Last Updated on 01/07/2023 by secretmoona
Saint Paul de Vence is one of the prettiest and most authentic perched villages in the South of France. In this charming village, you will find many treasures through its narrow streets, ramparts, old stone houses, and Mediterranean-style architecture. The town is home to many art galleries, studios, and ateliers, and art lovers will love getting lost in the winding flights of steps and streets.
St Paul de Vence is a small village, an easy day trip from Nice. An afternoon is plenty to explore the town; however, you will want to take your time exploring as many galleries and shops as possible and stopping in a shop for a coffee break. The tranquil and charming town is one of the most visited villages for a reason. It captivates visitors right from the entrance, where locals like to play a game of pétanque in the town square.
Here are the best things to do in Saint Paul de Vence, one of the loveliest towns on the French Riviera.
Where is Saint Paul de Vence located?
Located on a rocky outcrop in the Alpes-Maritimes department, not far from the Mediterranean Sea in the South of France, Saint Paul de Vence is right in the heart of Provence. Thanks to its excellent location, it can be easily reached from major cities such as Cagnes-sur-Mer (7km), Nice (20km), Antibes (17km) and Cannes (27km). You can plan a one-day or half-day trip from any location on the French Riviera.
When to visit St. Paul de Vence?
The best time to visit St. Paul de Vence is during the low season, from September to April. We stayed in December, and there were hardly any visitors. We were able to enjoy the beautiful village without encountering many tourists. And in the Cote d’Azur, even in winter, the weather is relatively warm, and the sun is often there!
Visiting during the summer months might be the most popular. So if travelling in the high of summer, get there as early as possible. If you get there before the shops open at 10 am, you will then avoid the crowds as most people tend to arrive around 11 am. I also advise you to avoid weekends!
How long do you need to visit Saint Paul de Vence?
Thanks to its compact size, you can visit the village in half a day. However, if you prefer to take your time and explore the surroundings, then a day is perfect.
Is it worth visiting St. Paul de Vence?
Saint Paul de Vence is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. If you want to experience a more local vibe, away from the hustle and bustle of Nice or Cannes, add the village to your itinerary.
Although I have been told that the village is over-touristy during the summer, I still believe it’s a charming town worth visiting. The tiny hilltop village has kept its authentic charm. Strolling the village’s cobbled streets, you will be able to experience not only the culture of the town but also beautiful architecture.
You can spend an afternoon visiting the unique galleries and shops, admiring the art scattered in the town and relaxing in a cafe while getting a feel of the Mediterranean atmosphere. The village also offers an incredible view of the surrounding hills and the Mediterranean Sea not far.
A little history of St Paul de Vence
St. Paul-de-Vence is one of the Cote d’Azur’s gems. It is one of the many “village perché”, which means perched village. These villages are often nested high on a hilltop or mountaintop and fortified. France has many charming fortified towns, just like the Eze Village. This beautiful fortified medieval village attracts tourists all year round.
Founded by the king of France, Francis I, the village was fortified in the 13th century. It became a Royal City under Francois I, who built the ramparts in the 16th century to enclose the town completely. They are a replica of the Citadel of Nice.
During the 1920s, the hills were covered with flowers, vines and olive trees. The light of the South and the village’s architecture attracted impressionist artists such as Paul Signac and Chaim Soutine, who came to paint the beauty of Provence. More and more artists, poets, writers and celebrities arrived in the 50s, such as Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Jacques Prévert and Pablo Picasso. Following the marriage of French artists Yves Montand and Simone Signoret in 1951, the village welcomed French and international stars. The opening of the Maeght Foundation (see below), with its incredible collection of contemporary arts, added to the prestige. And just like that, the quiet village became the hub for artists and art lovers.
Things to do in Saint Paul de Vence
Walk the ramparts of St Paul de Vence
Dating back to the 16th century, the village ramparts testify to St Paul de Vence’s medieval past. The perched village was once a military stronghold, and although the walls are now mostly in ruins, they are still cool to see. Surrounding the village, the ramparts offer the best vantage point over the town and the surrounding Provence. To see all the beauty, walk on top of the walls and see the countryside with its vineyards and olive groves. Looking inwards, you’ll see some incredible sculptures and charming stone buildings covered in vines.
Discover the medieval remains.
St Paul charms visitors as soon as they arrive. The remains of the ramparts encircling the village are a testimony of its military past and history. After walking the ramparts, head to the other historical monuments.
Firstly, the dungeon or “donjon”. It is the only remaining structure of the castle of Saint-Paul de Vence. Its base was built in the 12th century, and a bell tower was installed in the 14th century. It now houses the village’s town hall.
Secondly, head to see the Espéron Tower, the square-shaped tower and then the Porte de Vence, one of the first obstacles enemies had to overcome before entering the small town.
Visit the Cimetière de St. Paul de Vence
Visiting a cemetery is not something I would do; however, the graveyard of St. Paul de Vence, located just outside the ramparts, cannot be missed. The two main reasons people might visit are (1) it offers exceptional views and (2) the final resting place of Russian painter Marc Chagall, who resided in the village from 1966 until he died in 1985. The artist and painter moved to Vence after WWII in 1949 before settling in St. Paul de Vence. For years he depicted the lives of local people and the marvellous landscapes of the French Riviera. His work can be found at the National Chagall Museum in Nice.
Wander around Saint Paul de Vence
Walking through the village’s streets is the best thing to do in St Paul. No map is needed; just let yourself get carried away and follow the winding roads and alleys, be sure to bring comfortable shoes and your camera!
Narrow alleys, pretty arches, small gardens, old stone houses decorated with flowers and wisterias – all the streets of St. Paul de Vence are lovely and exude the charm of Provence. If a place is this pretty in winter, imagine it in the summertime!
As in any medieval village, it’s impossible not to get lost in the narrow streets. I enjoyed strolling around with no goal other than enjoying the picturesque town. I could appreciate the tranquillity of the place, where time seemed to be frozen.
Visit the Eglise Collégiale Saint Paul (Collegiate church)
The church of St Paul took four centuries to be completed, starting in the 14th century. Therefore the architecture shows different styles. 1666 it was elevated to a collegiate church, and its Romanesque interior was renovated and upgraded.
Watch the locals play pétanque
Pétanque is not only a traditional game but also an institution in Provence. The game of ball or boules, often assimilated to summer, is an extreme sport. Every village or town in the South will have a pétanque terrain or even clubs. The game aims to throw the ball as close as possible to the goal (called jack or cochonnet) or move the opposing ball from the jack.
Located at the village entrance, Place de Gaulle, also known as “Place du Jeu de Boules”, is where locals spend their time playing. It’s fun to watch, as players can be pretty competitive. Please sit by the Café de la Place and watch them play while sipping on an aperitif.
If you want to try, the Tourist Office offers an hour introduction to pétanque for €7 balls included (free for children under 12), or you can hire the balls for €4 per person. Bookings can be made here.
Visit the shops, workshops and galleries.
Many artists have been attracted to St Paul and have lived there. How can you not fall in love with the picturesque little village? Even today, the town keeps attracting artists.
The village is full of art galleries, studios and little boutiques along the winding, pebbled streets (especially in Rue Grande). Wandering the streets of St Paul is just strolling in an open-air museum as you will see many pieces by local artists. Be sure to visit the galleries and discover the colourful and impressive works.
To take a souvenir home, what is better than perfume? The village has not one but two famous perfumeries: Maison Godet Parfum on Rue Grande and Maison Fragonard. The latter has a factory where you can create your scent.
Shop in the market of St. Paul de Vence
Foodie or not, no visit to France is complete without wandering in a market. Especially in Provence and Saint Paul, de Vence’s farmers’ market is a must. Wandering between market stalls, you can smell and taste typical Provençal specialities. Along with the usual fruits and vegetables, the market is packed with cheeses, fruits, honey, olive oil, nougat, jams, aromatic herbs, artisanal soaps, etc.
The farmers’ market occurs every Wednesday and Friday morning from 9 am to 2 pm on Square de Gaulle.
Take a stroll past the home of Jacques Prévert.
Jacques Prévert was a French poet and screenwriter who moved to Saint-Paul de Vence in 1941. He was a close friend of the owner of La Colombe d’Or; his collage creations can still be seen on the hotel’s walls.
After staying at the La Résidence (now Café de la Place), he settled at La Miette, a small house on a picturesque corner in the winding backstreets of the village. People can now rent the renovated house via Airbnb.
Fontaine de Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Located in the cobbled square, the fountain was built in 1615 and designed in a typical Provencal style. Like most perched villages, each village square will have a fountain with water pouring from four sprouts. It used to serve for daily activities such as washing clothes, drinking water for horses etc.
Situated in Place de la Grande Fontaine, you won’t miss it. The ground of the square is covered with calade pebbles (a typical Provençal coating). The fountain is always decorated depending on the season.
Visit the Folon Chapel (chapel of the white penitents)
One of the top things to do in Saint-Paul-de-Vence is to see the Folon Chapel. Dating back to the 17th century (restored in 2005), the chapel used to be the headquarters of the White Penitents, believers who did good work to be forgiven for their sins. Seeing how the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon decorated it is worth a visit. The artists painted White Penitents’ chapel from floor to ceiling in pastel colour, creating a beautiful and serene atmosphere. The entry fee is €7 for adults and free for children under 12.
Visit the Fondation Maeght
Before leaving St. Paul de Vence, visit the Fondation Marguerite and Aimé Maeght. If you were on the bus from Nice, you would have passed it as it’s the stop before the village.
With over 13,000 works on display, it is one of France’s largest private modern and contemporary art collections. Founded by Marguerite and Aimé Maeght in 1964, the building hosts a wealth of sculptures, paintings, ceramics and more. Several artists collaborated with the architect Josep Luis Sert to create this unique architectural ensemble: the Giacometti courtyard, the mosaics of Chagall, the stained glass window of Braque, and the Miró labyrinth, among others.
At the Maeght Foundation, visitors can admire installations both inside and outside. Allow about an hour and a half to explore the museum, including wandering in the garden dotted with sculptures.
Price: €15 for adults and €10 for kids. The Foundation will be closed until 1st July for renovation work.
Hiking on the paths around the village
Hiking around Saint Paul de Vence is one of the best ways to discover the natural surroundings. There are several beautiful walks and paths in and around the village. Head to the Tourist Office for a map of the different walks available.
- Circuit of the fortifications in Saint-Paul de Vence: this walk loops around the village walls and bastions. It offers stunning panoramas of the ramparts.
- Saint-Paul de Vence to Tourettes-sur-Loup: this easy walk takes you from one picturesque village to another via the woods of La Sine.
- Walk between Vence and Saint-Paul-de-Vence: The walk is pretty as it takes you through charming little streets.
Where To Eat In St Paul de Vence?
Despite its small size, there are surprisingly lots of restaurants in the village of Saint-Paul de Vence.
La Colombe d’Or
La Colombe d’Or hotel and restaurant is legendary on the French Riviera. Since its opening by the Roux family, the restaurant has been the meeting place of famous artists such as Braque, César, Calder and many others. The food here is everything you’d expect from the South of France: traditional and Provencal gourmet cuisine. The restaurant is often full, so be sure to book in advance.
Le Café de la Place
Like La Colombe d’Or, Café de la Place is important in the village, where artists meet to discuss and gossip about everything. The food served here is traditionally French and reasonably priced.
If you are looking to have a small meal, then stop by Café Timothé. They offer organic and local products. The atmosphere is cosy, and the service is excellent.
Where to stay in Saint Paul de Vence?
St. Paul de Vence is mostly visited within a day since the last bus to Nice departs around 7:30 pm. Not ideal if you wish to experience the village after dark.
The village has a few hotels for those who wish to spend a day or two. St Paul de Vence is surrounded by other small and picturesque towns worth visiting: Vence, Tourrettes-sur-Loup and La Colle sur Loup. Here are some accommodation options, but you can find a more exhaustive list of hotels here.
La Colombe d’Or Hotel and Restaurant
This boutique hotel is where the likes of Matisse and Picasso used to dine in the village. Back in the 20s, this was just a 3-bed inn. The owner and art lover Paul Roux used to trade paintings for meals and a stay at his inn. Now, his modest La Colombe d’Or has transformed into a luxury hotel/restaurant where guests (celebrity or not) can admire paintings worth millions. There are now a dozen rooms plus twelve suites. Stay at La Colombe d’Or if you want to experience the French charm at its finest.
Hotel Les Vergers de Saint Paul
Located near Fondation Maeght, this hotel offers a charming atmosphere, spacious rooms and a refreshing pool.
Hotel Le Saint-Paul
Located in the heart of the village, Hotel Le Saint-Paul is a great 5* hotel part of the Relais & Chateau. This hotel is for you if you want to splurge and experience the decadent life.
Map of Saint Paul de Vence
St Paul is a small village, so you can get by without a map since you can’t get lost. However, I highly recommend you pick a map from the Tourist Office for further information.
How to get to St Paul de Vence from Nice
Saint Paul de Vence is ideally located between La Colle sur Loup and Vence. Getting to St-Paul-de-Vence, located 20km from Nice, is simple. Here are the different ways to get to the village.
By Tram + bus
This is the cheapest way to reach the charming village but the longest. The trip from Nice to Saint-Paul de Vence takes about an hour and ten minutes and costs 3 euros.
From Nice Centre, take the tramway n°2 to Parc Phoenix. Then bus n° 400 from Parc Phoenix or Aéroport Promenade to Saint Paul de Vence Village. The timetables for the bus can be found/downloaded here. Once you arrive at the bus stop, walk downhill to the village entrance.
Be aware that the Nice and St. Paul-de-Vence are on two different bus networks. Lignes Azur operates the tramways and most buses within Nice, whereas Zou operates the bus to St. Paul de Vence! Alpes-Maritimes.
Getting to Saint-Paul-de-Vence by car
The most convenient and fastest way to reach Saint Paul de Vence, especially Fondation Maeght, is by driving. If you are coming from Nice, Cagnes sur Mer or Italy, take the A8 motorway to exit n° 48. Follow the signs to “La Colle sur Loup / Vence” on the RD (route) 436. There is the Indigo underground car park near the village entrance or the parking by Fondation Maeght (free).
By train + bus
The nearest train station is Cagnes-sur-Mer. From there, take bus n°400 at the stop: Cagnes-sur-Mer / Station Square du 8 Mai SNCF. Saint Paul de Vence is within 15 min.
By air + bus
The nearest airport to Saint Paul de Vence is Nice Côte d’Azur Airport. From Terminal 1, travel by car if you have opted to get a rental car or by public transport (bus n° 400).
You can also reach St. Paul de Vence by taxi. Nice has a great transport service and many taxis, including Uber.
Final thoughts on the Best Things to Do in Saint Paul de Vence
Saint Paul de Vence is a postcard-perfect village, which can be overcrowded. Saint Paul de Vence is undeniably one of the most beautiful villages in France, with its narrow streets, typical Provencal houses, and ramparts with panoramic views. Visit and discover St Paul’s authentic atmosphere, albeit out of season.
Have you been to Saint Paul De Vence? I’d love to hear your thoughts; otherwise, let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.