I went on my first Mediterranean cruise the summer I was 16. While the details of that trip are blurry memories now, it is one of the events in my life that settled my love for travel. I vaguely remember visiting southern France and enjoying the bright blue water and bustling harbors of cities like Marseille and Nice.
Then as I was planning out our current stay in Nice, I stumbled across a mention of the town St. Paul-de-Vence, and it triggered a distant memory from that cruise half-a-lifetime (!!!) ago. I had the feeling that my mom and I really liked the town, but I couldn’t bring back any specific memories.
So maybe we’re crazy, but based solely on my impression that I had enjoyed it once before, we caught the bus in Nice and took the hour ride up the hill to St. Paul-de-Vence.
The city was founded in 1388 and is still surrounded by the medieval stone walls that fortified it against invasions. As the bus pulls into the St. Paul-De-Vence stop, you can see the city sitting high on the hilltop, both charming and imposing with its high walls and ramparts.
We got off the bus and immediately the cameras came out and never went back away. This has to be one of the most picturesque towns I've ever visited. If you are feeling jaded by the hustle and bustle and modernity of Paris, take a trip down to St. Paul-de-Vence and fall in love with its enchanting simplicity and timelessness.
Since the town sits on a hilltop, you spend half your time walking uphill to reach the apex of the village and then spend the other half walking downhill... there's really no flat middle ground. Narrow cobblestone streets twist through the town, leading you through a maze of cafes, gelato shops, and stores selling locally-made jams, perfumes, chocolates, and wine.
And art galleries. St. Paul-de-Vence, the town where artist Marc Chagall lived and died, is full of art galleries, displaying everything from paintings to sculpture to artisan jewelry. The abundance of galleries adds an extra layer of cultural charm and beauty to the town and makes you fall in love with it even more.
You don't need a plan when you come to St. Paul-de-Vence; you can simply wander around the streets and have a delightful day. We found a cute cafe overlooking a tiny square for lunch, ate the best gelato we've ever had, ran around on the stone walls, ducked into adorable shops, and snapped numerous pictures.
It's telling that over the last two months of travel, we've only bought a couple little souvenirs (and most of those were toys for the girls)... but then in St. Paul-de-Vence, we bought a bottle of wine, three organic jams (apricot lavender, strawberry rose, and chocolate-coconut spread), and two pieces of artwork. It's such a lovely place, and I think we instinctively wanted to keep a piece of it and hold on to the wonderful day we had there.
If you are spending time in southern France or stopping in Nice for a cruise, I would definitely recommend that you visit St. Paul-de-Vence.
If you're traveling on your own (as opposed to joining a tour), you can hop on bus #400 in Nice, which leaves from the Albert 1er/Verdun stop near Le Meridien hotel. You buy tickets from the driver for €1.50 per adult and then ride to the next-to-last stop, where almost everyone will get off for St. Paul-de-Vence. Follow the crowd a few minutes up the hill and then spend your day getting lost and being delighted in the town!
Is there a town that you've visited and fallen in love with? Leave me a comment about your favorite place!
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