Saint Paul de Vence is a charming hilltop fortified village in Provence, filled with art galleries, boutiques and sidewalk cafes. It's hard to find something ugly about this quaint village. A walk through its winding streets reveals elegant fountains, vine-covered stone walls and statues tucked into nooks in the walls. There are breathtaking views of mountains and sea. Even the ground below is attractive, as the cobblestones are laid into the shapes of flowers.
The only downside to visiting Saint Paul is that you won't be alone. This is a bit of a tourist trap, and can be overrun at times (300 people live within the fortified walls, but 2.5 million tourists visit annually). The other problem is it isn't the easiest town to get to, since it isn't accessible by rail. But don't fret! My Before You Go guide below includes detailed explanations for accessing the village.
If you don't have a rental car, the best way to reach Saint Paul de Vence from the major Riviera cities is by bus. From any Riviera city, take the train to Cagnes sur Mer. Exit the train station, turn right and follow the road for about a block or so. Do NOT stop at the bus stop you see on the right, but continue to the bus stop across the street on the left hand side instead. The bus costs about 1-2 euros per person, takes around 15 minutes, and goes straight to the entrance to Saint Paul's fortification.
Alternately, if you are in Nice, take the TAM bus (ask anyone or visit the tourist office for directions to the proper bus stop, as there are several in Nice). You are looking for line 400 (not 410, which skips Saint Paul and goes directly to Vence), which states "NICE-VENCE-par St. Paul." It is about an hour bus-ride. In all instances you must use the bus to get there by public transport. It runs about every half-hour, with the fewest runs at lunchtime or on Sundays and holidays.
Top Attractions in Saint Paul de Vence
The fortified village itself is a site, with its medieval fortress walls surrounding the city. The entrance was erected in the 1400s, and features a canon muzzle that was a trophy from the 1544 Battle of Cerisoles in Italy.
As you walk through the village, be sure to look up so you don't miss some of the artwork embedded in the walls. This includes religious statues and various other adornments.
Walk towards the south side of the village and climb the steps to the "vue" (view), which overlooks a gorgeous cemetery, surrounding hills and mountains. At Bastion St Remy on the west side, glimpse the sea. In Saint Paul, you can see the snow-covered Alps to one side, and the gistening Mediterranean Sea the other direction.
You can hardly take a few steps in Saint Paul without happening on an art gallery. Even if you aren't ready to spend money on original artwork or prints, it is simply enjoyable to gaze at the various works.
As an artists' village, it is also filled with more affordable artwork in the form of various crafts. The costume jewelry on sale at many of the shops is quite affordable and unique. There are interesting and creative knick-knacks for decorating your home throughout the town.
You can also find a variety of Provencal fabrics on sale, as well as local gourmet delicacies like olive oils, wine and fruit liquors.
Booking options and comparing rates
There are several places to stay and eat in Saint Paul. Like any other place that attracts droves of tourists, there is a mix in quality. Here are some recommendations:
- La Colombe d'Or is the best spot for art-lovers. This hotel and restaurant has played host to some of the hottest names in art: Picasso, Matisse and Prevert among the list. You can view their works on display here. If you plan to dine here, make reservations before you go. Lodging costs between 200 and 285 euros nightly, and meals run at least 20 euros per person (but don't be surprised if you drop 50-plus). Find the lowest rate!
- Le Saint Paul is a four-star hotel with a beautiful terrace or inside dining rooms for meals from the Michelin-starred restaurant. Its 15 rooms and four suites are situated inside a 16th century home, and decorated with Provencal furniture. Rooms cost between 170 and 560 euros nightly, and a meal typically runs around 45 to 82 euros. Find the lowest rate
- Hostellerie Les Remparts is an affordable and charming alternative in Saint Paul. Every room has a view of some sort, be it on the village or the valley below. The cuisine is regional, and can be served on the terrace during fine weather. Rooms cost between 39 and 80 euros, and meals range from 7 euros for breakfast to the 28-euro set menu.
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