St-Paul de Vence Travel Guide
St-Paul de Vence is one of the most beautiful perched towns in the French Riviera. Consequently, it’s also packed with tourists. In fact, St Paul de Vence invites more visitors than any village in France.
St Paul de Vence captivates travelers and tourists by the mesmerizing beauty of its surroundings and the art that it harbors within its walls. The heritage and culture of the town are made more pronounced by numerous artworks created by the 20th-century masters that lived in the town and from others in the French Riviera.
The walls exist in a spade-like shape surrounding the town, housing the 300 locals that reside inside. The remaining population lives in the valleys and heights, in luxurious villas. Gardens, orchards, and villas adorn the picture-perfect view around. The combination of architecture, nature, and the arts is ever noticeable.
|St Paul de Vence is one of the oldest towns of the French Riviera. It has a population of around 3500 (300 inside the old walled town). |
As a village perché (perched village), it rests against the mountain backdrop. Woodlands of cypresses, dotted with occasional azure pools from the villas, surround the area. The ramparts give a stunning view of the French Riviera’s sea and, being slightly inland, also of the northwest the peaks of the Alps.
Budget one day to explore the town. While you can speed-walk through the old town in an hour, you’ll want to take it slow and have a look in the many art galleries and churches, and savor a croissant or coffee on a terrace overlooking the hills and sea. There are beautiful forest walks and museums in the area as well. Before you visit, make sure to check out our guide to the local climate and weather.
Within the walls of St-Paul de Vence
The way to approach the town is on foot. A tower and an arch receive the tourists, with an ancient cannon pointing at the tourists. The main road, rue Grande lines the town and connects the other narrow streets. The cobbles cover the street and lanes, in the shape of flowers. Old stone cottages line the streets, with art studios, galleries, ateliers, restaurants, and shops.
St Paul de Vence’s Medieval History
During the Middle Ages, St-Paul de Vence occupied a strategic location. Initially, it was built as a protection from Saracen raids. It became an important strategic location as Nice shifted its allegiance from Provence to Savoy in the 14th century. It remained on the side of France.
The River Var borders it on the east, and St-Paul de Vence became a key spot in the political stage. The ramparts were erected then to fortify the stronghold, and two of the original towers are still standing; Porte de Vence and Tour de l’Esperon.
By the 16th century, consecutive attacks prompted François I to reinforce the defenses. In 1524 the King of Spain Charles V occupied St-Paul and besieged it again in 1536 because of its importance on the play of powers in Europe.
François I made a treaty with Nice and had the Commander of Artillery Jean de Renaud de Saint-Remy work with the fortifications between 1543 and 1547. They put French spurs on the bastions called orillons to protect the two gates, along with curtain walls to guard the flanks.
Kingdoms of old relied on walls for protection and defense. For hundreds, and even thousands of years they stood as witnesses to different sieges and attacks done for the sake of might and power.
The strong survived and the weak crumbled. Now, many of those walls stand as proof for those moments in history. But some are not just forsaken monumental structures and ruins. They harbor within and around them beauty and wonders for modern curious souls to behold.
Just like the walls of St-Paul de Vence. For a millennium, its walls have surrounded the now cobbled streets, giving unfailing protection to the heritage that stood the test of time. It is still under siege, not by those who seek to conquer, but by those who want to fill their aesthetic longing.
Grande Fontaine in St-PAul de Vence Old Town
The fountain was built in 1615 by Melchior Martin, a local stonecutter. This square was once a market. It was an important landmark during the middle ages and has been listed as a historic monument in the French Riviera since 1850. It sustained a steady supply of drinking water for the village since it was built.
The Mairie (St-Paul De Vence Town Hall)
Museé de l’Histoire Locale de St-Paul de Vence
Wax figures of historical persons like King François I and Queen Jeanne gather in this ancient village house to commemorate the history of St-Paul de Vence. Kids will enjoy the dioramas in costumes. Its location is across Place de l’Eglise.
St Paul de Vence’s Churches
The village church was constructed in the 14th century. It preserves its choir and four pillars that date back to the Romanesque church. The Bishop of Vence raised it to collegiate status in 1666. The main attraction is the relics from catacombs in Rome, frescoes, and baroque art.
Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs
Also called the Folon Chapel, after the Belgian artist who decorated it, Jean-Michel Folon. It has a stained glass decor with mosaic arts and design. It is done with the artist’s collaboration with local craftsmen.
The Ancient Cemetery & St-Michel Chapel
Not a very touristy place to visit, but still important because it is the place where Marc Chagall is laid to rest. He died in 1985, having lived in St-Paul for 19 years. It is also the home of the oldest church in the town, dated 12th-century.
Just Outside of Town
Fondation Maeght Art Museum
Ensconced in a pine forest on the Colline des Gardettes hill above St Paul de Vence, the Fondation Maeght is a modern art museum of a caliber that you won’t come across very often, which is why the museum attracts over 200,000 visitors each year.
The museum is outside the walls of St-Paul de Vence. You’ll need to take a 10 to 20-minute walk from the town on the wooded hills among the dark pines to reach it. From the bus stop, you can see the signs that point to the way. Coming from the lower lot, a shortcut on a steep dirt path through the trees leads directly to the green gate in front of the ticket booth.
Check out our guide to Fondation Maeght Art Museum.
How to get to St-Paul de Vence
Nice airport is only 12 kilometers east. Bus #400 runs between St-Paul and Nice once or twice per hour. Car parking is only available at the Fondation and a couple of other car parks around the town, but not allowed in the old town itself. Near towns are Antibes (16 kilometers) and Cannes (26 kilometers).
A video tour of St Paul de Vence
With the quintessential combination of art, heritage, and nature, St Paul de Vence is a true bastion for rooted culture and astonishing scenery.