Review: Saint Paul de Vence & Vence Explored
Saint Paul de Vence, France
St Paul de Vence - Une vue nostalgique!
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Escaping from the gloomy wet and cold February weather of England in Northern Europe to the Mediterranean climate of the South of France, only one and forty five minutes by air from Bristol with easyJet, for what is almost always a short burst of warmth and sunshine, is something we greatly look forward to every year.
Breakfast in Bristol – Lunch at the Cagnes-sur-Mer Marina on Baie des Anges in February! Having taken a ‘Breakfast time’ mid-week flight from Bristol to Nice Cote d’ Azur, that landed at 11.30 am we picked up our Budget car rental Renault Clio TDi, swiflty exited the airport in bright Mediterranean winter sunshine joined the Autoroute towards Cannes, turning off to the Cagnes -sur-Mer Marina for freshly landed sea food for lunch with a good bottle of Rose from Bandol.
After lunch we drove through Cagnes-sur-Mer to drive inland to follow the road up to St. Paul de Vence through La Colle W to stop briefly and look around the antique shops for 17th and 18th century furniture and furnishings which are surprisingly cheap to ship as a part load back to the UK. Thence we continued onward, whilst admiring the views of the olive groves interspersed with a multitude of terracotta pan tiled villas on the sloping hills that roll up towards the legendary medieval fortified hill town of St. Paul de Vence.
St. Paul de Vence
Spellbinding Renaissance Battlements/Ramparts dominate the skyline The magnificent walls and ramparts at St. Paul de Vence were built on the orders of Francios 1st of France (a contemporary of King Henry VIII) to guard the French frontier from the powerful Kingdom of Savoy. Whose domains commenced on the eastern side of the River Var that formed a natural through porous frontier which the Dukes of Savoy took frequent advantage of for the purposes of raiding the south eastern borders of France for cattle, horses and general booty.
Fortifying South Eastern France in the 16th Century Francios Ist. also fortified Haute de Cagnes and Vence during the same period he fortified St. Paul de Vence. It is sufficient to say that none of these highly prosperous impregnable French frontier towns were ever invaded by any foreign power until the 20th Century, during World War II. Firstly by the Italians under the orders of Mussolini and latterly by the Germans. Following Pearl Harbour, when the United States of America declared war on Japan and the Axis Powers in 1942.
St. Paul de Vence Contd:
Upon arrival there is a convenient multi-storey car park from which the town and it’s environs can most conveniently be explored. In the event thas this is full then you can park in a large open air car park a matter of some 200 yards down the Route to La Colle Parking elsewhere is at best problematical. So the best advice is park your car and walk everywhere including up to the Maeght Foundation Modern Art Museum.
Place Generale de Gaulle
Walk through the Place de la Generale de Gaulle ( Grand Place ) past the fabulous Hotel La Colombe d’ Or on the left and famous Cafe de la Place on the right, passing under pollarded Plane Trees that shade the boulle park where Yves Montand once used to regularly play with the locals, below the imposing, impenetrable walls of vieux St. Paul de Vence leads you to the great North Gate defended by a great cannon brought back from the Battle of Cerisetes in Savoy in 1544 by the Chevaliers de Saint Paul who would have fought under the Comte de Grasse of Villeneuve Loubet whose domain then included St. Paul de Vence and Vence.
Walks on The Ramparts
The famous ramparts of this town that tower above the North Gate can be walked for the most part all around the the town, which is a delight in itself. The ramparts elevated position afford walkers wonderful views across the country over olive groves below and to Les Alpes Maritimes mountains above.
Rolls Royces at St. Paul de Vence
Rolls Royce Motors Ltd pictured a Silver Cloud II driven by Tony Brooks parked on these amazing ramparts within their famous and lavish brochure for this car when it was first introduced. Which still remains the finest brochure ever published by Rolls Royce for any model they have ever built. Tony Brooks drove this car from the Channel Coast of France to Cannes in a day whilst stopping en route for a one and a half hour lunch break, prior to there being any autoroutes. My father did the same route in reverse in an Italian bodied Rolls Royce Phantom II Sports Tourer Coupe in 1930 sharing the driving with his chauffeur/bodyguard named ’ Mr. Kent ’ an ex-Royal Marine Staff Sergeant. Joanne Lumley, an acquaintence of mine of the 1960’s a then model/actress owned a white Silver Cloud whilst she was living above St. Paul de Vence with Jeremy Lloyd on Les Hautes de Saint Paul. The lovely Joanna later also spent time here whilst the then girl friend and companion of Rod Stewart. When I knew her, she also drove was driving a very chic and then fashionable black Harold Radford Mini Cooper Special with basketwork external trim. We both appeared at Malborough Magistrates court on the same morning once, for minor motoring offences, possibly concerning parking in Mayfair..I well remember how stylish Joanna looked driving her Rolls in London and on the Cote d’ Azur when they were rather more rare there than they are today.
The Ceristes Cannon
Upon entering the North Gate under the double portcullises featuring ‘murder holes’ from whence the defenders could rain down missiles and boiling tar upon any attackers, the town will be seen to be a truly magical medieval magnificently fortified medieval hill town within the great walls of St. Paul de Vence which remains largely unchanged over hundreds of years. Except for the Rue Grande which is now largely a mass of art galleries, antique shops and artist studios that occupy many of the glorious 16th and 17th century stone built town houses. Many of which still bear above the massive original ancient weather beaten solid walnut or fir tree doors hung on huge wrought iron hinges, some with metal decorative strapwork, door knockers and wrought iron grills with original period, small hinged peep hole panels for identifying callers.(The forerunners of modern door magnifying glasses or CCT systems). Coats of arms surmount many of the more illustrious of these ancient dwellings, that bear witness often of the grand ‘Chevaliers’ of St. Paul de Vence, the original occupants of these often fortified properties. (Gentlemen of note and wealth of a earlier times long gone by, many of whose names are not forgotten and form an important aspect of the Histoire de St. Paul de Vence.
The Fountain on Rue Grande is world famous and most charming, although not of any great historic significance, unlike the great cannon that guards the North Gate. Nevertheless, it is a must see feature that demands to be photographed together with a ‘Selfie’ of the photographer for all to enjoy on Facebook, just joking of course!
Everywhere in the town, there are interesting things to see from the amazing architecture, streets, alley ways, paths and flights of steps of this medieval town, all waiting to be explored together with the splendid 13th/14th century church which boasts a painting of Catherine of Alexandria attributed to Tintoretto along with important early furnishings and decoration.
St. Paul de Vence at night is magnificently floodlit throughout the year. Walking around the ramparts and medieval paved and cobbled streets of this unique town at night is an experience never to be forgotten. You will be largely alone and can therefore better imagine very much how it must have been to live here during the 16th and 17th century. The town appears quite ghostly after dark when all the tourists have left, when you will find the town streets largely deserted which is quite wonderful after the hustle and bustle of mass tourism during the day.
‘Beverley Hills in Europe’ There is no other place in the world outside Beverley Hills where so many luminaries of the film and television industry own private properties in and around St. Paul de Vence. Hence La Colombe d’ Or is effectively the ‘Meeting place of the Stars’ in Europe.
Salon de Parfumerie Fragonard
Just up the street from La Colombe d’ Or is a shop owned by the ancient firm of parfumiers at nearby Grass, Parfumerie Fragonard. Makers of many of the most famous scents and eau de toilettes in the world for the great international fashion and cosmetic houses. The soaps made by Fragonard are also amongst the finest available, all made from natural ingredients and in a wide and exciting range of different perfumes distilled from flowers, shrubs and even rare woods. Be sure to shop here for some soaps to take home, then you will never want to use anything else ever again..Luckily you can order ‘on line’ more supplies from your own home.
Maeght Collection of Modern Art
Just outside this ancient walled town is one of the most famous modern art collections in the world which hundreds of thousands of art lovers come to visit annually and have been doing so for some forty years now. If you are interested in modern art, then this gallery is nirvana.
Venues at which to stay that we are pleased to recommend to fellow travellers Hotel La Colombe d’ Or www.la-colombe-dor.com Tel 04 93 80 02 There are a host of widely differing places at which to stay in and around St. Paul de Vence which vary greatly in price and comfort, not to mention congeniality. Luxurious venues do not always guarantee charm and conviviality. However, based upon decades of experience of this town and it’s environs, we are pleased to recommend two excellent places at which to stay. Namely the incomparable Hotel La Colombe d’ Or and the excellent Les Vergers de Saint Paul. We have stayed at both these venues over many years and both are entirely different and exceptional in different ways. Whatever your choice of place to stay here, you must make a point of eating at least once at La Colombe d’ Or which requires a reservation being made sometime in advance of actually travelling to France to avoid disappointment. The menu has not changed in half a century, as there is no need. More importantly, the venue itself has not changed either and is still owned by the ’ Famille Roux ‘. The atmosphere is one of eating within a magnificent 17th century nobleman’s house with modern comforts allied to one if not the finest modern art collection to seen hanging at any hotel or restaurant venue in the world.
La Colombe d’Or Terrace
The dining terrace under clipped plane and fig trees, amidst wonderful architecture is an absolute delight, as is the main dining salon within together with the delightful small intimate bar furnished with 17th century walnut, along with simple stools and tables which all contribute perfectly to creating a unique ambience that is loved the world over by devotees of this venue like ourselves, many of whom are highly successful legendary figures from all walks of life from all over the world. Eating, let alone staying here is an experience that is entirely and most wonderfully unique. Stay here if you can afford it..
Hotel Les Vergers de Saint Paul
Stay at Les Vergers de Saint Paul just a short walk down the hill towards La Colle where the suites around their pristine and most beautifully kept swimming pool are comfortable and modern. There is no restaurant but an excellent breakfast within a bright and light spacious dining room is available if desired. Of course it is much more fun to have breakfast opposite La Colombe d’ Or at Le Cafe de Place .
Bus Services from Nice Cote d’Azur Airport to and from St. Paul de Vence
In the event that you only wish to explore the medieval hill towns of St. Paul de Vence and Vence and do not wish to hire a car, you are in luck because you can visit these two towns without the necessity of hiring a car by using the excellent, regular, quick, clean local bus services that you can access within 5 minutes walk of the main Departure Building at Nice Cote d’ Azur. To catch the bus to St. Paul de Vence And Vence, you need to walk straight out from the Main Entrance to Departures and follow the foot path underneath the Underpass (carrying the Autoroute ) then bear left following the footpath up to the highway where there is a Bus Stop halt from which you can board a bus for the short and scenic ride up to St. Paul de Vence And Vence for a few Euros. Whereas by Taxi (which is to be avoided like the plague) it will cost a prohibitive amount that can even substantially exceed 40 Euros. So always take the bus!
A car is really essential if you wish to explore the Arrieres Pays (Alpes Maritimes hinterland in this locality, which is more than rewarding). Hence we always book a car rental through the UK offices of a major international car rental firm, such as Avis or Budget. But never through Holiday Rentals or Europe Car whom we have both found to be less than a pleasant experience to do business with, so you have been warned. All the major car rental firms have a facility at Nice Cote d’Azur Airport, located within a matter of a short level 5 minute walk from the Arrivals Hall. Nevertheless always be sure to make your way speedily to collect your rental prior to finding yourself amongst a crowd of others seeking cars at the car rental companies which can cause considerable and frustrating delays. NB. Unless you are going to explore the hinterland in Les Arrieres Pays of Les Alpes Maritimes off the beaten track, you will not require to hire a car. But we always do ourselves, as we love to have picnics in remote areas in the wild unspoilt mountain country above and beyond the Col de Vence along and off the famous D2 Mountain Passes Route which is just so stunning that it is worth the expense of a rental car in our opinion.
Specially researched, photographed, written & compiled by John Halsey phoenixmediaworks.com.
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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.