Admittedly, I have a major obsession with Medieval villages!! I suppose living in Los Angeles which is modern and newly built by comparison, I am attracted to these marvelously historic and classic cities. St. Paul is one of the oldest in the French Riviera. This spectacular walled in village is well preserved and continues to be a very popular destination in Côte d’Azur.
For more than a century the town has solidified its reputation for modern and contemporary art galleries. Artists, poets, and writers alike have found themselves attracted to the richly vibrant and enchanting green hillside. I may not be an artist but I am attracted to this town for the same reason.
I’ll never forget my first visit to St. Paul. My driver said I was going to fall in love and indeed I did – head-over-heels! Naturally, on my return to Côte d’Azur, there was no way I would miss exploring her beauties again. After talking with my hotel concierge, they recommended I take a bus up to the village. With a bus stop conveniently located right across the street from my hotel, it sounded like the way to go. After about an hour ride from Nice, I was literally dropped at the “door step” of St. Paul – couldn’t ask for better service.
To really get the full experience of a day spent in St. Paul I suggest having lunch at one of the many cafes followed by a leisurely walk through the town streets. Along the way you can stop in the various galleries selling everything from clothing to fine art to jewelry. The views along the perimeter wall looking out into the valley, remind me I am somewhere to be savored and cherished. Unlike Eze, which I also visited on this trip, St. Paul has many residents. While walking along I find myself in a daydream. A fantastic tale of living once upon a time in this pristine gorgeous place. Lovingly caring for my little stoop, shopping for produce just down and around the corner, and absorbing the tremendous art from the various artists all the while!! What a splendid reality that must have been.
Call me creepy, weird, or morbid but one my favorite discoveries has been the town’s cemetery which dates back to the 16th century when the chapel was built. I found myself being drawn through the cemetery’s iron gate and onto its grounds. Once inside I knew in an instant that I had just come across an extraordinary place. To my eye it appeared to be a very peaceful resting site that even to this day is devotedly maintained. Views of the valley surround the entire area adding to its serene beauty. One of the most notable individuals buried here is Marc Chagall who lived in the village from 1966-85.
Near the entrance of the village, you won’t want to miss the La Colombe d’Or Restaurant and Hotel and its spectacular art collection. I wasn’t able to get a reservation (apparently you must book months in advance), so I peeped into the window to catch a glimpse of priceless paintings by famous artists like Picasso, Chagall, Matisse and so many more. After returning from World War I in 1920, Paul Roux opened this restaurant and inn in St. Paul, where many painters of the time sought refuge from the war. It is told that Roux offered these struggling artists free room and board in exchange for their paintings. Unlike the others, Picasso did not give any paintings to the restaurant owner until Roux was lying in his death bed. In the story as I originally heard, Roux sent his young son to Picasso’s studio to collect the painting Picasso had promised him. Picasso returned the young boy through the village with a painting in tow, only for Roux to send him right back saying it wasn’t the right one. After several trips back and forth with what we now know to be multi-million dollar paintings, the young boy finally delivered the correct one to his dying father. Oh how the art connoisseurs of today would have cringed to witness these masterpieces being improperly handled in transit through a village by this young boy. I later heard a different version of this story wherein it was actually Roux’s wife who collected paintings on behalf of her dying husband. While I’m not sure which version of the story is true (perhaps a combination of both), I can’t help but find the original story to be so much more charming and amusing. What I do know is that on my next return, I’ll be sure to book a reservation at La Colombe d’Or Restaurant to experience this iconic restaurant and all of its treasures firsthand.