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Published: October 5th 2014
This piece of living history, perched 600 ft up on a hill between Nice and the nearby town of Vence, is an absolute “must” for anyone visiting the Côte d’Azur. It is authentic, unspoiled, and so incredibly picturesque that today its 400 residents receive 2 ½ million visitors per year. It is not a “tourist trap”, however ! I was fortunate to be able to visit it twice.
Starting in the 1100s, a tiny existing settlement was gradually fortified, and the surrounding ramparts were added in the mid-1500s. When King François I visited, Saint Paul became a “Royal City” and thenceforth could only be entered through a well-defended “Royal Gate”. By 1850 its “Grande Fontaine” had become the symbol of the village, and many consider it the most photogenic fountain in all of France. It is certainly the most frequently photographed.
As creative artists began to discover the benefits of living and working in Provence, many of those who would eventually become famous lived there, at least for a time. Painters included Matisse, Chagall, Renoir and Dufy; writers included Gide and Cocteau; and actors included Yves Montand, Simone Signoret and Roger Moore. Marc Chagall liked it so much that
he lived there nearly 20 years and is buried in the village cemetery.
Often being penniless, many artists paid for their accommodations and food with paintings: today original masterpieces adorn the walls of the town’s best-known restaurant “La Colombe d’Or”. I didn’t have time to visit it, nor the Fondation Maeght, one of France’s premier centres for paintings and sculptures, both being outside the walls. Those will be for the next time.
Today the lucky few who live within the walls enjoy a life of absolute tranquility, with only the sounds of their own ateliers and the voices of visitors to disturb the silence. Thank goodness France has preserved this beautiful national historic site! Here is a good source of more information: http://www.saint-pauldevence.com/en/history
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