Just up the road from the beaches of Cannes and Antibes stands St Paul de Vence, a medieval walled city on a hill, with gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside. Founded in 1388, St Paul de Vence developed into a retreat for artists in the mid-20th century, with famous names like Chagall, Matisse and Picasso spending time painting there.
St Paul de Vence is surrounded by a city wall, complete with battlements and a cannon facing the main entrance. It was an important fortification for France in medieval times, and the excellent sight lines that led to its selection as a fort make for some beautiful views today. The town’s layout of meandering cobblestone streets seems unchanged from that time, and one can happily wander around from art gallery to coffee shop, to gelato stand, to church, to another art gallery, and so on.
At the back of the city stands the village graveyard, which surrounds the 16th century Church of St. Michel. The artist Marc Chagall lived in the village for 20 years and he featured it in many of his later paintings. You can visit his tomb, where he lies buried with his wife and her brother. It’s a simple slab tomb, somewhat near the front and center. The cemetery is understated beauty, with gorgeous views, flowers and walking paths.
Other sites to see include the recently completed Folon Chapel, by the Belgian artist Folon, La Place de la Grande Fontaine (Great Fountain Square), the pétanque court where locals still gather to play ball games, and the café right off the court, where celebrated artists gathered in the 1920s and 30s, including Chagall, Matisse, Braque, Picasso, Léger and Folon. What a scene that must have been!
Our boys loved exploring the cobblestone alleyways of the city and peering down into the old wells. They felt as if they were in some fairy tale and wanted to explore every twist and tun. Only stopping for gelato or pet a local cat.
The Tourist Information Office in St Paul de Vence offers guided tours Monday through Saturday. They have 10 different tours you can take in various languages. Adults are 7€ and children 12 and under are free. You can also rent pétanque boules from the office.
St Paul de Vence is a magical place to visit, with surprises around every corner. We can’t wait to return!