A Southeast France Day Trip: St. Paul de Vence
Does that name sound familiar? Don’t hide, all you Fifty Shades fans. Indeed, it’s the quaint French village where the infamous Mr. Grey took the barely tolerable Ms. Steele for their honeymoon. I admittedly await the movie in a state of half-dread and half-shameful anticipation.
With Nice, Cannes, and Grasse under our belts from past trips, we opted for a daytrip there ourselves (without the yacht) during our recent trek. I’m a huge sucker for French medieval villages. Let’s be honest – who isn’t?
- Nestled just 15 minutes from the coast between Antibes and Nice, St. Paul is one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera. Arriving there requires driving to the base of the city (plenty of picturesque vistas along the way), and then parking on one of the streets around the main square before heading in on foot. You’ll also find at the city gates one of the larger Fragonard boutiques, carrying the latest scents from the namesake iconic parfumerie headquartered in the region, as well as a collection of artisan-made housewares.
Not for the easily fatigued or newly hungover, the walk to the summit of the city involves cobble stone streets and a handful of steep ascents. But the stroll is well worth it. Multi-floor art galleries line the winding streets – some half hidden below street level or down even smaller alleyways. You’ll also find small boutiques with local specialties and giftables, such as La Cure Gourmande, which offers a massive selection of travel-friendly and traditional biscuits, bonbons and treats. A quick tip – they’ll also let you sample almost anything in the store – try the flavored caramels for sure.
What makes St. Paul truly unique is that it’s also become an enclave for budding artists – and not in the Montmartre-style soliciting passersby kind of way. We stumbled upon art classes from all corners of Europe, where students took direction from teachers and put brush to canvas, unfazed by the throngs of tourists peering over their shoulders.
Lone artists can be found hiding out in corners (or on ledges), turning what looked like a mundane ivy-covered archway into a glimpse of secretly captured moment.
At the summit of the hill is a small area for a Kodak moment with sweeping views of the countryside and even the shore in the distance.
As you emerge from the city, the street widens and small restaurants, cafes and gelato counters dot the sidewalks. We grabbed a long, euro-style lunch at Le Tilleul – which offers a lovely outdoor terrace perfect for a glass of rose and a steak tartare, followed by an obligatory café. A visit to St. Paul is a great respite from the flash and fanfare of the larger cities on the Cote d’Azur, and can easily be enjoyed in just a few hours. What are your picks for must-see sights the Southeast?