Saint-Paul de Vence – Center of Impressionism in Southern France

Panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea and Provence

One of my favorite day trips from Nice is exploring the medieval village of Saint-Paul de Vence. The sunlight reflecting off the azure blue of the Mediterranean Sea, the vivid greens from the vineyards and olive trees sloping down into the valley, and the yellow and ochre colors of the rampart walls it is no wonder that this small village became the center of Impressionism in Southern France. Even Vincent Van Gogh said, “The whole future of art is to be found in the South of France.” The beauty of Saint-Paul de Vence and the surrounding area with its amazing southern light had numerous artists, painters, writers, and poets flocking here. Spending a day inside this fortified city and wandering around the extended area will provide you a greater appreciation for Impressionism, the French Riviera, and Saint-Paul de Vence.

Getting There

Saint-Paul de Vence is located between Nice and Antibes on the French Riviera. If you are staying in Nice, it is easy to use public transportation to get to the village. The #400 bus line, picked up from the Meridian Hotel, will be a direct route to the town. It will take about an hour to arrive there. The stop you need to get off is the St. Paul stop. Make sure to check the schedule to verify return times back to Nice.

Entering the Village

Saint Paul de Vence Arched royal gate with cannonOnce you are dropped off at the bus station, head to the right and past the central cafe to follow the rampart walls up to the village. The entrance, Porte de Vence, was built in the 1400s with the rampart walls being made in the 16th century on the orders of King Francis I. There are so many architectural details for you to notice, such as the flower shaped designs in the cobblestone streets and the embedded art statues designed into the walls. These and more little treasures make Saint-Paul de Vence, one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera; a photographers dream to capture its personality in pictures.

The long archway into the village of St. Paul de VenceStatue at the entrance of St. Paul de Vence

Exploring Saint-Paul de VenceSouth end of Rue Grande

This medieval village is an amazing place to photograph. There is so much to see and explore that you can spend quite a bit of time here. I would recommend coming in the morning to have fewer crowds walking the narrow streets with you. The town has a total of 300 inhabitants, but thousands visit here every year and more so in the summer. The square where the big fountain is used to be the market square for the village. A lot of the buildings and walls are still intact hundreds of years after they have been built. This city is one of the most preserved medieval towns I have explored.window in Saint-Paul de Vence

Art GalleriesStreets in Saint Paul de Vence with art galleries

Saint-Paul de Vence is an interesting village to spend the day wandering through art galleries, artist studios, boutiques, and craft shops. With the picturesque landscape and the amazing sunlight, artists are drawn to this town, and some of them stay for a lengthy period. Marc Chagall and Jean Renoir being two famous artists who called this area home. With artists gravitating here, the number of art galleries and shops has increased which gives visitors plenty of options to browse through.

Walking Along the RampartsThe southern gate, Porte de Nice

Stairs to walk the St. Paul de Vence ramparts

The easiest way to get on the stone walls is the stairs at the south gate, Porte de Nice. Be careful the stairs are worn and uneven as is the wall itself. But, the view once you are walking along the ramparts is epic. There are areas to walk along the ramparts all along the city, and each side will give unique views of the countryside.Saint Paul de Vence CemeteryView from the ramparts

Saint-Paul Town Cemetery

tombs in St. Paul de Vence cemeteryThe town has its cemetery at the south end of the village through the Porte de Nice gate. This beautiful and serene place has tombs graced with statues, flowers, and memorials. The artist, Marc Chagall is buried here after living most of his life in St. Paul de Vence. Angel statue on a tombMarc Chagall's grave

Views of Saint-Paul de VeniceView of Saint-Paul de Vence from Chemin de Sainte-Claire

I was told that when heading to the Maeght Foundation to take the higher path along the Chemin de Sainte-Claire road. The route would add some more time on the walk, but the views would be exceptional. This road is the path everyone should take if you happen to walk to the art museum. It is high enough above the villas and homes to get excellent photos of the village unimpeded. Plus, walking along this route, you will come across the spot that Marc Chagall captured the town in his painting. There are also several beautiful older chapels on this path for you to photograph. With these views, you can see why Provence was the creative fusion point for artists like Claude Monet, Rodin, Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, and Marc Chagall.View of Saint-Paul de VenceChapelle Sainte Claire view of Saint-Paul de Vence at the Chapelle Notre Dame des Gardettes

The Maeght Foundationcourtyard to The Miró Labyrinth

The Maeght Foundation is a 5-minute walk from Saint-Paul de Vence. This art museum has one of the finest modern and contemporary art collections on the French Riviera. The Parisian art collector, Aimé Maeght, designed a place that integrated modern art into the building design all while being in a secluded natural location. This is the essence of the Maeght Foundation. The sculpture gardens, paintings, and surrounding grounds all incorporate the art with nature and the museum. 

Why Saint-Paul de Vence?

Saint-Paul de Vence

There are so many reasons to come and visit St. Paul de Vence that I have mentioned above. But, none of them can show you better than the incredible landscape around the fortified walls of this town. This site is an artistic and photographers dream come true.  I truly fell in love with this little village and can’t wait to paint some of these scenes that I captured while I was there.Landscape around Saint-Paul de Vence

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Further Reading

If you would like to see more of my nomad travels, check out my post on my first month of traveling full-time: One Month of Nomad Travel. If you are coming to France for a visit, check out this post:

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