St-Paul de Vence, a painter’s destination:
As we approached this picturesque fortified hilltop village of St-Paul de Vence, it’s easy to see why this landscape was a favourite subject for artists in the past. If, like me, you can’t paint to save your life, then the next best thing to do to try and capture the imposing image is to click frantically on our digital cameras.
St-Paul de Vence was founded in the 9th century, but its more modern ramparts were the work of King François I. During the late 14th century, around the time of Columbus, King François indulged in his love of all things Italian. He invited Leonardo da Vinci to spend his last years in France so that he could enjoy his art. But King François’ love of things Italian didn’t stop at just enjoying its art and culture – he also fancied controlling part of Italy. He conducted a campaign of alternating attacks and retreats and in anticipation of retaliatory actions, he therefore built frontier garrisons. Hence, the fortification of St-Paul de Vence.
Where we walked
St-Paul de Vence is one of the most famous and popular hill villages on the Nice hinterland. The village is small enough and if you have time, it’s great weaving in and out of the many narrow and winding streets and being surprised by whatever crops up. We wanted to see where Marc Chagall was buried and therefore headed straight for the Porte sud de Nice (South Gate of Nice). It’s sad that the tomb of this great artist is rather dilapidated although the cemetery itself is beautifully maintained. From this serene location, you get a nice panoramic view of the surrounding area.
Leaving the cemetery, we walked up Rue Grande, a former Roman road, lined with many 16th and 17th century houses with doors bearing coats-of-arms. Two-thirds of the way up Rue Grande we reached the Grande Fontaine, one of the most famous fountains in France, dating to the 1850s. Our peace and quiet here was interrupted by the arrival of a Spanish tour group and Tony was lucky that he was able to grab shots of the fountain before people from the group scrambled to pose in front of it.
St-Paul de Vence is a city of artists and if you’re in the market for artwork, there are many fine art galleries and studios on both sides of the street beckoning you to come in and have a look, and perhaps buy. But if you get caught up in the galleries, then you could be missing out on seeing other historical sights like the White Penitent’s Chapel at Place d’Eglise, the Collegial Church and the Dungeon.
As you exit the village, the Boules court is on the left and the nearby Café de la Place is where locals meet up to socialise. Some of the tourists were invited to have a go at petanque (or boules), but their efforts could not in any way match those of the well practiced locals.
Across the road is the famous Colombe d’Or auberge. It was hugely popular with many artists and writers who flocked to the Riviera in the 1920’s. As the artists didn’t have a lot of money, they often paid for their lodging and meals with their paintings resulting in the auberge now having a priceless collection of art, including a Leger mural on the terrace, a Braque dove by the pool and a Picasso and a Matisse in the dining room. We were too early for the restaurant opening and all I could do was peer through the slightly open door to get a glimpse of the gardens.
St-Paul de Vence’s numerous famous residents included Chagall, Matisse and Dufy. And, did you know that:
- D H Lawrence died and was buried here in 1930 (his ashes were later moved to New Mexico)
- F. Scott Fitzgerald spent a lot of time here and “Tender was the Night” was based on this village?
The local museum has a photo display of St-Paul’s celebrity visitors, but on this morning I didn’t recognise any of the people strolling through the village. Such is life!
St-Paul de Vence is a charming place to visit and certainly one that I’d love to spend more time in the next around.
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