Just 20 minutes from Nice lies the bohemian Saint-Paul-de-Vence, one of the country's most picturesque villages. Over the years artists and poets like Marc Chagall and Jacques Prévert have flocked to Saint-Paul seeking to be inspired by cobbled streets and ancient golden winding ramparts. In the 1960s the medieval village was a haven for the stars like actors Yves Montand and Lino Ventura. Today Saint-Paul still hosts some of the world’s celebrities including Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman who has a home here.
Giacometti at Maeght
1. The Fondation Maeght
Founded by Marguerite and Aimé Maeght and inaugurated in 1964, the Maeght is one of the most important contemporary art foundations in Europe. Not only is its layout, setting and Art Deco architecture (by Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert) a pleasure to explore, but it also holds an impressive in-situ collection of works by Alberto Giacometti and Joan Miró, as well as mosaics by Marc Chagall and Pierre Tal-Coat, stained glass works by Georges Braque and a fountain by Pol Bury. An absolute must visit.
2. The Folon Chapel
Contributing to Saint-Paul-de-Vence’s rich art heritage is Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon’s renovation of the village’s White Penitents’ Chapel. The chapel now boasts the artist’s signature style sculptures and vibrant pastel mosaic murals. Folon, who had close links to the village for over 30 years, collaborated very closely with local craftspeople, which is central to understanding his world and his conception of art. He also worked on the various poetic fountain sculptures at Le Mas de Pierre Hotel.
La Colombe d'Or
3. Lunch at La Colombe d’Or
Located just at the entrance of the ramparts across from the iconic Café de la Place, the Colombe d’Or is an arty boutique hotel and restaurant. On the menu created by Paul Roux (the owner in the 1930s) is typical fresh and hearty Provençal cuisine that is served outside on the whimsical patio surrounded by trees mingling with artworks by passing artists including Matisse, Picasso, Braque and Chagall. In fact, during Roux’s day the motto here was: Welcome here on foot, on horseback or on canvas!
4. Art galleries and studios
While it is true that much of the art found at the galleries within the village are replicas, there are a handful of places that still maintain the standards of Saint-Paul’s arty 1960s heyday. For original works within the ramparts, try Ad Hoc Corner, Art Sellier Galerie, Bogéna Gallery, Galerie Art Deco, Galeries Bartoux, Frédéric Gollong or Galerie Golconda. Visitors can also meet working artists at their studios. Try Jean-Claude Tron, Danielle Alarcon Dalvin, Giuliana, Lalagüe, Mesha Sendyk, and Cybèle.
5. The village
Away from the crowds clogging the main village axis lined with small art galleries and tourist-trap boutiques, the village retains all its magic. Losing oneself in the labyrinthine village streets is the most rewarding of experiences. Sneak a peek at the local houses lined with bright potted flowers, stop at a quaint restaurant terrace, stroll along the ramparts and admire the sprawling views that stretch all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, and fall in love with Jacques Prévert’s magnificent home.
Café de la Place
6. Café de la Place
Although not technically within the ramparts, the Café de la Place is at the entrance just across the Colombe d’Or and just like the latter, it is a St-Paul landmark. Serving typical brasserie fare, it was a favourite hangout amongst celebrities who would holiday here, like French actor Yves Montand: the café was central to village social life. Just out front, the locals can often be seen enjoying a late afternoon game of pétanque (bowls) in the same way as they have done for decades – a Provençal icon of la belle vie.
La Table de Pierre
7. Dinner at La Table de Pierre
Le Mas de Pierre is all about location...and cuisine. Nestled in magnificent gardens just outside the ramparts, the hotel’s restaurant comes with a terrace and breathtaking views that stretch all the way to the hills. Expect fresh homemade Provençal fare by chef Emmanuel Lehrer served by candlelight in a very laid-back atmosphere doused in southern friendliness. In the evenings, there is a gourmet menu to choose from, whereas during the day the menu is a little more casual but just as lovingly prepared.
8. Wine tasting
Sample local wine produced from vines planted as far back as 6 BC at the 14th-century Petite Cave de Saint-Paul, which sells local wines and ‘grands crus’ within the village ramparts. The cellar also hosts regular themed wine tastings (see village map below for details).
Or for the full experience visit local vineyards nearby. Two excellent vineyards are Domaine La Vasta and Domaine Saint-Joseph.
La Vasta: 1466 route des Serres 06570 Saint-Paul-de-Vence Tel. +33 (0)6 60 63 03 90
Saint Joseph: 160 Chemin des Vignes Tourrettes sur Loup Tel. +33 (0)6 09 28 26 59
Bastide des Fleurs
9. Stay at the Bastide des Fleurs
The five-star Mas de Pierre’s idyllic stone bastides (Provençal stone houses) crouch in the green grasses of its gorgeous gardens dotted with artworks by the likes of Jean-Michel Folon and Robert Indiana. And as exclusive as this little hideaway already is, it gets even better with the recently-opened Bastide des Fleurs wing of six flower- themed suites, which come with a separate pool lined with smart cabanas. Onsite there is a compact Payot spa and for outings, guests can use the hotel’s vintage Rolls Royce, bien sûr.
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