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THINGS TO DO IN THE FRENCH RIVIERA FROM  HAUTE VUE  VILLA MONTAUROUX

  • Writer's pictureDavid Viney

Saint-Paul de Vence

If you are in the area for at least a week, then this is a must-do day-trip. Saint-Paul de Vence is one of the prettiest and best-preserved medieval villages in all of Europe; surrounded by stone ramparts that date back to the 15th Century. There are 50 art galleries here (all of a high quality), along with many shops, some restaurants, and a couple of small hotels. While the art is amazing (and may well play havoc with your credit card), the main attraction here is the town itself. Adorable, immortal St Paul.


Saint Paul de Vence at night | Photo © Samir Belhamra
Saint Paul de Vence at night | Photo © Samir Belhamra

MORNING


I recommend an early-ish start, because it will be easier to get a parking space at the other end if you arrive slightly before most of the day-trippers. You exit the A8 autoroute at either exit 47 (Villeneuve Loubet) if coming from the west, or exit 48 (Vence) if coming from the east. Follow signs to "La Colle sur Loup / Vence" on the RD 436 and the village is just 7km (15 min) from the motorway. Whilst many park on the road (using a parking meter) it's much better if you can get into the Sainte-Claire underground car park (managed by Indigo) as it has 450 covered spaces over 10 storeys.


Download a walking map of Saint-Paul de Vence from the Local Tourist Office (with a useful 3D aerial perspective)

As you walk up through the fortified village gates, and under the ramparts, you quickly alight on the Place du Tilleul; complete with a round, drinking fountain and comfortable stone bench. The nearby 14th century tower-gate is a reminder that Saint-Paul was once a strategic outpost on the border of Provence with the County of Nice (neither of which were part of France at the time). Continuing to walk up the Rue Grande, you arrive at the main square at the heart of the village:


Shoppers at the Grande Braderie market
Place de la Grande Fontaine, Saint-Paul de Vence | Photo © Okole Oko

Redesigned twice (in the 17th and 19th centuries), this square was always the busiest spot in the village. From dawn until dusk villagers would come to fetch water, water their donkeys and mules, or beat their laundry in the adjacent, vaulted washhouse. The square also hosted the weekly market for over 300 years, before the huge stone fountain was erected here in 1850. Just above the square is a perfect spot to stop for a coffee or tea and a small bite to eat; Café Timothé:

 

Café Timothé

 

Café Timothé

4 Rue du Bresc, St-Paul-de-Vence 06570

€€€ • Mediterranean Cuisine

★★★★★ • Tripadvisor Reviews

Tel +33 6 79 69 89 57 | Website

For the rest of the morning, it's all about the art. Start with a short stroll to Place de l'église, where you can tour the 17th-century Folon Chapel; restored and redecorated by Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon in the years before he died in 2005. Once the HQ of the Brotherhood of White Penitents, the chapel is now adorned with the mosaics, art, and sculpture of Folon and his followers.


Returning to the Grande Rue and adjacent streets, there are countless amazing galleries and art shops to browse at your leisure. as you wind your way down to the Porte de Nice at the bottom of the village. By now, you will have come to love the amazing cobbled streets (interwoven with the sunlight motif of Saint Paul). But those streets (enchanting in the winter months) can get extremely crowded in the summer!


LUNCH


Before sitting down to eat, there is time to quickly visit the Point de Vue atop the Ramparts of Saint Michel at the far side of the village. From here, you have an amazing view of the mountains of the Alpes Maritime - in the background - and the Village Cemetery in the foreground:


Saint-Paul de Vence cemetery | Photo © Sophie Nadeau
Saint-Paul de Vence cemetery | Photo © Sophie Nadeau

Now, of course, you booked ahead for lunch, right? Perhaps before you even arrived in France! Because whilst you can usually find a table somewhere if you really need to, it's by no means guaranteed (and you might have to wait quite a while, particularly in peak season). Our recommendation is the Malabar, which commands a fantastic view from its outside terrace and serves totally yummy food:

Restaurant Malabar

Restaurant Malabar

7 Rue des Remparts, St-Paul-de-Vence 06570

€€€ • Mediterranean Cuisine

★★★★☆ • Tripadvisor Reviews

Tel +33 4 93 32 60 14 | Website

AFTERNOON


Right! Back to the car for a short drive to the Fondation Maeght, an incredible hilltop art museum where the works are literally woven into the fabric of the building, and its surrounding gardens, courtyards, terraces and patios. It houses one of the largest collections in Europe of 20th century paintings, sculptures, drawings and graphic arts.


Fondation Maeght | Photo © Waterborough
Fondation Maeght | Photo © Waterborough

Upon entering, visitors are greeted by Fernand Léger's ceramics, Pol Bury's playful fountain, an Alexander Calder stabile, and a wind sculpture by Takis. Seasonal rotations feature works by Jean Arp, Eduardo Chillida, Erik Dietman, Barbara Hepworth, and Joan Miró. Integrated into the buildings are Pierre Tal-Coat's monumental mosaic on an outer wall, Marc Chagall’s mosaic "Les Amoureux" (The Lovers) on the bookshop wall, and Georges Braque’s pool "Les Poissons" (The Fish).


A particular highlight is the Miró Labyrinth, created by Joan Miró with ceramicists Josep and Joan Gardy Artigas. Using ceramic, Carrara marble, iron, bronze, and concrete, this monumental piece merges sculpture, architecture, and nature. Visitors follow a white line, symbolizing Ariadne’s thread from Greek legend, to encounter fantastical animals from Miró’s personal mythology.


EARLY EVENING


Back to the village for some evening drinks at the Café de la Place, in the Place du Général de Gaulle. Here you can sip on a beer, in the shade of century-old plane trees, whilst watching (or better still playing) some pétanque at the Saint-Paul de Vence “boule pitch”. Ponder that (as you play) you are undoubtedly walking in the very footsteps of Yves Montand, Chagall and Picasso (who were all known to play):


Plage de la Nartelle in Sainte-Maxime
Men playing Boules at Saint-Paul | Photo © JIP

DINNER


Which brings us onto dinner. At the boules pitch, you are right next door to the Colombe d'Or ("Golden Dove") hotel. Most tourists stroll past oblivious to its history and fame. Not you, my dear friend! If you have ever seen that famous Stella Artois advert - where artists pay for their drinks with a painting - well this little place has a unique modern art collection; acquired by Paul Roux through offering free room & board to (now) famous artists in exchange for their art.


The Colombe d'Or | Photo © Koocheekoo
The Colombe d'Or | Photo © Koocheekoo

Through his doors went Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Marc Chagall, Alexander Calder, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Pablo Picasso. Many before they were famous. Their paintings and sculptures adorn the interior, where there are also works from Henri Matisse and Walter Kandinsky. Picasso, Chagall, and Matisse all lived for a while in Saint-Paul, as did Modigliani and Dufy. Chagall was a resident for 19 years and is actually buried in the local cemetery you viewed earlier from the Point de Vue. What could be better than eating a lovely meal whilst surrounded by amazing art works?

 

Colombe d'Or

 

The Colombe d'Or

1 Place du General de Gaulle, St-Paul 06570

€€€€ • Mediterranean Cuisine

★★★★☆ • Tripadvisor Reviews

Tel +33 4 93 32 80 02 | Website

NIGHTLIFE


Assuming you still have some voomph, why not drive directly to the coast for some cocktails overlooking the beach and the Med? L'Éclat is just a short drive away:

 

L'Éclat

 

L'Éclat bar

19 Prom. de la Plage, Cagnes-sur-Mer 06800

€€ • Wine Bar

★★★★☆ • Tripadvisor Reviews

Tel +33 4 89 14 35 77 | Facebook

VIDEO TEASER


Check out the vibe. This nice little video, contributed by a tourist, gives you an idea of what to expect from a visit:



HELP US OUT


Do you have a great tip you'd like to share - that we could add to this day-trip entry? If so, please add a comment (below) or use our suggestion form on the ★ Little Pieces of Lighthomepage. And if you are looking for somewhere to stay in the area, please do check out Haute Vue; our large vacation rental with private pool in Montauroux. It has panoramic views, private pool, super-fast WiFi and modern air-conditioning, and is the perfect central base for a holiday in the South of France.

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