Meandering alleyways, centuries-old stone cottages, and panoramic views over towards the glittering Mediterranean Sea: it doesn’t get much more stunning in the South of France than this. St Paul de Vence is a fairytale village perched high on a hilltop somewhere between Nice and Vence. A place that’s frozen in a time-warp of the past, here’s a quick guide to the best things to do in Saint Paul de Vence…
Why you should visit Saint Paul de Vence on your next French Riviera Trip
Often dubbed the ‘second most beautiful village in France,’ Saint Paul de Vence seems a world apart from the glittering azure sea, the bustling city of Nice, or the star-studded streets of Cannes… And yet the town is just a mere few kilometres away.
As such, if you’re looking to lose yourself among cobbled lanes, want to soak up some history, and wish to see for yourself, then you should visit St Paul de Vence next time you’re in this part of the Côte d’Azur. Best explored over the course of at least half a day, if you want to truly soak up the ambience, consider staying for a longer stint.
Things to do in Saint-Paul de Vence
Cimetière de Saint-Paul-de-Vence
The final resting place of Marc Chagall, who actually resided in the French Riviera from the late 1940s right up until his death, the St Paul de Vence graveyard is characterised by its standing tombstones and compact nature. Other people to be buried in the cemetery include Sports Journalist Paul Frère and composer Jacques Morali.
Meanwhile, some of Chagall’s best works can be found in the form of the painted murals on the walls of the nearby Notre Dame de la Nativité in Vence. Otherwise, Saint Paul’s town cemetery can be found on the fringes of the historic town centre, just through the ramparts and overlooking the countryside below.
Fontaine de Saint-Paul-de-Vence
In the very heart of the maze of cobbled lanes and plant-clad stone dwellings that make up the French village, the fountain was installed as early as 1615 and is designed in the Provençal style. Situated in place de la Grande-Fontaine, you’ll always be able to find your bearings in the tiny town, so long as you stumble upon the sculpture of the four spouts pouring water into the central fountain.
La Colombe d’Or
Several decades ago, the likes of Matisse, Braque, Léger, Calder, César and even Picasso would dine at this now chic auberge in exchange for paintings. Owned by the Roux family, the resulting restaurant of today means that eating here feels like consuming your typical French fare in an art gallery!
Even if you don’t choose to stay in La Colombe d’Or, simply dining in the restaurant is a total must-see while in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. For those looking for a unique experience, consider staying in La Colombe d’Or if you want to experience history at its finest.
Église Collégiale de la Conversion-de-Saint-Paul de Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Founded as early as the 14th-century, the main church of St Paul is free to visit and is well worth a wander inside. Step within the walls of this ecclesiastical building and it will soon become apparent that it was the 17th-century, the golden age of the town, that truly left its mark on the collegiate church.
Not only was the former Parish church elevated to the status of Collegiate Church in 1666, but the plain Romanesque interior was also elaborately enhanced with Renaissance artwork, including frescoes and carvings. Today, highlights of the Church include a chapel dedicated to Saint Clement which actually contain Saint’s Relics transported from Rome, parchment from the 16th-century, and a Tintoretto painting.
La Chapelle Folon
If you pay to see just one thing during your time in St Paul, make it the Folon Chapel (the entrance fee is €7). Painted by Belgian artists Jean-Michel Folon, who had strong ties to the village for well over three decades, The White Penitents’ Chapel of Saint-Paul-de-Vence was the last project Folon worked on prior to his death.
Find the best view of Saint Paul de Vence
For those looking to capture ‘that’ iconic view of the mountaintop village, you need only go a few hundred metres down the hill from the village. The best place to find the most iconic view of St Paul is from along Route des Serres, i.e. the street running parallel to that of the bus stop. If you’re looking for a little more information on the village and its surrounds, then the tourism office can be found at 2 Rue Grande.
Remparts de Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Looping around the medieval city, the ramparts of the town were once an impregnable fortress. Today these 16th-century crumbling walls are an impressive reminder of Saint Paul’s rich past. In order to truly gauge what the fortified and largely self-governed town of the late Middle Ages would have been like, you need only follow the road around the interior rampart walls.
Tour de l’Espéron
A little way outside of the historic town centre, the Maeght Foundation is dedicated to art and is available to visit for a fee every day of the week between 10 AM and 5:30 PM. As its name would suggest, the Foundation was established by Aimé and Marguerite Maeght, art collectors and notable publishers who were friends with many of the most influential painters of their day, Joan Miró and Marc Chagall to name but a few.
Fondation Maeght was the first private art institution of its kind in France and is modelled on similar US ventures. Founded with the purpose of displaying private collections to the public, the collection now counts over 13,000 works within its showcase. More information about how to visit can be found here.
Stroll around Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Truth be told, one of the best things to do in Saint-Paul-de-Vence is simply to stroll around the town and allow your feet to take you where they will. Be sure to bring your camera and allow your feet to take you where they will. Think small archways, stepped roads, and many a trailing wisteria plant. Some of the prettiest streets in Saint-Paul-de-Vence include rue des Doriers and Montée de la Castre.
Where to stay in Saint Paul de Vence
Though you can, of course, visit St Paul as a day trip from nearby Nice, it’s always nicer to be able to stay over the night before so as to explore the town before the rest of the crowds arrive. There’s a small selection of well-reviewed places to stay within the town walls, more details of which can be found here.
Things to know before visiting Saint Paul de Vence
As you can imagine, the postcard-perfect village can get pretty busy! This is especially true of the peak season when St Paul de Vence becomes one of the most popular day trips from nearby Nice. As such, if you want to capture the best photos and enjoy the medieval town without the crowds, then be sure to arrive early.
You should know before you go that Saint Paul de Vence is filled with ups and downs and many steps. As such, comfortable shoes are an absolute must. Also worth noting is that the pedestrian-only streets of the old town are predominantly uneven cobblestones, and so this is the time to leave those high heels at home!
Finally, though most people have a great level of English (especially those working in the tourism industry), it’s only polite to learn a few words of the local language, in this case, French. Purchase a simple French phrasebook like this one to help you get by, or at the very least, learn basic greetings!
How to visit Saint Paul de Vence as a day trip from Nice
I personally took a bus at 8 AM from Nice, ensuring that I arrived well before most of the other tourists, and even before town amenities such as the tourist office and cafés were open! As such, I found myself wandering around the pretty town, camera in one hand and curiosity in the other (you can find details about my exact camera gear here).
The town is accessible via only bus or car, and there is a direct bus (Bus #400) around once an hour during the daytime between Nice and Vence, full details of which can be found here. The bus takes around an hour and offers breathtaking views of the little hilltop towns and villages littered in the mountains surrounding the French Riviera.
Alternatively, if you prefer to pack several cities and towns into your visit as a day trip from Nice, then you might consider booking a tour to Cannes, Antibes, and Saint-Paul-de-Vence like this one. This way, you won’t have to worry about transfers and you may well see plenty more as a result!