Once again I have been unsuccessful in attempting to redress the balance in birthday celebrations. Obviously with mine so close to Christmas and my beloved’s at the end of April, he’s at a distinct advantage. This year I didn’t even get a trip away though we did at least eat in my favourite local restaurant which has fabulous views of the perched, walled village of Saint-Paul de Vence.
The perfectly perched, ancient village of Saint-Paul de Vence is arguably one of the best known on the Cote d’Azur – and even, let’s be honest, in the whole of France.
Located on a rocky promontory 12km (7 1/2 miles) north-east of Nice and enjoying magnificent views along the Riviera, the village is hugely popular with visitors who flock to its meandering streets and shady squares in their millions every year. According to the Tourist Office, in the height of summer, up to seven thousand tourists visit Saint-Paul de Vence every day because of its rich and colourful history. This is abundantly apparent from every cobbled alleyway and fountain in this charming village which towers over the surrounding countryside at an altitude of 180 metres (590 feet).
We decided to take a gentle stroll around the village which harbours countless treasures within its ramparts, exploring its cobbled pedestrian streets and immersing ourselves in its history and heritage starting with its Place du Jeu de Boules beneath the ramparts, at the entrance to the village.
This legendary square is edged with century-old plane trees where the villagers and visitors alike gather. The Café de la Place stands on one side: its terrace is the perfect spot for enjoying the atmosphere. The famous Colombe d’Or is on the other: its regulars included some of the greatest artists of 20th century: Matisse, Chagall, Picasso, Braque, Léger, Folon, etc.
We follow the ramparts, climbing towards the village, and enter by the Porte de Vence, turning right onto Rue de la Tour and following the ramparts southwards to the Porte de Nice. We stop to take in the panorama of Saint-Paul’s countryside studded with vines and olive trees. We pass by the cemetery where centuries-old cypress trees shade the remains of artist Marc Chagall, who spent the final years of his life in Saint-Paul (1966 to 1985). He lies alongside his wife, Vava, and her brother, Michel.
Moving on we take Rue Grande which is choc full of typical village houses and traces of their past splendour – and lots of fabulous doors. Number 71 is a fine gabled 16th century house while, further on, number 92 is the former mansion of the Alziary family.
Now we pass by Place de la Grande Fontaine located at the heart of the village, the former market square before turning up Montée de la Castre. We continue to Place de l’Eglise, the highest spot in the village which is edged with monuments that are the jewels in Saint-Paul’s historical crown: the keep of the former château now the Mairie (town hall) of Saint-Paul, the Church of the Conversion of Saint-Paul constructed between the 14th and 16thcenturies, plus the Folon chapel.
From here we make our way back to the car pausing every so often to look in the window of a gallery or to take a photograph of yet another interesting door for Norm 2.0’s Thursday doors. Saint-Paul is fertile territory. It had been a lovely trip to celebrate my birthday.