Art Abounds in St Paul de Vence, France
Fondation Maeght, inland from Nice on the French Riviera, houses one of the great modern art collections of Europe. Founded in 1964 by the noted art dealer Aimé Maeght, the museum displays paintings, sculptures, drawings and graphics by Chagall, Léger, Miró, Braque, Arp, Dubuffet, and other master artists. Some are in light-filled rooms, others are set among pine trees, flowing fountains and lawns. Giacometti’s elongated metal figures stand in a courtyard; a Calder mobile tilts and sways. The best of 20th century art is gathered on this stunning clifftop setting. The Maeght is open daily.
Fondation Maeght is within walking distance of the most-loved, and probably most visited, medieval village in Provence, St. Paul de Vence. This sweet cluster of houses on a rocky hilltop is overrun with tourists, especially in the height of summer. Yet somehow it hasn’t lost its charm. Behind the old stone ramparts, narrow streets wind up the hill, flowers bloom in quaint doorways, and in springtime the air is fragrant with lilac and mimosa. From one side of the ridge you can see the snowy Alps; from another, the Mediterranean Sea.
St. Paul de Vence revels in art. Galleries line the streets, and sculptures are imbedded in the walls and even in the stones underfoot. One restaurant, the famous La Colombe d’Or, combines cuisine with art; the works of Picasso, Utrillo, Dufy, and other 20th century painters adorn the walls. You can eat indoors or on the terrace, and you’ll need reservations well in advance.
Le Saint Paul is a small hotel, furnished Provençal-style, in a 16th-century home with a restaurant renowned for extraordinary food, boasting a Michelin star. Asparagus confit, pesto-stuffed zucchini flowers, lobster lasagne — perfect meals, served on the lovely terrace or indoors.
Another good choice is La Fontaine Wine Bar. By the open fireplace or on the sunny terrace, you’ll be served fresh local produce, sandwiches, and pasta. There’s a large selection of wines by the glass. Or, for a pleasant way to see the countryside and save a few euros, buy bread and cheese at the market and walk down to the Malvan River for a picnic. There’s an outdoor market on Place de Gaulle every Wednesday morning, and the Tourist information office has walking tour maps.
Stroll up to the 17th century chapel of Saint Charles-Saint Claude and you’ll have a good view of the village. At the chapel of Saint Claire you can pay your respects to the patron saint of the village. Her feast day is celebrated in early August.
With six friends we rented a villa close to Vence, a less touristed town nearby. We were happy with it, but another time I might reserve a room at Villa St Maxim. This small, elegant boutique hotel has gorgeous gardens and an inviting pool, and the villa itself, set below the old ramparts, is sleekly contemporary. Every room has a private balcony or terrace.
If I’m looking for less expensive, serene lodgings away from the crowds, I’ll go to the hospitable Hôtel Marc Hely, a few minutes by car from St. Paul de Vence. It too is set in a pretty garden and has a pool and attractive rooms.
Shopping is fun in St. Paul de Vence, if the crowds aren’t bad. Artworks abound, of course, and everywhere you’ll see the classic Provence colors, yellow and blue, on textiles, housewares and ceramics. Olives, wines, fruit liqueurs, honey, produce and flowers spill from dozens of shops and stalls.
Written By Marilyn McFarlane for EuropeUpClose.com