St Paul de Vence is probably the loveliest of the perched villages you’ll find in the south of France. This sweet, little village became a magnet for artists and art lovers in the 1920’s, when a group of impressionist painters rediscovered this worn down town.
Today, St Paul de Vence is one of the Cote d’Azur’s most famous treasures, and one you should definitely visit. It’s a very easy day trip from Nice, and because it’s small, it doesn’t take long to visit. Here are 12 things to do in St Paul de Vence France, and practical information for your trip.
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Visit the Village
- 1 Visit the Village
- 2 Walk the ramparts
- 3 Admire the view over the rampart wall toward the sea
- 4 Stop in the cemetery and add a stone to Marc Chagall’s grave
- 5 Chill out at the popular Cafe de la Place
- 6 Watch the locals play Pétanque
- 7 Take a stroll past the quasi flat iron Jacque Prevert home
- 8 Go to the famous Fragonard Perfume shop and buy some scents
- 9 Visit the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs
- 10 Dungeon of Saint-Paul-de-Vence or the tour de la Mairie
- 11 L’Eglise Collégiale or Collegiate Church
- 12 Fondation Maeght
- 13 Practical Information
St Paul de Vence is a little over an hour away from Nice. It has been inhabited since 400 BC, so it’s clearly steeped in history. But what is amazing, is how this Medieval village looks like a ferry tale. It’s beautifully manicured, primarily pedestrian, and filled with quaint stone structures and narrow, flowery paths. People live and work here, and their shops and homes are built within these stony hillsides. It’s a normal village for them, but for us, it’s a step back in time.
There are dreamy courtyards where you can stop for a cool beverage, or admire the central fountain. You can get lost in the narrow streets where there are no shops, and ponder what it’s like to live there. I’m often thinking two things: do they hear their neighbors at night, and how did they get their furniture up those stairs.
The famous walls, or ramparts, which are still amazingly intact today, are from 1547. They hold the village together. While much of St Paul’s buildings were destroyed by war in the middle 1700’s, today, St Paul de Vence is an amazing place people dream to move to.
What’s a Perched Village?
For information, I mention St Paul de Vence is a ‘perched village.’ A perched village is one that is positioned high on a mountain top, which a strategic vantage point over what is going on in the villages below. It’s good to keep an eye on your enemies who may want to intrude from the sea below. Back in the day, this was how villages secured themselves. St Paul de Vence was once a military strong hold, like another beautiful perched village in these parts, Eze Village.
It wasn’t until the 1920’s, when some impressionist painters rediscovered St Paul that it developed into a magnet for artists. The first to arrive were Paul Signac, Raoul Dufy and Chaïm Soutine. They set up their easels, and painted with the delicious lights of Provence.
The artists befriended Paul Roux who was a painter, art collector and inn owner. Roux used to trade art for meals and stays at his modest 3-bed inn. Now, his famous 5* Colombe d’Or restaurant and hotel displays million dollar artwork on the walls for guests to admire. And the old Inn now has more than a dozen rooms plus twelve suites.
In the 50’s, Picasso and Matisse arrived, and the Hollywood jet set caught on. Artists and art lovers flocked to this little village giving it the caché that it holds today. Those ramparts still hold St Paul together today, and are one of the many reasons that thousands of tourists flock here each day.
Map of St Paul de Vence
Stop by the tourism bureau on the right hand side as you enter St Paul. It’s an easy village to navigate and you can’t get lost. You can also find a detailed map provided online from the official site of St Paul de Vence, where you can get more information.
Walk the ramparts
The ramparts of St Paul de Vence were finished in 1547 and they still hold St Paul de Vence together today. These ramparts remind us that St Paul was once a military stronghold and they are very cool to see. Walk along the top of the ramparts for the best vantage point over the villages below. You can walk on top of the walls when the gates are open, and this is a brilliant way to see the countryside.
Admire the view over the rampart wall toward the sea
When you head to the south end of the village, you’ll find a few steps up where you’ll find a magnificent view over the St Paul de Vence cemetery all the way to the sea. It’s a lovely view.
Stop in the cemetery and add a stone to Marc Chagall’s grave
While you are in the neighborhood, you might as well stop in the cemetery to have a look around. It’s a unique setting and I love seeing the frequent names of families who clearly had a big influence in the history of St Paul de Vence.
One of its most famous residents is Marc Chagall. Chagall was an all around artist and painter. He’s probably most well known for his paintings of religious themes, and ones where you’ll frequently see a bride, a bouquet, a horse or a chicken, or a combination of all of them. But he also did tapestries, stained glass, ceramics and mosaics.
Chagall moved to Vence in 1949 after WWII, but it wasn’t until 1966 that he moved to St Paul, which is where he passed away in 1985. If you enjoy Chagall’s works then you absolutely must visit the National Chagall Museum in Nice.
Chill out at the popular Cafe de la Place
This sweet cafe is a great place to linger over lunch, a light snack or just a beverage. It has that traditional French brasserie feel and the whole atmosphere is like a step pack in time. You can imagine the conversations that were held here in the past. Were they talking art, politics, gossiping about what was going on in Hollywood? Who knows.
You can get reasonably priced cold or toasted sandwiches between $5-10, and their plat du jour is only $13. Today’s special was roast pork with green beans and provencal tomato salad. And it’s a great place to position yourself to watch the locals play pétanque.
Watch the locals play Pétanque
Pétanque is a traditional Provence game of balls, or Boules, as they call it here. The Italians call it Bocce. Whatever… It’s a serious sport around here. Most villages have a club of some sort with a mix of people of all ages.
The gist of the game is to try get your metal ball as close to the little marker ball (called a pig), while knocking your opponents ball way the hell away!
It’s a riot to watch and the players can get nasty and angry at one another. Just watch when someone brings out the measure… that’s when the arguing starts. It’s a brilliant way to watch local interaction of a national sport.
St Paul de Vence has one of the most famous Pétanque fields around.
Take a stroll past the quasi flat iron Jacque Prevert home
Jacque Prevert was a poet, screenwriter and artist who lived in St Paul de Vence for some 15 years. He was drawn away from Paris in 1941 when the Victorine Film Studios in Nice were in their hey-day. And he was also instrumental in the set up of Fondation Maeght below.
You also find collages he created that adorn the walls of the famous Colombe d’Or hotel. Below is the cute, small ‘flat-iron’ style structure he live in that you find along the ramparts in St Paul de Vence.
Go to the famous Fragonard Perfume shop and buy some scents
Fragonard is a popular perfumery with a variety of shops, factories and a museum down in the South of France. The concept started in 1926 when founder and entrepreneur, Eugène Fuchs, came up with the idea of selling perfumes to tourists who were starting to converse on the French Riviera.
If you find a factory, you can make up your own perfume. Otherwise, stop in one of the many shops you’ll find and choose one of their unique scents. They also sell room sprays and other home items, soaps and unique gifts that are great to take back for friends.
You’ll find products for men and women. It’s a great place to get the ‘stink blown off you.’ You will pass the shop as you are walking into St Paul. You can’t miss it.
Visit the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs
This Chapel from the 1600s was decorated by Belgian artist, Jean-Michel Folon, who had ties to St Paul for 30 years. It’s one of the most recent chapels decorated by an artist, and was completed in early 2000.
You’ll see stained glass, oil on canvas, mosaics and sculpture. The Penitents Blanc or White Penitents used this chapel as their headquarters.
It’s $8 to get in and you have a self-guided tour. You can also arrange for a private guided tour. Check out the Cote d’Azur Card, which gives you discounts on cultural and leisure activities all along the Cote. It’s really very good value if you plan to see a variety of museums or activities.
Dungeon of Saint-Paul-de-Vence or the tour de la Mairie
This dungeon or Donjon, as it’s referred to in French, is actually the first structure that was the start of St Paul de Vence. The base formed part of the original Chateau. It dates from the 1100s, and the bell tower was installed in the 1440s. It is now the town hall of St Paul de Vence and you can get married there. They also refer to it as, The Keep.
L’Eglise Collégiale or Collegiate Church
The Collegiate Church was built in the 1300s and finished in the 1700s. It’s the main church of St Paul de Vence, but is not considered a cathedral.
The lighting makes it quite somber inside, but it’s very unique, architecturally, built in Romanesque style. There are 4 chapels inside, one in Baroque style, and others have paintings, antiquities, parchment from the 1500s, and jewelry. The bell tower is from the 1700s. Pop on in and take a look. It’s nice and cool on a hot summer’s day.
Fondation Maeght is one one of the largest and most important private collections of modern and contemporary art in France. It’s located just 1/2 mile before St Paul de Vence village. If you are on the bus from Nice, it’s the stop just before St Paul, and is sign posted. You can then walk up the steep road onto the grounds.
You find works from Giacometti, Chagall, Miro and others, plus a number of rotating sculptures throughout the year. Installations are both inside and out in their beautiful gardens. Below is an installation by Christo set up outside in the grounds.
How to Get to St Paul de Vence
The easiest way to get to St Paul de Vence from Nice is to hop on Bus No. 400. This leaves from out front of Le Meridien Hotel near the park of Albert 1st by the seafront. Bus tickets are $1.75 (€1.50) and the ride will take around an hour.
The Bus Schedule is here: Bus 400 Nice to Vence March 2018
Bus No 400 location in Nice
When to go to St Paul de Vence
Go early in the morning during the summer! I took a friend there the other day and we caught the 8:35 bus from Nice. I wouldn’t leave any later than that in the summer. We were able to get seats on the bus and had a pleasant ride up there. Then we were ahead of the crowds. We had the village much to ourselves for the first hour.
By then, we’d already sauntered through the streets, stopped in a few shops (many shops don’t open until 10a), and snapped photos without the hordes of people yet. An hour later, the tour buses arrived.
We saw all we wanted, then went back to the Cafe de la Place at 11:15 for a beverage. We waited until 12p to order lunch and then caught the bus back to Nice at 1:42 (yes, I’m being exact here because I know the frickin’ schedule) and had seats on the way back.
Often times the line of people waiting for the bus back is long and you’ll be stuck standing on the bus for an hour with the a/c maybe working. It can be miserable. Do yourself a favor, get up early, and do this like I’ve mentioned.
Otherwise, I’d suggest going to the village in the shoulder or off season – Sept-May are easier for getting a seat and seeing the village at a more relaxed pace.
Hotels in St Paul de Vence
St Paul has a few hotels to choose from if you wish to spend a night or two. And then there are other hotels just outside of St Paul within a mile or so. It is actually a great idea to stay in St Paul if you want to see what village life at night is really like.
It’s also good if there’s an event on in town you wish to attend, like the St Paul de Vence Classical and Jazz night, or Evening under the Stars, or a night tour. The last bus back to Nice is around 7:30pm so the bus doesn’t lend itself to attending night events.
I’ve listed indicative prices as of July 2019 for midweek October 2019 hotel stays in a double room for 2.
5*Hotels in St Paul de Vence
First up is La Colombe d’Or Hotel and Restaurant. As mentioned, this started as a 3-room inn and now has 13 rooms and 12 suites. You need to contact the hotel directly for bookings and room rates go from $280 to $485 a night depending on the season. They close from the end of October and reopen for Christmas.
Then there is the Le Mas de Pierre, which is a hotel and restaurant set up just a mile out of town. This is a popular place and I wasn’t able to find availability in October. For September 2019 a double room goes for $614 a night. If you want to stay here you need to book well in advance.
Last but not least is the sumptuous Relais & Chateau, Hotel Le Saint-Paul, which is right in the heart of the village. If you can splurge, splurge here. Rooms go from $288 a night.
4* Hotels in St Paul de Vence
You have the Hotel La Grande Bastide set in a 1700s country house just outside of town. Rooms go from$180 a night.
Les Vergers of Saint Paul is another 4* hotel just outside 0.6miles outside of St Paul. Rooms go from $157 a night.
Hotel Restaurant La Vague de Saint Paul and Spa, is just a little over a mile out of town and you can get your pampering there with spa treatments. Rooms go from $126 a night.
3* Hotels in St Paul de Vence
Le Hameau is another converted farmhouse from the 1700s just about 1/2 mile outside of St Paul. They have an outdoor pool. Rooms from $189 a night.
Les Bastides St Paul gets wonderful reviews with outdoor pool, and is about 2 miles outside of town. Rooms from $85 a night.
The highly rated, Le Messugues is less than a mile outside of the village with an outdoor swimming pool. Rooms from $116 a night.
Then there the Hostellerie de la Fontaine, while it sounds like a hostel, but it isn’t. They are more like suites. It’s smack dab in the heart of St Paul de Vence overlooking the famous village fountain. Room prices are from $218 for a Junior Suite with Balcony.
Have a great time. It’s a beautiful village that makes you feel you are in a different place and time. Let me know what you think.