Saint-Paul-de-Vence, located 15 minutes’ drive inland from the coast, was once a refuge from Saracen raiders and even today, the well-preserved town ramparts built by François I in the 16th century give a nice medieval ambience and offer lovely views to the sea and across a landscape of olive and cypress trees and red-roofed villas.
The surrounding countryside and Mediterranean climate allowed the village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence to flourish thanks to orange trees, olives, vines and figs and now tourism brings throngs of visitors to this picturesque hillside town. In spite of the high season crowds, Saint-Paul-de-Vence is one of the most famous – yet loveliest – village perché in the French Riviera region.
A Village for Artists & Film Stars
Saint-Paul-de-Vence went into decline after the 17th century until the 1920’s when artists were drawn to the village due to the great panoramas that captured the magnificent quality of the light.
Modigliani, Soutine, André Derain, Henri Le Sidaner, Paul Signac, Marc Chagall – if there was ever a place for artists to stop by it was Saint-Paul-de-Vence.
Famous film stars started to frequent Saint-Paul-de-Vence from the 1940’s, brought to the region by the Victorine Studios in Nice and the Cannes Film Festival. Major French and international production houses stopped by to use the village as a backdrop for movies – 1966 film ‘Moment to Moment’ starring Jean Seberg and Honor Blackman and 2003’s ‘The Big Kiss’ starring Billy Zane were shot at some of Saint-Paul-de-Vence’s iconic spots including Café de la Place and place de la Grande Fontaine.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a fabulous village for exploring with many artistic attractions and more than 30 artist’s studios and galleries interspersed along the cobblestoned streets.
La Colombe d’Or (The Golden Dove)
In the 1920’s, an old farmhouse inn called ‘Chez Robinson’ was situated on the route into Saint-Paul-de-Vence. When impoverished painters began to frequent the village, the inn – now known as La Colombe d’Or – began to accept their artworks in lieu of payment for meals and lodging.
Over the years, this allowed the curation of a priceless 20th century private art collection including artworks from Miró, Braque, Signac, Derain and Picasso. Today, La Colombe d’Or is a celebrity favourite where you can savour traditional dishes (the menu features their famous crudité panier and the filleted sole and turbot are delicious) in a dining room with Matisse and Picasso paintings and view a Fernand Léger mural that was commissioned for the terrace.
The Musée d’Historie Locale in Saint-Paul-de-Vence has old photographs of film stars who visited Colombe d’Or such as Sophia Loren, Catherine Deneuve and Greta Garbo. Restaurant reservations are like gold dust; bookings must be made far in advance especially in peak season, it’s wise to make use of their valet parking also.
Designed by Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert (a former co-worker of Le Corbusier), the Fondation Maeght opened in 1964 with a striking building respecting the landscape and sitting amongst gardens, ponds and Mediterranean trees. The owners Aimé and Marguerite Maeght had a vast collection of over 9,000 artworks and received contributions to their museum of modern art and sculpture from many artists including Bonnard, Giacometti, Léger, Miró and popular artworks from Chagall, La Vie and Les Amoureux.
The only pieces that are part of the permanent collection are the large garden sculptures; the indoor galleries rotate collections and in summer temporary exhibitions are held. Not only did the artists give artworks for the interior displays but they contributed to the building decoration too – Pol Bury’s fountain, ceramic tiles by Miró, stained glass windows by Braque and Ubac in the memorial chapel to the Maeght’s son and mosaics by Chagall.
Top Tip: If you are doing lots of sightseeing in the French Riviera region, the Côte d’Azur Card is a practical way to save costs on entrance fees for activities and attractions. The card can be purchase online or at regional Tourist Offices and will give you free entry to top sites in Saint-Paul-de-Vence including Fondation Maeght, the Folon Chapel, Musée d’Histoire Locale as well as a guided visit of the village.
The 17th century White Penitents’ chapel has walls and the ceiling decorated by Belgian artist, Jean-Michel Folon. The chapel was an immense decorative project inspired by the charitable vocation of the Brotherhood of the White Penitents: 8 paintings on canvas, 4 stained-glass windows, 2 sculptures and a 106 m² mosaic. Folon also painted the restaurant sign at La Colombe d’Or as he was good friends with the owners, the Roux family.
St-Paul-de-Vence Cemetery & Marc Chagall
Painter Marc Chagall (1887-1985) settled in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1966 and built a villa ‘La Colline’ (The Hill) there. He also stayed at the charming Hacienda-style Hôtel Le Hameau near the village with pretty flower-filled urns a fabulous backdrop to views of the village and surrounding countryside.
He died in 1985 and was laid to rest in the Saint-Paul-de-Vence cemetery which is located at the far end of the village opposite Porte Sud. As in Jewish faith, his grave has small stones placed on it by visitors.
Artist’s Ateliers & Galleries
Whether you are seeking contemporary sculptures, figurative paintings, breath-taking landscapes or abstract sketches you are certain to find something special to take home with you. Rare for the French Riviera, you can find craft shops, art galleries and artist studios in Saint-Paul-de-Vence open every day of the year, including Sundays and bank holidays. For detailed lists of the village’s galleries and studios:
Other Places of Interest
Café de la Place
An iconic location in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, stop off here for a glass of rosé in warmer months and watch the boules contests under the shady plane trees. If you fancy joining in, the Tourist Office rents boules sets to visitors.
Place de la Grande Fontaine
Located along rue Grande (St-Paul-de-Vence’s main street), this square has always been busy – in the 17th century, townspeople used to bring their mules here to drink and the washerwomen used to scrub their laundry in the covered lavoir (washhouse). The Provençal urn-shaped fountain is heritage listed and one of the most photographed fountains in the region. Restaurant La Fontaine is a lovely restaurant with a nice terrace overlooking the fountain and it’s a perfect place for a glass of wine or a coffee in the shade.
A Relais and Châteaux hotel hideaway, the restaurant here is a pleasant escape from the tourists treading the stone streets of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Choose from an atmospheric dining room with vaulted ceiling and 17th century fountain, or in fine weather Bespoke Yacht Charter recommend you reserve a table on the vine and flower-bedecked terrace for superb views of the ramparts. The lunch menus are the best value.
A quaint and homely restaurant situated on the western ramparts of the village, you can select from a menu of flavourful dishes including tapas plates or ricotta and basil served by a husband and wife team. Open Thursday to Tuesday for lunch service only, it’s one of the best spots in Saint-Paul-de-Vence for spectacular views from the exterior terrace though get in quick as there’s room for just two outdoor tables only.
How to get to Saint-Paul-de-Vence
By car: Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a popular destination for shore excursions for yacht charter guests berthed in Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Monaco. From Cannes or Antibes direction, exit the A8 highway at Sortie 47 (Villeneuve Loubet, Cagnes sur Mer, Vence) or from Nice/Monaco/Italy direction exit the A8 highway at Sortie 48. Follow the signs for ‘La Colle sur Loup / Vence’ on the RD436; Saint-Paul-de-Vence is 15 minutes from the highway exit between La Colle sur Loup and Vence. Coming from the north, exit the N202 at Carros and continue along the D2210 to Vence, turning south onto the D7 to Saint-Paul.
By public transport: Saint-Paul-de-Vence can be reached from Nice by Bus number 400 that travels via Saint-Paul-de-Vence before continuing onto Vence, the journey takes around 1 hour. The current timetable is found here: static.saint-pauldevence.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/ligne-400.pdf There is no train station nearby to the village; the closest train station is Cagnes-sur-Mer where you can then take Bus number 400.
Useful Web Links:
St-Paul-de-Vence Tourism: www.saint-pauldevence.com
Côte d’Azur Card : en.cotedazur-card.com
This article was written by Rebecca Whitlocke, who with over 10 years travel industry experience loves to share ‘must-do’ destination tips and hidden spots to discover in France and beyond.
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