Ever wonder what it would be like to time travel? While it would be incredible to grab some plutonium and head back in time, there are some places where a DeLorean just isn’t necessary! So many areas of France (like most of Europe!) are filled with the most beautifully preserved medieval towns, and Saint Paul-de-Vence has to be one of my absolute faves…
For five centuries, the town of St. Paul-de-Vence surveyed the border between Provence and Nice. The perfect hilltop location to view the surrounding area and inspiration to various artists since the 1920’s. Visiting this place is literally like stepping back in time.
Wandering feet on cobbled streets
As soon as you step through the archway, built in the 16th century, with it’s 14th century tower, you can feel the unique charm of St. Paul-de-Vence. As you enter the town, a mosaic style map shows the meandering streets, all eventually leading to the main square. Once used for markets, the square is home to a large water fountain from the 1800’s and the original wash-house where women once beat and scrubbed their washing against the stones. *quietly gives thanks for living in a time of washing machines and housework gender-equality*
Over the years, the town has been home and inspiration to many artists, including Henri Matisse. For this reason, the streets are filled with beautiful artworks, intricate oil paintings and thought-provoking sculptures. You can purchase your own artwork or simply browse the galleries (maybe stick to the postcards if you’re on a budget!)
If you’re looking to save some money, take a packed lunch and enjoy views of the alps from the towns outer walls. If you want to get something locally, then you won’t be short of choices.
Various cafés and restaurants offer everything from a quick panini to a 3 course meal. In the main square you can grab yourself an ice-cream or sorbet to cool you down while you soak up the atmosphere. Veggie options are limited and Vegan options are few and far between. As always, if you’re happy to negotiate and pick from the sides, you’ll find something (chips and salad, our saviours!)
Feel like a Saint Paul-de-Vence local
If you want to experience the traditional life of a provincial town, then a Wednesday is the day to go! From 9am until 2pm is a small farmers market with fresh produce. Watch the locals shopping with their wicker baskets, sample the olives and enjoy the colours of the fruits and flowers.
If you’re keen to learn more about the history of the town, then head to the museum at the top of the hill. It is 4 euro a ticket and allows you entrance to the Folon chapel, filled with the colour artwork of Jean-Michel Folon. The museum is open every day with a few exceptions-
From 1st May to 30th September: 10am-12 .30pm and 2pm-6pm
From 1st October to 30th April: 10 .30am-12 .30pm and 2pm-4pm
Closed during November, as well as Christmas and New Years day.
If waxworks make you uneasy this might not be the museum for you! But if you don’t suffer from Automatonophobia (It’s a real thing!!) then get your tickets from the entrance, opposite the chapel. You will be given printed information in English to follow what is happening as you move through the rooms. I found some of it hard to digest due to the translations but over-all it was interesting to find out more about the area. Did you know that Nice was once independent from France?
Before you leave, watch the locals gathering for the much loved game of pétanque, just outside the town walls. Here in this shaded square lies the Café de la Place. Over the years it has been frequented by famous artists, such as Matisse and Picasso! If you’re a keen creative then grab a glass of local wine and your medium of choice and see if inspiration strikes!
The most beautiful final resting place
Make sure to visit the cemetery and see this beautiful final resting place. Some of the graves belong to local artists, even the less famous can be admired with their old photos and tributes left by loved ones. If you’re anything like me, you might also be a bit weird and really love cemeteries (no? Just me?) In which case, this is the prettiest and most peaceful I have seen.
If you’re looking for something typical to the area to take home, you will be spoilt for choice. There are shops selling everything from lavender products, magnets and postcards, to embroidered aprons and pistachio spreads.
If you’re flexible on when to visit, then check out what’s on before you. Various events are held throughout the year. Pop into the tourist office on your way in and book yourself pétanque lessons, guided tours or grab a map of the local walking and cycle routes.
Getting to Saint-Paul de-Vence
Although I’m sure it would be lovely to stay within Saint Paul-de-Vence, I would say that a day is enough. So, if you’re travelling from a base elsewhere in the Cote d’Azur then how will you get there?
Of course google is pretty much the answer to all travel queries these days, but just in case:
If you’re coming from Nice you can get a bus from the airport or city centre, it will take an hour and you’re looking for the 400.
By train, head to Cagnes sur mer station and then 15minutes on the number 400 bus.
By car, If you are travelling from the direction of Marseille, then take exit 47. From the direction of Italy, take exit 48. Then follow signs to La Colle sur Lou/Vence on the RD 436