Exploring a hilltop village in France

A hilltop village on the edge of the French Riviera and the Alpes Maritimes, fortified since medieval times and presently boasting with an art collection within its narrow streets to make you weep.  The hilltop village of St. Paul de Vence is the perfect escape for a busy mind.

Hilltop Villages1St. Paul de Vence in perfectly preserved in time, with the narrow streets still exactly the same as it was in medieval times and in 16th century when the village fortifications were added.  It is easily reachable from Nice and Antibes and a morning or day spent here will be well worth your time.  When I researched my trip to the Cote d’Azur, St. Paul de Vence was not a place I was particularly interested in.  Other hilltop towns on the Cote d’Azur like Eze village, is much more publicized (what a waste of money in my opinion!) than St. Paul de Vence.  It was only when the wise owner of the B&B we stayed at in Nice advised as to rather go to St. Paul de Vence first, as we won’t be disappointed.  We followed her advise and took the bus to the village.  You can take the Vence->Nice line 400 to the village.  Going by car is probably faster, if you have one, otherwise the bus is a perfect budget option.  Go early, before the rush and maybe take some time to have breakfast once you’re there.

Firstly, you’ll be greeted by the canon and a big stone arch entrance.

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The best part about St. Paul de Vence in not all the old structures that’s still standing, but the fact that almost every shop in the narrow streets has been transformed into some form of art gallery.  You can find high-end pieces here up to artwork that will suit a budget traveler’s pocket.  It’s possible to stroll around for hours, without a map and go from gallery to gallery to just explore then artist mind.  Looking is free, of course.

Why did a fortified strategic town end up as a mini art hub?  Well, there used to be only one restaurant in town, Cafe Robinson, that was frequent by the big names of the Riviera Art Trail like Picasso, Matisse, Signac, Renoir, Chagall, Soutine and Braque.  Apparently the owner accepted painting for compensation for dining at the restaurant and built up quite the collection.

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DSC00479DSC00474*Photos of artwork taken with permission of shop owners.

What else you should not miss:

– The narrow streets and beautiful views of the area

– ‘Cave shops’

– Landmarks: The Grand Fontaine, Place de la Mairie, Eglise Collegiale, Pontis and the Local History Museum

– Stylish souvenirs

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I was so happy that I followed the advice of our host!  St. Paul de Vence really surprised me.  It’s not filled with tacky souvenir shops, nor is it overrun by massive Asian tour groups.  I guess it’s touristic without being touristic, or even trying.

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This is part of the #AllAboutFrance linkup

Lou Messugo

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