in town at local flower shops and the weekly market though the production is much, much lower than it was in the heyday of the 1950s and 1960s. This past Saturday morning Carole asked me to look for some fresh cut flowers at the morning market, but by the time I got there they were all sold out. Then today on my daily walk I ventured out in the countryside to the east of Vence and was delighted to find a large crop of roses growing along the side of the road with some greenhouses and other structures in the back. There was a sign at the entrance stating “Vente de Roses” (Roses for Sale) and a small table set up next to the entrance. I rang a buzzer and in a minute or so a woman came down from nearby a house. “You sell roses?” I asked, “Vence roses?” “Oui,” she replied. 20 roses for 12 euros. “Bien,” I replied, “ma femme sera très heureuse.” (My wife will be very happy.) Once I got the flowers home and into a vase I decided to do some research and see what I could find out about these beautiful little flowers.
[more info after the photo gallery]
What the people of Vence today call the “Rose of Vence” was actually created in 1927 in Germany. It was originally called “Grüss an Coburg” (Greetings to Coburg), one assumes as some kind of a nod to the German city of Coburg. After the Second World War the flower was introduced to the area around Vence and was quickly and energetically adopted by the local growers, gaining a reputation in the following decades as one of the favorite roses in the region, known for its vibrant colors and magnificent fragrance. Over the years the flower has also been known as Safrano, Safrane and Trieze. Today it is often called the “Tango Rose,” but the locals prefer the name “Rose of Vence,” proud of the flower, its history and its connection to the village. It remains an important and time-honored “emblem” of the village of Vence.
When the rose was at its prime, at the height of its production and popularity, local growers shipped tons of flowers each year to the local flower markets in Nice as well as the big Halles and Rungis markets in Paris. More were sent to the most famous and prominent perfumers in Grasse around the country. For a time it was a booming business and the roses acquired a reputation and stature that spread across the continent. Some of the “old-timers” have even said that the flowers were so abundant that the breeze in Vence smelled exclusively of roses.
The original flower was a somewhat coppery tangerine in color with a touch of pink on the edges and underside of the petals. This color is often referred to as “tea rose.” Known for its thin, wavy edged petals it has an outstanding “fruity” scent. It flowers from April until June and then again from November to January.
As the years passed fewer and fewer of the roses were grown around Vence. What happened? Why did such a booming market fade away? Quite simply the land here on the French Riviera simply became too valuable. Much of it was sold for far more than the income from the flowers could ever provide. Today there are just a few dedicated, passionate families and businesses still cultivating the roses in the fields around Vence. But there is still a viable market for these flowers, at least here in the immediate area, and as I discovered, they don’t last long at the Saturday morning market.
I know of two places where the flowers are grown and sold and both happen to be just a few hundred meters apart. At 587 Chemin du Fort Carré is the first “farm” I came across where I purchased flowers for Carole. There is a large field visible from the road and several greenhouses and other structures. There are signs out front so if you know what you are looking for it’s pretty easy to find. They don’t seem to have a business name, there is no name on any of the signage, just the notice that they sell roses.
The second location is just down the road at 37 Chemin du Fort Carré. At the present time they advertise hours of 10h30 to 12h30 and 17h30 to 19h30. This family business is run by Chloe Capus and her husband. Chloe’s mother and father, both English, began growing the flowers on their property many decades ago. Several small fields are tucked back on the hillside out of site from the road. You can find Chloe every weekend at the local market on the Grand Jardin in Vence selling her Roses de Vence and other flowers.
Candies, Jellies & More
The Rose of Vence is an edible flower, used in various recipes for pastries, candies, jams and jellies. Just down the road from Vence, in the tiny hamlet of Pont de Loup, is a world famous confectionary, Florian Confiserie & Chocolaterie. Founded in 1949 the shop sits right on the banks of the Loup River in the Gorges du Loup about halfway between Vence and Grasse. The small shop is famous around the world and every day they ship candy, chocolate, dried fruits, jams, jellies and other sweets to countries far and wide.
The factory and store are decorated with antique furniture from the South of France dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Crystallized petals from the Rose of Vence are one of its many unique specialities, and are indeed, a part of the Provençal heritage. The candy makers at Florian also make and sell hard candy and jellies derived from the rose’s essence. There is even a Sirop Saveur Rose, a rose syrup which you can use to flavor water, wine, milk, yogurt, fruit salads and a variety of deserts. If you are in the area it is definitely worth a visit to the shop. They offer guided tours through the factory and lots of samples to taste. I guarantee you will leave with a bag full of goodies. You just can’t resist.
Château Saint-Martin & Spa
Pierre-Baptiste Bresson, the head gardener at the ritzy Château Saint-Martin & Spa just outside of Vence, has created a fabulous Tango Rose garden on the grounds of the resort dedicated to the Rose of Vence. Visitors can wander through the garden and enjoy the sweet aromas and delicate colors of the roses throughout most of the year. Maybe you’re looking for a unique experience to help you relax and decompress? The spa has even begun to use the Rose of Vence during a unique massage that you will not find anywhere else. Under this application the flower is said to have multiple virtues, including adding to skin radiance, acting as a moisturizer and even delaying aging and promoting youth. Honestly, I’m not sure about all of that, but if you have the money to spend, why not give it a whirl and see what you think.
The Rose of Vence plant itself is a compact bush with beautiful, shiny, dark green foliage, the perfect accompaniment for the bright flowers. They are said to be easy to grow and generally make very healthy plants. They will grow well in flower beds as well as pots. With a sunny exposure they will reward the grower with bountiful crops of flowers year after year. You can find the plants in some of the local nurseries, but you may have to look.
I have no idea how easy it is to find the Rose of Vence outside of this immediate area, but you might try asking for it at a local florist or nursery. Also try using the name Tango Rose as that may be more common outside of the Vence vicinity. Hopefully, the few remaining growers near Vence will continue to cultivate and promote the flowers for some time to come. If you’re in Vence check out one of the several great flower shops or look for them on Friday or Saturday morning at the local market on the Grand Jardin.