Saint Paul de Vence Travel Guide
St-Paul de Vence is one of the most beautiful perched towns in the French Riviera, and the most visited village in France. St-Paul de Vence captivates travelers and tourists by the mesmerizing beauty of its surroundings and the art that it harbors within its walls — numerous 20th-century masters lived in the town.
The walls exist in a spade-like shape surrounding the town, housing the 300 locals that reside inside. The remaining population lives in the valleys and heights, in luxurious villas. Gardens, orchards, villas and far-off mountains adorn the picture-perfect views from the town. The combination of architecture, nature, and the arts is spectacular.
Place du Géneral da Gaulle greets the visitors before the gateway to the pedestrian-only village. Large trees provide shade for the area where you can witness a game of pétanque or boules, a traditional French ball game, or pick up some souvenirs and a snack. Inside, cobblestones cover the narrow lanes, with old stone cottages on either side, many housing art studios, galleries, ateliers, restaurants, and shops.
St Paul de Vence has been inhabited since 400 BC, making it one of the oldest towns of the French Riviera. It has a population of around 3500 (300 inside the old walled town).
As a village perché (perched village), it rests against the mountain backdrop. Woodlands of cypresses, dotted with occasional azure pools from the villas, surround the area. The ramparts give a stunning view of the French Riviera’s sea and, being slightly inland, also of the northwest the peaks of the Alps.
Budget one day to explore the town. While you can speed-walk through the old town in an hour, you’ll want to take it slow and have a look in the many art galleries and churches, and savor a croissant or coffee on a terrace overlooking the hills and sea. Don’t miss the beautiful forest walks and famous art museums. Before you visit, make sure to check out our guide to the best (and worst!) times to visit.
What To See
Here are the main sights in St Paul de Vence:
For a millennium, the walls of St-Paul de Vence have surrounded the now cobbled streets, giving unfailing protection to the heritage that stood the test of time. It is still under siege, not by those who seek to conquer, but by those who want to fill their aesthetic longing.
Kingdoms of old relied on walls for protection and defense. For hundreds, and even thousands of years they stood as witnesses to different sieges and attacks done for the sake of might and power. The strong survived and the weak crumbled. Now, many of those walls stand as proof for those moments in history. But some are not just forsaken monumental structures and ruins. They harbor within and around them beauty and wonders for modern curious souls to behold.
During the Middle Ages, St-Paul de Vence occupied a strategic location. Initially, it was built as a protection from Saracen pirate raids. It became an important strategic location as Nice shifted its allegiance from Provence to Savoy in the 14th century. The ramparts were erected then to fortify the stronghold, and two of the original towers are still standing; Porte de Vence and Tour de l’Esperon.
By the 16th century, consecutive attacks prompted François I to reinforce the defenses. In 1524 the King of Spain Charles V occupied St-Paul and besieged it again in 1536 because of its importance on the play of powers in Europe. François I made a treaty with Nice and had the Commander of Artillery Jean de Renaud de Saint-Remy work on the fortifications between 1543 and 1547. They put French spurs on the bastions (called orillons) to protect the two gates, along with curtain walls to guard the flanks.
The Grande Fontaine
The fountain was built in 1615 by Melchior Martin, a local stonecutter. This square was once a market and an important landmark during the middle ages. It has been listed as a historic monument in the French Riviera since 1850. It has sustained a steady supply of drinking water for the village since it was built.
The Town Hall
Local History Museum
The ‘Museé de l’Histoire Locale de St-Paul de Vence’ is a must-see. Wax figures of historical persons like King François I and Queen Jeanne gather in this ancient village house to commemorate the history of St-Paul de Vence. Kids will enjoy the dioramas in costumes.
Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs
The 17th-century ‘Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs’ is known by locals as Folon Chapel, after Jean-Michel Folon, the Belgian artist who decorated the interior with his art. On the street, it’s an unassuming old church, but the decoration inside is almost luminescent. Folon worked with artisans to create the stained glass windows, and decorated the chapel with paintings, sculptures and vibrant mosaics. The chapel is an extraordinary gateway into Folon’s world, communicating his fascination with light and the spiritual. You’ll also see just how many disciplines Folon mastered, from painting and sculpture to ceramics, tapestries and glasswork.
The village church was constructed in the 14th century. It preserves its choir and four pillars that date back to the Romanesque church. The Bishop of Vence raised it to collegiate status in 1666. The main attraction is the relics from catacombs in Rome, frescoes, and baroque art.
Fondation Maeght Art Museum
Ensconced in a pine forest on the Colline des Gardettes hill above St Paul de Vence, the Fondation Maeght is a modern art museum of a caliber that you won’t come across very often, which is why the museum attracts over 200,000 visitors each year.
The museum is outside the walls of St-Paul de Vence. You’ll need to take a 10 to 20-minute walk from the town on the wooded hills among the dark pines to reach it. From the bus stop, you can see the signs that point to the way. Coming from the lower lot, a shortcut on a steep dirt path through the trees leads directly to the green gate in front of the ticket booth.
Check out our guide to Fondation Maeght Art Museum.
The Ancient Cemetery & St-Michel Chapel
Not a very touristy place to visit, but still important because it is the place where Marc Chagall is laid to rest . He died in 1985, having lived in St-Paul for 19 years. It is also the home of the oldest church in the town, dated 12th-century.
Where to Stay
St Paul de Vence is home to one of the most unique lodging options you’ll find anywhere: the Orion Treehouses . With four very private rustic-luxe treehouses, a Nordic-style sauna, and a natural pool (complete with a little waterfall and some very adorable frogs), it’s a nature-lover’s heaven that’s walking-distance to the old town. This tiny bed and breakfast is run by a charming mother-daughter team and the gourmet, 100% organic breakfast is enough food to last you through until dinner.
Getting to St-Paul de Vence
The Nice airport is only 12 kilometers east. Bus #400 runs between St-Paul and Nice once or twice per hour. Car parking is only available at the Fondation and a couple of other car parks around the town, but no cars or bikes are allowed in the old town itself. Nearby towns are Antibes (16 kilometers) and Cannes (26 kilometers).
Video Tour of St Paul de Vence
With the quintessential combination of art, heritage, and nature, St Paul de Vence is a true bastion for rooted culture and astonishing scenery.