Saint-Paul de Vence

Saint-Paul de Vence

Located high on the Puy Plateau, this is without a doubt one of the most charming and beautiful medieval villages on the entire Côte d’Azur.

It is like stepping into a completely different age and one senses already on arrival in the city that Saint-Paul de Vence, that something is very special.

Here an expectant atmosphere prevails, which is clearly seen on the faces of the many tourists who flock to the city.

The artistic city and the celebrities
Saint-Paul de Vence is rightly called the city of artists. It is especially the art that, over the past 100 years, has formed and shaped the city’s welcoming soul and attracted all sorts of famous people from actors, sports stars and royals.


From the very first steps after passing the Fragonard perfume shop, you meet on the left hand side one of the city’s living “legends” – the world famous restaurant La Colombe d’Or. Here you will find a completely unique private art collection from the world-famous artists who have frequented the restaurant over time; Picasso, Matisse, Miro and more.

And as soon as you turn right from the Colombr d’Or, you meet the almost equally famous Café de la Place and the pétanque court on Place de Gaulle.

From another time
From here, the trip goes back to another era when passing through Porte Royale, which dates back to the 13th century. Just outside the gate you will find a fine map of the city and its sights.

Within the city walls there is a labyrinth of narrow alleys with small cozy shops, restaurants and an unusually large number of galleries.

It is precisely art that played a major role in the history of Saint-Paul de Vence.

La Rue Grande is the “main street” and runs from Porte Royale and through the city past the picturesque square with La Grande Fontaine from 1850 and ends at the viewpoint at the end of the city, where there is a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean.

the fountain at Place de la Fontaine with a wash-house in the background
Place de la Fontaine with a wash-house in the background foto:©cityxee.com

Marc Chagall´’s grave
Next to the viewpoint is a very nice cemetery where several celebrities are buried, including Marc Chagall, the couple Maeght and Escoffier.

Stone with an Overview of the burial sites at the Cemetery in Saint-Paul de Vence
Overview of the burial sites at the Cemetery in Saint-Paul

On the way around the small streets you meet the city’s other sights (see the complete list after this article) and here we will especially highlight the area on Place de l’Église, where there are five interesting sights: The old prison (now a town hall), The Chapelle Pénitents Blancs (The Folon Chapel), the Museum of Local History, the Collegiate Church and the Freinet School.

Enlightening path along the ramparts
Finally, one should also enjoy the walk on the west side along the city ramparts. A relatively new path has been laid out here, starting either from the cemetery or at Place Neuve just before going through Porte Royale. Along the path, there are boards with information about the surroundings.

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A bit of history – from antiquity to the heyday of art
Since ancient times, there have been settlements on the Puy plateau and from the early Middle Ages, city life gathered around the former church of Saint-Michel, which was located where the cemetery is today.

the chapel Saint Michel situated in the cemetery of Saint-Paul de Vence
In the cemetery is the chapel Saint Michel mentioned already in 1356

Up through the Middle Ages, the city gained greater status and it began to take the shape of the city we see today.

In 1388 the county of Nice broke with Provence and joined the Duchy of Savoy. This new political coalition meant that Saint-Paul de Vence gained an advanced strategic importance by virtue of its location.

After this, an expansion will begin for the strengthening of the city with, among other things, the city walls and projecting bastions. It was in 1538 under François the 1st that this work was carried out. It was by the standards of the time one of the most modern bastions designed by Jean de Saint-Rémy. It became four solid bastions with orillons to protect the city’s two gates and steep walls to protect the city on the sides.

Religious revival and the rise of the Baroque
Up through the 17th and 18th centuries, Saint-Paul de Vence experienced a religious revival. It was thanks to the bishop of Vence, Antoine Godeau, who elevated the church to the rank of collegiate church in 1666. It was during this period that the church was expanded and decorated with lavish baroque paintings, altarpieces, etc.

barok decoration and painting in the collegiate church in Saint-Paul de Vence
Impressive baroque decoration of the collegiate church

Saint-Paul de Vence retained its military role during this period. Among other things, Vauban came to inspect the ramparts in 1693 and in 1700, because he, in 1677, had become inspector general of all French fortresses.

Art makes its entrance
In the late 1800s and especially in the early 1900s, the area attracted artists from near and far. The landscape, the light, the hills covered with flowers, vines and olive trees as well as the city’s soft brown colors created a perfect backdrop for the creative process of art.

Purple flowers growing at the wall in Saint-Paul de Vence
The colors of Saint-Paul have attracted artists for over a hundred years – and still do – foto©cityxee.com

It was especially painters such as Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), Paul Signac (1863-1935) and Chaim Soutine (1893-1943) who, in the early 1900s, became the city’s artistic pioneers when they set up their easels and unfolded their colors on the canvas.

Transport to the city became somewhat easier in the early 1900s when the railway from Nice to Vence was built, which is just 3 km away.

The 1950s and 1960s became the golden age of the village. The most prominent artists of the time such as Picasso, Miro, Chagall and many others took over Saint-Paul and the city was transformed into a fabulous film setting where the stars of French and foreign film met.

For the famous American novelist James Baldwin and Marc Chagall, the connection to the city was so strong that they preferred to settle down and enjoy the tranquility of the Saint-Paul countryside; they both spent almost 20 years in the village.

For more than a century, Saint-Paul de Vence has built its identity as one of the Côte d’Azur’s leading arts and cultural cities.

The World Famous Art Museum - Fondation Maeght - surrounded by the garden and impressive art
The World Famous Art Museum – Fondation Maeght foto©cityxee.com

Here you also find the famous Foundation Maeght, inaugurated in 1964, and known worldwide.

By Tommy Sverre / 2020

Facts about Saint-Paul de Vence
Inhabitants: approx. 3.300
Altitude: 180 m
Airport: 13 km
Beach: 8 km
Nice: 19 km

Cities close by:
Vence 4 km
La Colle-sur-Loup 4 km
Villeneuve-Loubet 6 km
Cagnes-sur-Mer 7 km
Tourettes-sur-Loup 10 km

Experiences in Saint-Paul de Vence
  • All
  • Art
  • Churches & chapels
  • Food & Wine
  • Fountains
  • Hiking
  • Museums
  • Squares & Promenades
Churches & chapels

The Collegial Church

The 17th century marked the golden age of the church in Saint-Paul de Vence. Here, in 1666 the church was raised to the rank of Collegial Church by the bishop Antoine Godeau of Vence

Churches & chapels

The Cemetery of Saint-Paul de Vence

One of the most visited cemeteries on the Côte d’Azur – here rests several celebrities – including Chagall & Maeght

Museums

Célestin Freinet school

The famous schoolteacher and educator Célestin Freinet (1896-1966) taught in Saint-Paul de Vence between 1928 and 1933.

Churches & chapels

The Folon chapel – The White Penitents

Experience the admirable Folon Chapel, a design work of Jean-Michel Folon and learn more about an artist who had strong ties to Saint-Paul de Vence for over thirty years.

Fountains

Grand Fontaine 1850

La Grande Fontaine was built in 1850 in the Provencal style and has inspired many painters and photographers over time.

Squares & Promenades

Pétanque at Place de Gaulle

Learn to play pétanque at perhaps the world’s most famous pétanque court at Place de Gaulle. The local tourist office can provide an educational lesson.

Hiking

Walk along the western rampart

“Henri Layet discovery walk” – this is a wonderful little walk on a recently created path that runs along the western side of the city.

Food & Wine

La Colombe d’Or

This is one of the world’s most famous restaurants, visited by the most famous people in the world.

Art

Lucky the Horse by Rémi Pesce

The artist, Rémi Pesce, used 3,000 horseshoes to create the statue, each representing Saint-Paul’s approx. 3,000 inhabitants

Art

The Maeght Fondation art museum

The Maeght Fondation art museum welcomes more than 100,000 visitors in a unique architectural building designed by Josep Lluis Sert.

Selected experiences in cities close to Saint-Paul de Vence
  • All
  • Churches & chapels
  • Hiking
  • Museums
Vence

Hike to Saint-Paul de Vence

This hike to Saint-Paul de Vence from the center of Vence is neither too long nor too strenuous, but rather beautiful and cozy.

Vence

Saint Elisabeth chapel

Saint Elisabeth chapel in Vence impresses with its rediscovered fresco paintings by Giovanni Canavesio, and its history dates back to the 14th century.

Vence

The Museum of Vence

The Musée de Vence / Fondation Émile Hugues is situated in the heart of the historic city center and is among the very popular sights on the Côte d’Azur.

Vence

Cathedral Notre-Dame-de-la-Nativité

Here in the middle of the old medieval town of Vence you will find France’s smallest cathedral. Usually one expects cathedrals to be large and impressive…

Vence

Gombrowicz Museum

Dedicated to the Polish master writer Witold Gombrowitz and beautifully situated in Villa Alexandrine.

Vence

Chapel Pénitents Blancs

This chapel is the largest and most interesting chapel in Vence. Centrally located, just a few hundred meters from Place Grand Jardin, on the ancient Roman road to Castallane…

Vence

Rosary Chapel by Matisse

The Rosary Chapel by Matisse is together with the cathedral in the old town Vence’s biggest attraction and one of Henri Matisse’s greatest masterpieces.

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