Topless beaches, expensive yachts, and exotic sportscars will certainly catch your eye in the South of France, but the medieval village of St. Paul de Vence will capture your heart.
St. Paul de Vence is a step back in time – the tiny village winds its way up a steep hillside –the views of the countryside and the Mediterranean are breathtaking.
Historians say the village was built high atop the hill for protection from pirates. One of my favorite painters, Marc Chagall, is buried in the Saint Paul de Vence cemetery, and the various art galleries sport some of his work. Great food here is not hard to find. The famous La Colombe d’Or hotel is legendary and, sadly as we found out, lunch is impossible to score without a reservation.
We dined at Le Saint-Paul, a Relais & Chateaux property with a restaurant that boasts a Michelin star. It’s a charming hotel just up the cobblestone walkway from La Colombe d’Or.
The French do food with such style and finesse. I had an incredible escargot risotto with fava beans and a hint of saffron that was to die for! The pumpkin ‘cappucino’ soup with hazelnuts was also a treat. Being huge fans of Rosé wines we chose a Bandol rosé that we had not seen in the US—it was a little slice of heaven. Hamburgers will have to be on tap the rest of the time…even those in euros cost a pretty penny!! What happened to our dollar!
Although the village itself is one of the most intact medieval examples of the region, with much of the ramparts still there, it’s hard to see anything inside the village except other tourists. “Off season”, the village is full of tourists. During the summer and holidays, the village is so packed with tourists that they walk shoulder-to-shoulder through the narrow streets. Except for the ramparts and the typical old houses, the most predominant things to see in the village are the scores of art galleries, tourist shops, pseudo “artisanal” shops; all very expensive.
Vence, 3 km up the road, is also beautiful, more relaxed, has more realistic shops and art galleries, and fine terrace cafés. Tourrettes-sur-Loup, another 3 km west of Vence, is small and picturesque like St. Paul, but with far fewer tourists, and the artisanal shops there are run by the artists themselves.
The Russian born painter, Mark Chagall, is buried in the Saint Paul-de-Vence cemetery. At the entrance, take the first right and the next left. Chagall has a simple white tomb. The small stones are added by visitors as tributes (from a Russian and Jewish tradition).