This small picturesque village of Vence, with its historic pedestrian zone makes a nice bonus on your way to see St-Paul-de-Vence. Much of the medieval still survives in Vence, with a maze of narrow streets crowded with houses of great age.
It's an easy one-hour bus ride from Nice, with departures of bus number 400 every half-hour in the morning. You probably would not come all this distance just to see little Vence, but it makes a good day's outing when combined with a visit to the more important, more popular, St-Paul-de-Vence, 3 miles away (5 km). Best to visit Vence first, then back-track one stop to St-Paul, which requires extra time to see and is especially lovely late in the day.
Vence is not only small, but flat – not a hill town, yet 1,065 feet above sea level – so it makes for cool, easy walking. Vence is a dreamy place, quieter than those other tourist towns, but it can get busy during summer afternoons with busloads of tourists streaming through, so as always, we recommend the off-season.
It only costs 1 1/2 euro for the bus ticket from Nice, one of Europe’s great bargains. There is no train service to Vence, so bus is the only choice if you're coming by public transportation. It is possible to come partway from Nice by train and transfer to bus in Cagnes, but that is less convenient. Taking the bus is a nice way to meet some locals – just say “bonjour” and see where the conversation takes you, perhaps pick up a few travel tips or restaurant suggestions. The bus trip ends at a big traffic circle, then you walk about 500 meters on Avenue de la Resistance to the Tourist Information office at Place du Grand Jardin, for maps, brochures and friendly staff who can answer your questions.
Vence is a small village, roughly circular in shape, just 300 meters across, the size of six football fields, so you can easily see it in a few hours on foot. You really cannot get lost when you're inside the Old Town, but you might get a little disoriented by the curving foot paths, so it helps to consult a map. There are also 27 information signs posted in the village explaining the history of various sites. Keep in mind there is one primary route and several plazas -- feel free to wander along the main lane and deviate down the little side alleys, then come on back to the main lane – it's interesting whether you are coming or going.
As usual in a small Provencal village, the main attractions are the pedestrian lanes lined with historic old buildings harboring shops, cafes and restaurants. Little plazas and fountains liven up the space, and the central church, Provence’s smallest cathedral, is a medieval delight. Vence is one of those rare medieval towns in France that still has its wall all the way around, not freestanding, but incorporated into the backside of buildings. Any time you have a wall around a medieval village you may hope to find a well-preserved historic site, like Vence. This Old Town was entirely surrounded by ramparts built in the 13th and 14th centuries, and before that a moat protected the south side with water from a Roman aqueduct. Within and about the ramparts rose the town, like a castle of stone, elliptical in shape.
We suggest here a route through little lanes bringing you through most of the village in one hour without backtracking, but you can easily double that time with stops along the way. Or, just plunge in and take whatever direction looks good, making up a route as you go along -- always fun, but you might duplicate steps, waste time and miss some sites.
As you walk into the old town through the main Peyra Gate the setting changes from modern to tranquil, embraced by an atmosphere of old cobbled lanes, fountains and plazas. Somehow it's modern with all of the latest conveniences and yet at the same time you're looking back into some deep history. This Place du Peyra, renovated in 2005, had once been a bustling market and place for people to gather and socialize, and is now “front door” to the Old Town.
The main commercial lane runs through this square, and if you are in a hurry like most visitors and only want to see the Cathedral, turn right on Rue du Marché, then first left to the central plaza -- but a better route circles the town in a meandering zigzag, seeing its many wonderful sites. The little lanes that we suggest are kind of off the beaten track, quite interesting and worth a look.
After entering Place du Peyra, turn left and walk a block along Rue du Portail Lévis, with nice shops. At the end note the ancient gate on your left, the Portail Levis, one of three gates of the ancient Roman road.
Turn right on Rue de la Coste for one block, then right again on Rue de la Place Vielle, following the signs towards the Cathedral. Now turn left on Rue de l'Evêché, then right at Passage Cahours, through medieval arcades leading to the main square, Place Clemenceau, with City Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Nativity. This Passage Cahours has columns and arches supporting an upper covered walkway, which connected the bishop’s palace and Cathedral so his holiness had direct access, from the 14th century.
Vence Cathedral is the smallest in Provence if not all of France. The first church was built in the 4th century on the foundations of an ancient Roman temple -- two stones outside the door date back to third-century Roman times. The current building took shape in the 11th and 12th centuries in the Romanesque style. The cathedral is 110 ft. long, 68 ft wide, and about 70 high, with a tall battlemented tower dating back to the tenth-century château fort, a remnant of those grim medieval days when even churches were places of defense. The interior is striking: double aisles, simple nave lined by massive columns with tiers of semicircular arches, a choir with richly carved oak stalls, a fourth-century sarcophagus for altar, and a font and lectern of the Italian Renaissance. Its bishops were illustrious men, most of whom are buried in the cathedral.
Quite remarkably, this old, small building has an original mosaic mural in the baptistery by Mark Chagall, one of the great artists of the 20th century, who lived nearby, depicting “Moses saved from the waters.” This mosaic radiates a special glow, with side light streaming onto these colorful stones vividly illustrating flowers, fruits, the sun, a rainbow, angels and a newborn Moses being baptized. Next to it is a charming bulletin board of photographs of babies that have been baptized in the cathedral, showing this is still very much an active church.
City Hall is next to the Cathedral in the usual pattern forming the main square of a typical European town, with church, civic building, shops and open space, clustered in the center of town. There was a castle here in the 13th century for the Lords of Vence.
Exit this plaza on the south end, turning left into a small market square, Place Surian, with a few restaurants, cafes, food stores and bars, nice for browsing or a snack. On far end of the plaza continue left at the fork along Rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville for two short blocks, passing more nice shops, to Porte du Signadour, a watchman’s tower dating to the 13th century, and exit the Old Town through the stone gateway onto busy Avenue Marcellin Maurel. You have arrived at a lovely plaza, Place Antony Mars, with a fountain, pizzeria and art gallery. This square was first laid out in 1431, with a fountain built in 1439 for those residents outside the walls. From here you get a revealing look at the outside curve of the Old Town, where you see houses that used the town wall for foundations or are themselves remnants of the wall, but before 1840 was a solid fortified wall. From the 15th century the inhabitants were allowed to build their homes against the wall, on condition they had an iron grill on their windows.
Turn right exiting the gate and walk along the avenue, heading west, for one block, getting a feel for this nice section of the modern town, with more shops, the bustling heart of downtown Vence. Walking along the busy avenue gives you a view of the new town of Vence which is also attractive. You'll find small hotels and restaurants and various shops here.
Turn right into the next gate, Porte du Pontis, returning back in time and place to a quieter space. Now turn left on Rue du Marché for the best and final leg of your journey, along a narrow pedestrian shopping street with the best variety yet. Now it has lovely shops but a century ago was only residential, with some kitchens and stables. Enjoy these final minutes because in two short blocks you are back where you began, at Place du Peyra, ready to exit this ancient town.
Of course if you want to extend the visit there are other tiny side alleys to see and the main lanes to revisit from different directions. You’ll notice on our map dotted lines in red, which are the secondary lanes, mostly residential, we skipped in the main walking tour, but each one has points of interest you could enjoy.
As is frequently the case in modern Europe, you are walking along ancient paths that have been patiently restored through massive recent construction which disturbed previous visitors, but you don’t even realize that previous chaos, so be appreciative of all that noisy, dirty work which is now finished. The town is a polished gem, very clean and well-maintained, enhanced by landscaping of floral displays, open leafy plazas and hundreds of trees in a wide variety.
Several options might tempt art fans, including Château de Villeneuve, a fortified 17th century mansion displaying changing exhibits of modern art, in the Fondation Emile Hughes, located just outside the Peyra Gate at Place de Frêne (notice the enormous 500-year-old ash tree). You might also enjoy a ten-minute walk to Matisse’s Rosary Chapel with famous architecture and stained glass by the artist who considered it his masterpiece.
Otherwise the visit is done and you will be next heading to St Paul if you are following our day’s itinerary, so give yourself 10 minutes to reach the bus stop, having already checked the schedules so you arrive just before the bus, which only comes hourly in mid-day, and continue on to St-Paul-du-Vence.
Within the walls of the town there is much to attract those interested in ancient history. Vence was occupied in turn by the Phoenicians, Phoceans, Ligurians, Romans and Gauls. We know from Ptolemy that it was the capital of a primitive Ligurian tribe called the Nerusii at a very early period. They had a series of forts built from massive stone blocks without cement, crowning the tops of the nearby high hills, which they fled to for refuge when attacked by the Roman legions.
Eventually the town was conquered by the Romans who established on this secluded spot an imperial city, Ventium, which speedily gained great importance as a central supply depot for the army. It was one of the eight principal cities of the province of the Maritime Alps, and possessed a forum, an aqueduct carrying to it the delicious water of the Lubiana, two temples dedicated to Mars and to Cybele, many splendid palaces; and included among its inhabitants many persons of high rank, besides a large body of priests and magistrates. But only behind the cathedral is there any remnant of imperial Rome. A granite column supporting an arch, and reliefs and inscriptions built in the north wall of the cathedral, are all that's left.
At the beginning of the Christian era it was connected by a splendid road, a branch of the old Via Julia Augusta, with Cimies, Vado, and the southern Italian routes, along which extensive traffic was carried. Fragments of this road have been found in different places between Vence and Cimies, consisting of large slabs of pavement with layers of masonry on either side, and ruined tombs, which, according to the custom of the Romans, lined both sides of the public ways.
During the Middle Ages Vence was a stronghold of the Holy Roman Empire. Because of its inland remote location it played but a minor part in later turmoil which disrupted the rest of Provence. High on her hill, she was too difficult of access to suffer greatly from marauding foes, and hidden from the sea, she did not attract the Mediterranean pirates. When Antibes and Nice were sacked, her little ledge of rock was safe; and people crowded thick and fast behind her walls.
The old town was entirely surrounded by ramparts built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. On the top of these walls was a broad way, where the defenders mustered when the town was attacked. To the outer world it presented only a lofty and continuous wall, entered by certain gates, and strengthened here and there by towers. The wall represented the backs of the outer houses welded together in one unbroken barrier. The fronts of these houses looked inward to narrow streets, but the outer wall was blank and blind, being pierced only by a few small windows, high above the reach of attack, and by long, narrow, vertical slits near the ground. These ancient windows and slits in the wall are still to be seen, but the enclosure has been broken in many places by casual windows of recent date and even by doors. Large portions of the old walls and ramparts, with massive square towers of the eleventh century next the gates, still remain, and testify to its former strength and importance.
These early days were a time of growth for the little city, and she prospered in her Medievalism as a prominent and influential center. Here were arts and occupations, burghers and charters, riches and liberties. The Knights Templars, too, invested the place with romance of the Middle Ages, for the ruins of one of their castles may be seen perched half-way up the mighty precipice of the Rocher Blanc. Much of the medieval still survives in Vence, as in other hill towns of the Riviera.
SAINT-PAUL DE VENCE
Saint-Paul de Vence in the South of France is one of the prettiest medieval villages in all of Europe, a very special town, but with two personalities: delightful and not crowded during the off-season, but totally different in the summer when it is loved too much, with big crowds squeezing into the narrow lanes. Each year it gets 2 1/2 million visitors, so it can get quite crowded, especially during the busy season from May through September. Like much of the Cote d’Azure, it is much better to visit between November and April, when the weather is fine and the crowds are still at home. Off-season tranquility is especially important in a small jewel of a town like this which is vulnerable to over-crowding due to its narrow pedestrian lanes, unlike larger towns such as Cannes and Antibes which can more easily handle crowds.
St-Paul is a fortified walled village of stone structures that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, with some of the best preservation you will ever see. It had fallen apart in recent centuries and by the early 20th century it was quite dilapidated, but it has been fixed up like new – largely because the art industry has moved in. There are 50 art galleries here of the highest quality, along with various shops, restaurants, a couple of small hotels, and several hundred local residents. While the many art galleries exhibit beautiful paintings and sculpture, the main aesthetic attraction here is the town itself. Of all the little towns in the book, St Paul is the one place you should not miss.
The town is easy to visit because it is only 300 meters long by 100 meters wide, and fairly level except for a few staircases, so it's effortless to walk around and see the entire place. You could spend several hours wandering through this medieval maze and be endlessly fascinated. The village is so enchanting you should walk through during the daytime and then again in the early evening with the glorious lighting mixture of twilight sky and illuminated shop interiors casting their glow. In between you could eat, or make a visit to the nearby museum of modern art, the superb Maight Foundation.
While the ancient stones buildings are the main attraction, the cobblestone paving of St Paul is a major work of art in itself, a perfectly composed mosaic of smooth pebbles in endless patterns and harmonious colors, so be sure to look down and admire as you stroll along. If you are especially lucky there will be a brief drizzle to make the cobblestones glisten. Of course the entire village within the walls is all pedestrianized – no cars allowed except the occasional service vehicle. You will get a mild workout as you walk gentle upslopes, downslopes and short staircases, but nothing too steep.
St Paul is easily reached from the nearby city of Nice in a one-hour ride on bus 400, or you could take the train from Nice to Cagnes and then transfer to that same bus for the 7 kilometer road journey from Cagnes-sur-Mer. Choice of ride partly depends on your hotel location in Nice: if staying close to the waterfront, catch the bus in front of the Meridian Hotel by Albert 1st Gardens, but if your hotel is inland near the station, take a train.
When approaching on the main road you get a fine view of St Paul surrounded with its massive walls, standing on a detached promontory, with steep terraced slopes descending into the valley below. The bus then drops you off in front and in two minutes you walk through a little park into the village, or alternatively, ring the bus bell on first sight of the village to get off one stop early in order to enjoy a supreme view of the citadel from the road, then walk five minutes to reach the town.
Like walking into a movie set, yet truly authentic, the dramatic entrance is via the main gate in the massive fortified wall, and then through the inner gate vaulted passage, beneath a tower with a channel for the portcullis grating which dropped down to keep the enemy out. Fortunately no such barriers remain and you easily arrive inside the town.
Start with a stroll along the full length of the village on the main pedestrian lane, Rue Grande, which runs straight through the middle from one end to the other, lined on both sides with old stone buildings. There will be plenty of time to double back and explore the little side lanes and venture into shops and galleries, which are mostly along the main lane.
You never have to worry about getting lost while you're walking around in this village because it is small and very clearly defined with a wall around it, so you know when you've reached the edge of town. You don't need a map to navigate your way around, so you can relax and wander -- you don't have to be in any great rush even if you only have a couple of hours, which is plenty of time to see the village. It's quite small, but each little lane is worth a close look. If you have a full day you could get that much more out of your visit.
While walking the main street you will be impressed by the preservation of its ancient shops. At almost every step one meets with the wide arch which contained both the door and window of the shop. There are more houses of obvious antiquity in this place than will be seen in any town of its size in Provence.
When you reach the far end of the main lane after a leisurely 30-minute stroll, you exit through another gateway arch and find a staircase that leads onto the wall with a lovely viewing platform where you can see across the distant landscape. From this terrace you can notice how the walls are wider in some places, with an inner walkway, perhaps for archers to stand and shoot at the attackers. The path along the parapet that sentries once patrolled is undisturbed. One almost expects to hear his challenge for the password. The town is as ready to withstand the attack of an army of bowmen or of halberdiers as it ever was. It might even defy cannon if they were as small and as weak as the old ones that you still see by the main gate. The circle of ramparts, the medieval wall around the town is unbroken. There are still the old gates, the towers, the bastions and the barbicans. St. Paul de Vence offers a vivid realization of the fortified town of the middle ages. It is but little altered and that only superficially. Its fortifications were laid down in 1547 and they are still quite complete.
The small gardens of the adjacent houses slope downhill with dark foliage and golden fruit of their orange groves, forming a beautiful foreground to the lovely views of green rolling hills that are visible off in the distance in every direction. The surrounding countryside offers some lovely nature hikes that you might also enjoy. The tourist information office has brochures describing self-guided walks in the countryside and along the outside of the village for a look at the circuit fortifications of the old wall that runs around town.
The wall extends uninterrupted all the way around the village and dates from the 16th century. It hugs the contours of the rocky spur on which the village stands, forming a 1 kilometer perimeter that has undergone only slight modifications since the 16th century. The ramparts in Saint-Paul de Vence were among the very first bastioned fortifications erected in France to have been designed by a French architect. Back in 1872, the city purchased the bastioned walls of Saint-Paul de Vence. They were declared a Listed Historical Monument in 1945. Today, they are the jewel in the village's historical crown.
At this far end you can walk through an open space between the inside of the wall and the outside of the village, which forms a driveway and small parking lot for the residents. You’ll probably see some locals out for a walk, with parked cars here and there and apartments above in the ancient stone buildings. Then you can walk back up through one of the little side alley staircases and that will return you into the center of the village.
Notice there is a four-star deluxe hotel here in the middle of town, Le Saint Paul, which would be an excellent place to stay if you ever come back and spend the night. However it's not open in the off-season, which is actually the best time to visit Saint-Paul because it is pretty empty from the end of September until April. In the peak of the busy summer season it would be a different experience altogether, with 1000 people wandering these lanes -- you might even have human gridlock, but if you are here in late September it is less crowded, and yet most of the shops and nearly all the art galleries are open.
Your walking route from this point can take off in any direction you like, bearing in mind you will soon be going in little circles, so it doesn’t matter which way you go. For now assume you are returning back along the main Rue Grande, where you will soon arrive at the Place de la Grande Fontaine, which stands in the very center of town -- redesigned in the 17th and again in the 19th century. There were several other public wells available in the village, but the Grand Fontaine was certainly the main one. The fountain was designed in a typical Provencal style and has inspired many painters and photographers. This square has always been the busiest spot in the village. From dawn until dusk villagers would come to fetch water, donkeys and mules would drink, and washerwomen would scrub and beat their laundry in the washhouse. That water basin is still there inside the loggia. And the square also hosted the weekly market in the 17th century. The fountain is designed in typical Provençal style and has inspired many painters and photographers.
Continue along the path sloping up to the right of the fountain, heading towards the church and old city hall on a small plaza. In a minute you reach the summit of the town with the church and, close to it, the two great, square towers of the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries. The taller of the towers was the belfry of the church, while the other was the tower of the town.
The church, L'église Collégiale, dates from the same era as the towers. The church is a small but remarkable monument with an interior that is one of the most beautiful in Provence and certainly one of the most interesting. Among its most notable features are a couple of altar screens of exquisitely carved wood, which date from between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries. The chapel of St. Clement the Martyr, is a magnificent work of art. It is classified as a national monument. Called the Collegiate Church, the construction stretched about 400 years from the 14th to the 18th century. There’s another advantage to visiting this old church -- next to it you'll find public toilets, which really come in handy.
Getting hungry is no problem with the limited but adequate choice of restaurants, ranging from take-out sandwich to sit-down feast. Consider the friendly crêperie in front of the church with a barrel-vaulted interior that's probably about 500 years old. We had a chance to learn the name of the restaurant from the very friendly lady who owns it. “THE is the French name for tea, and we are a tea room”, she explained, listing crepes, salad, tarte and soups as specialties. Quite easy to find, it's located on the staircase lane just in front of the church. Typical of nearly all the restaurants and cafés of France, you might see a few dogs inside, welcome as part of daily life here, showing how relaxed and friendly people are.
Even though it's a small village we have a lot more lanes to explore, so keep walking. There is just something very special about narrow, pedestrian, medieval stone lanes -- you are surrounded left and right and front and rear by such interesting visuals gliding by, it makes you want to see it all.
Walk around behind the church along Rue Cassette, which leads you to Rue de l'Allée along the backside of town, which offers a view across the distant hills. Continuing along brings you to another lane with vaulting overhead, rue de l'Étoile. You'll often find the arch motif incorporated into the old stone architecture for interiors as well as gateways.
The characteristic stone arch is not on the main lane, so you do need to walk around and explore even in such a tiny village as St-Paul -- get off the main lane and check out the side streets for more shops and sights. Here you will see a wine cellar doorway on the right leading into La Petite Cave de Saint Paul. It's a 14th-century wine cellar open now for wine tasting and purchase, operated by Frederick Theys, an expert who has traveled the world and brought back some great wines, and who was a sommelier in Paris at the Ritz Hotel and the Hotel George 5th.
While walking around in St-Paul de Vence you cannot help but notice the many attractive art galleries. In fact there are at least 21 art galleries in this little town and in addition there are 26 art studios, or ateliers, which is a major reason visitors flock here, but by now you realize Saint-Paul offers much more than mere art galleries. The town itself is a living, breathing work of art breathing work of art.
The way the official Tourism Information Office describes it: “Modern, contemporary, fringe, naive… on gallery walls in Saint-Paul de Vence, talented artists from all schools rub shoulders with their illustrious peers. The village is an open-air gallery with artists at work in their studios and staging exciting exhibitions. A painting hung in the morning can find a home before evening falls… if it captures the heart of a visitor.”
Sometimes as you're walking along you might get lucky and notice an artist inside their studio at work, so go on inside and say hello, maybe have a conversation. They perhaps will tell you something about their work and their style. It’s not very often you can stand over the shoulder of artists and watch them work. You could buy a painting, so contemporary it's still wet.
A lot of money is flowing through this little town with so many high-end art galleries everywhere, and fortunately these funds have been put to good use in fixing up and maintaining the physical structure. There is no graffiti, no trash, nothing is broken and everything is sparkling. They keep the place spic and span, so if you want to see an old medieval village that is as clean as today go visit St-Paul in Provence.
There are also a variety of shops for your perusal: 6 craft shops and 20 other shops for gifts, kitchen goods, glass, clothing, ceramics and herbs -- all sorts of things. There's a bakery, a deli, you can buy olive oil, perfumes and even furniture.
Once again observe how the paving on the lanes is precise and beautiful. It’s so carefully arranged that the sidewalk looks worthy enough to be exhibited inside the galleries or maybe in the Louvre. The first cobbles were laid on village streets in the 1950s and have been perfected so much they are among the finest that you will ever see. Of course cobblestone paving is not all that unusual in small European streets. You find all varieties of size and shapes of the cobbles in your travels -- sometimes large flat flagstones, or crude blocks with deep roots, and other cases like here, so precious they’re more like a necklace that encircles the town with colored stones.
Before leaving St-Paul consider visiting the nearby contemporary art museum, the Maeght Foundation, open every day of the year. It's an easy 600-meter, 10-minute walk from St-Paul, out the front gate, turn left at the bus stop, up a driveway to the garden where you'll be soon enjoying sculptures in the yard by Giacometti, Leger, Miro and many others including Calder, Chagall and Braque. It was founded in 1964 and has got one of the great collections of modern art in all of Europe. For those who enjoy modern art, this small museum is a real treat.
They specialize in 20th-century art, for example with a nice selection of Kandinsky, generally considered to be the inventor of abstract art, the first modern painter. Chagall is another favorite here, and Leger. More than 200,000 visitors come every year. In the summer time it's open from 10 AM till 7 PM and October to June closes at 6 PM. They have a marvelous collection of paintings and sculpture, indoors and out.
After visiting the more commercial art galleries and shops in St-Paul it's refreshing to immerse yourself in some of the finest artists of the 20th century and enjoy some great works by them. Also on the property is a nice café and a library, and a cinema and the garden setting.
When finished with your visit to the museum it's even easier to walk back to the village of St-Paul because now it's downhill – it's only half a mile, going take you 10-15 minutes and along the way you'll see the houses, with a few cars buzzing by, a bit shocking after the tranquility of Saint-Paul.
Don’t leave yet! Return to the village, maybe now it is prime time, late afternoon/early evening, and stroll around. Take you on a walk again through town later in the day enjoying the late afternoon lighting and right on into the evening, which is a really magical time to be here. Why not re-trace all your steps from earlier in the day with this more subdued and magical lighting? This heavenly place deserves another good look. St. Paul, appears so unlike our modern workaday world of hotels, and houses, and railway-stations, and shops, that one can hardly believe that this place is real, and that we are not seeing it in some happy dream. It is very real, however. It has its modern life of births, deaths, and marriages, and its ancient history, dating as far back as the ninth century.
Saint-Paul started life as a fortified village back in the Middle Ages. It's up on a hill and they built a stone wall around it and filled the little village with these stone structures and the stone church, and different little town squares. The architectural interest of the place is immediately apparent. On every hand is evidence of genuine ancient and unaltered work.
The doorways are old and varied in form and almost everyone has a paneled lintel supported by corbels, many of the former containing carved shields and ornaments, and enriched with leaves and scrolls.
In St. Paul de Vence will be seen, in almost every street, examples of the little shops of the Middle Ages. Under a wide arch or in a square opening will be found a door approached by a step and by the door a window.
Most of these doorways are from the beginning of the sixteenth century, and indicate very early Renaissance work. Others are carved and molded with the double curvature of the late Gothic style, and a few show marks of a simpler and earlier design.
The population of the village and the immediate surroundings is about 3.500 people, most of them living in houses as scattered around in the countryside just outside the walls.
Improvements have of course been made, repairs completed. The town of St. Paul remains a rare relic worthy to be placed entirely inside a museum, for it is a museum specimen, but it’s an outdoor museum, a living museum of the very best kind.
While there are a few small private garden courtyards tucked away here and there, for the most part the greenery is potted plants, and it's particularly noticeable as you walk along the narrow residential lane – they have their gardens hanging out front in flower pots.
Take a stroll through little village in the evening when the lighting is beguiling and the town is at its most charming. In the evening it takes on a different character altogether, the soft glow of twilight, and it is very quiet, the shops are closed and there are just a few people walking about. It's more tranquil, hardly any visitors, especially now in the off-season and you really get a chance to take in the physical beauty of St-Paul de Vence.
In the 20th century St-Paul was discovered by actors, poets and writers. The 1950s and '60s were the village's Golden Age. Saint-Paul became an amazing film set, hosting French and foreign movie stars drawn to the French Riviera by the Victorine film studios in Nice and by the Cannes Film Festival.
When you take a close look you'll see most of the art for sale is high quality. Another way to expand your visit is to go inside the galleries, take a look inside the shops, talk to some shopkeepers, especially in small place like this with may be 2 km of lanes altogether, go ahead on inside, walk around – that's why the doors open and they want you to come in, they want your business – even if you just taking a look and then exiting and continuing on your little walk.
There is a friendly and helpful tourist information office in the Old Town at the beginning of Rue Grande, where a guide told the following story: “St-Paul is very famous because before it was a very little village with a lot of artists like Picasso, Chagall. There were French actors, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret. In the village you can find around 50 galleries, workshops and artists and so, a lot of shops of decoration of the house. The village was built in 11th – 12th centuries for the first fortifications, and after by Françoise Premiere in the 16th century. It's a medieval village. If you want to do a tour of the village you can find the main street where you can find the shops, the galleries, everything. You have the place where they have the big fountain, and also the heart of the village with the church. And also a lot of shops, the pleasant charming streets, yes. About the history of the village, you can find several houses that were from the 12th century. Also for the fortifications, they were built in the 16th century by Françoise Premiere. And St-Paul was a royal city. In the village you can find around three hotels, and there are two very famous hotels. So one with four stars, the name is Le Saint-Paul, and you can live in the heart of the village. So you have different views on the West side, on the East side. After you have the very, very famous hotel, the name is La Colombe d'Or, and the hotel is very famous because different artists like Chagall, Miro, Picasso lived there before. So on the walls of the hotel you can find the paintings, sculpture of the very famous artists. It's a very charming hotel, yes.”
The Tourist Information website has quite a few brochures available for viewing on-line or for downloading as a pdf. And they also list the shops, the galleries, the artist studios and the hotels.
Well it's finally time to depart St-Paul going out through that same medieval gateway through which you entered many centuries ago. It's a double gateway you see for a really strong defensive fortification.
It's easy to find the bus stop – just walk out the main gate, through the little park across the Place DeGaulle, a very famous gaming courtyard where they love to play pétanque, the ballgame called boules elsewhere. The actor Yves Montand was known to spend a lot of time there back in the days when he was around. If you're here in nice weather during you'll probably see several games going on.
The bus stop is only a short block away. We shall keep our eye on the clock and the bus schedules so that we don't have to wait too long at the bus stop -- they only come about every hour. The only public transportation available is the bus and it's quite convenient. Bus number 400, and the price is very reasonable, only two euro for the bus ticket.
It's an easy ride back to Nice -- it takes about one hour. The bus will take you all the way back into the heart of the city, with some nice scenery along the way. Some views of St-Paul from the distance as you drive by, back to the city of Nice, the best home base for exploring the French Riviera.
The bus is very convenient because it'll take you direct – you don't have to transfer, and it'll bring you to Albert the 1st Park right at Avenue Verdun, a few blocks from our hotel.
Home to rest up after a very busy day. By now you are tired, so get a good rest and be ready for another big day tomorrow.