Perched on top of a verdant hill 15 minutes from the sea, the medieval village of Saint Paul de Vence enjoys an exceptional panoramic view that stretches from the coast to the pre-alpine mountains.
The climate is typically Mediterranean, warm and temperate with lots of sunshine. The winters can sometimes be cold.
The town has a population of 3,548 but only 300 people reside in the village itself. The others live in the houses and luxurious villas scattered throughout the valley and on the heights.
A story told in stones could be its unofficial motto. Very well preserved old stones!
A typically Provençal village, Saint-Paul is completed encircled by its 16th century ramparts built by order of King Francis I.
Arriving in Saint Paul you first come across the renowned auberge La Colombe d'Or, which has had a pleiad of artists as guests, such as Yves Montand, Chagall, Modigliani and Matisse, and it still houses many of their works.
To the left just after the Colombe is the 1850 washhouse where today, three times a week, a local farmer sells her fruit and vegetables. To the right, the famous Café de la Place extends its terrace all along the square where the townspeople play boules, another emblem of Saint Paul.
The tour of the medieval town begins once you have passed through the massive and arched royal gate with its cannon. From there, the cobblestone street Rue Grande leads you through the village past shops, galleries and artists' studios, all squeezed together in the medieval houses.
At the old well, steep steps lead up to the church, but we recommend that you continue along the Rue Grande to the Grande Fountain built in 1615 by Melchior Martin, a stonecutter from the village, and listed as a historic monument since 1850. To the left you can more easily get up to the Place du Château (of which the keep today houses the town hall). On this square stands the Romanesque church, built in the 13th century with gothic elements added in the 1600s and vaults rebuilt in the 1800s. Its bell tower rises dizzyingly high up to the sky and next to it an audacious palm tree tries to compete. Behind the church you will find the 17th century White Penitents Chapel known as the Folon Chapel, named after the Belgian artist who decorated it.
Even though you are at the highest point in the village, to get the best views retrace your steps and continue on the Rue Grande – passing by the little square with its old fountain that provides the village with drinking water since 1611 – to the South Gate. Dating from the 14th century, the gate is older than the ramparts. And there you will have magnificent views over the coast.
After the gate comes the cemetery where Marc Chagall, a long time resident of Saint Paul, is buried.
To end your visit, you can return to the village's entrance along the eastern ramparts, with the 14th century Esperon Tower, or the western ramparts with the machicolated gate tower. Both ways offer exceptional views.
Before leaving, why not stop off at the café, have a drink and watch the villagers taking part, sometimes quite vocally, in a game of boules.
Also to see in Saint Paul de Vence:
-the Maeght Foundation
-the Saint Michel Chapel in the cemetery, built before the 12th century, the oldest in the village
-the Sainte Claire Chapel, the village's patron saint
-the Saint Charles and Saint Claude Chapel, the most recent, dating from 1695 with frescoes painted in 2014, on the small road leading to the Maeght Foundation.