Step back in time to the medieval village of Saint Paul de Vence. The lure of quaint, cobble stone streets and narrow winding alleyways makes this fortified complex a cultural paradise.
Travel inland, less than thirty minutes from Nice and the French Riviera coastline where you will find the quaint little town of Saint Paul de Vence. For one day it’s worth leaving the pristine beaches and azure ocean behind, for a medieval world of art, tales and history. You really will feel like you have entered a different world.
A medieval past
Thought to be one of the oldest medieval villages in the French Riviera, Saint Paul, as it is often known, became a fortified border stronghold in 1388. Dominating the hilltop, the fortified complex and 14th century ramparts are still visible today.
The village is full of monuments which, bit by bit, piece together the enchanting story of Saint Paul. Take the Olive Mill for example. Once a sign of prosperous times, there used to be five oil mills, as well as two flour mills here. The Keep, or main tower which is the dominating feature of the skyline, is the only surviving part of the old château. The tower is thought to be from the 12th century and the bell from 1443. Place de la Grande Fontaine is the former market square and the hub of the village life, even today. The highlights are the washhouse and ornate fountain. It was here that villagers would travel to collect fresh water, and washerwomen would scrub and beat their laundry as well as functioning as the common marketplace.
Art on every corner
The 19th century saw the addition of flowers, vines and olive trees throughout the village walls, which complemented the sandy-coloured stone buildings perfectly. The village, which was now in its prime, soon became a major draw for artists from far and wide. The quaint brick buildings, narrow streets and alleyways, the rural setting and the reflections of natural light were any artist’s dream. Within no time, easels were being set up all over the village. Even Matisse and Picasso were known to frequent this Provence village. Today, Saint Paul remains a cultural haven for artists, writer and poets.
With its strong history of attracting artists, Saint Paul has become a cultural hub. On every corner you will find museums and galleries devoted to contemporary and historic art. This is also a great place to learn about the many personalities who have influenced the village. If you are short for time, a good start is at the Local History Museum on Place de l’église.
Tours, pétanque and wine
There is actually so much to see here, with stories hidden within every brick, that the best and most efficient way to uncover the fascinating village of Saint Paul is by guided tour. The Tourist Information Centre (2 rue Grande) is the best place to gather all the information you need and to find out when tours are scheduled, or to get information for your own self-guided tour. Whether you are interested in history, religion, or the great stories of artists who made this their home, there are ten different tours on offer. In addition to tours, you can lighten things up with a lesson on how to play the famous French game: pétanque, also known as boules. Alternatively, sample wine from local vineyards. To get your taste buds going visit La Petite Cave de Saint Paul in the heart of the village and sample some of the finest local and French wines.
There are some fantastic boutique shops, which blend in perfectly to their idyllic setting. These include fashion, design, local produce and souvenirs. Make sure you visit Jeanne en Provence Perfumery to learn all about the art of making perfume and beauty products.
The best way to see locals in action in any new place is to stroll through the markets. This is a chance to experience the real culture of a place and sample locally grown produce and specialties. You can do this at the market on Place du Jeu de Boules on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. There is an alternative farmers market, on Wednesdays between 9am and 1pm, where you can find homemade delights such as honey, nougat, brioche cheese and much more.
The fact that over 2.5 million visitors come to Saint Paul de Vence each year speaks volumes. It is a delightful day trip from the Radisson Blu Hotel, Nice. Although the two places are worlds apart, you are reminded by the stunning sea views that you are actually no distance from the coast of the French Riviera.
What would you most like to explore in Saint Paul de Vence?