Saint Paul de Vence - Somebody hand me my palette and easel please


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Published: August 30th 2019
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Saint Paul de VenceSaint Paul de VenceSaint Paul de Vence

Taken from the town of Vence higher up the mountain
Tom and I have been meaning to make the trip to St. Paul de Vence for a long time. Previously with only a 3-5 day stay in Villefranche-sur-Mer time always seemed to run out. Within the last few years many people, especially our French friends, have really encouraged us to go when we are in the South of France. It really is only an hour away by car but then again it seems everything is just an hour from Villefranche-sur-Mer. Last year we made a sincere attempt planning a day trip there but once again time (and a towed car) was our enemy.

Now that we've had the ultimate luxury of our extended stay here time is on our side and luckily the excuses have run out. This is a car trip as the village sits on a rocky outcropping not too far up into the Alps. The view of the valley all the way to the Mediterranean is amazing and probably the most breathtaking of this trip.

The drive was relatively easy we arrived early, ahead of the tour buses and parking was quick. We were able to wander and photograph the village without the throngs of tourists soon to arrive.
It is easy to see from pictures that Saint Paul de Vence is much like the other medieval villages surrounded by ramparts that we have visited. The truth is that two dimensional photographs cannot compare to being here. You need to touch the walls, smell the lavender, walk through the squares, through the archways and up on the ramparts to know that this village has a truly unique vibe. Yes, inside these stone walls beat the hearts of those whose imagination and talent are able to take the color, light and rhythm of this town and put it on canvas, or sculpture, or any other textile they choose. Remember in the movie Titanic where the heroine stood with her eyes closed on the bow of the ship? Well come to Saint Paul de Vence, stand at the top of the ramparts facing the valley below and Alps in the distance, close your eyes and inhale the fragrant breeze as it sweeps its way from the Mediterranean to you, It will fill you with happiness as it tugs on your heart strings. It is no wonder so many artists have come here to pour their souls onto canvas.

Unlike the other villages we've visited the ancient history here is a little uncertain. People probably began settling here around the 10th century and the first castle was probably started around the 12th century. It was under the direct control of the King of France. In 1418 a royal "Act" made this an official "Royal town" which gave it significant importance for both the military and town administrators. Also in the 15th century there were many attacks and King Francois I felt forced to build the ramparts that remain standing today. By the 1800's this was just another little rural village but clearly a gem.
In the early 1900's now famous artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Auguste Renior, Amedeo Modigliani, to name a few were captivated by its charm and perfect location. They loved this rural town and spent much time painting their pieces in the perfect light.

A Columbe D'Or (The Golden Dove), a famous hotel and restaurant that opened in 1920 as Chez Robinson, it was a little cafe/bar and people would come on the weekends to dance and enjoy the beauty of St Paul de Vence. Today it is an exclusive Hotel with less than 30 rooms. It is not a resort but a secluded nest for one to rest and enjoy the view in the hills between Nice and the Alps. Its treasures are known world wide because inside the hotel on their walls are displayed one of the most amazing art collections in the world, all donated by the early 20th century artists that wanted a place to stay while painting in St Paul de Vence. Here they would gather at the then little Inn and restaurant. They would sit around for weeks sketching and painting then donating some of their finished pieces to the proprietors in exchange for room and board. Imagine these great artists like Chagall and Matisse painting or sketching something and giving it to the owner.

Art is everywhere on the grounds.........in the bedrooms, the hallways and in the dining room where a Picasso painting of a flower vase is casually displayed along side of a Braque rendition of a lobster. Art by these famous painters are hung next to other pieces done by some unknown artists of the day and they are hung in no particular order. The paintings do not even have formal plaques or labels; there are no guidebooks and no pamphlets.

As word of this amazing collection of art became known the temptation to own it was great and in 1959 someone stole all of the art with the exception of a rather large Chagall too big to fit out a window. Chagall was quoted as saying: “I’m a big-time artist! Why are you not stealing my paintings, too?” All the paintings were eventually recovered and a the owners decided that a security system was now needed to protect their artwork.

We were unable to view any of the artwork as the hotel and restaurant wish to remain as quiet and undisturbed as possible. You can only gain access if you have a reservation.

There was a sign hung when the restaurant first opened in the early 1920 that remains on the front door today and it reads, “Ici on loge à cheval, à pied ou en peinture.” (Here we lodge those on foot, on horseback or with paintings.)

St. Paul de Vence quickly grew into and remains a "city of the arts." There are at least 50 galleries showing thousands of pieces using every textile imaginable. I felt the relaxed rhythm of the town as we walked through the arched stone portal and took that oh so familiar walk back in time completely immersing ourselves in their art and culture.

I could go on forever about the fountains, streets, flowers and ramparts, right now I'm just going to hope that the pictures provided here enchant you.


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