August 31, 2015

A Visit to Saint-Paul de Vence

We've now been in France for a couple of days and unfortunately, we brought the London weather with us. So far we have spent a couple of rainy days visiting Nice and Antibes, but the weather really didn't inspire us to take a lot of pictures or spend much time doing anything noteworthy, so I'll skip ahead to our visit to Saint-Paul de Vence, which we toured on Day 3, after the sun returned.

It has taken me a couple of days to find my inner Mario Andretti as I face off against the hordes of tourists (both French and other nationalities) that are still enjoying their summer holidays in the now sunny Côte D'Azur. Back in the world of confusing signage and too many roundabouts, I have successfully gotten us lost on more than one occasion and I might have pulled a "Clark Griswold" from European Vacation fame wherein Clark drives around the same roundabout more than once. Let's just say that I might have gone the wrong way through a roundabout exactly 2 times before I found the right "spoke" to exit.

The route to our apartment from Centre Ville has also taken a few days to actually "stick" so that I'm in the correct lane to navigate the sometimes abrupt turns in and out of roundabouts in order to "land" on the right road that leads to our abode. It's not been easy and I've made Sean more than green a few times as well as fearful for his life. But we're still alive and so far, we haven't yet got into an accident.

When we arrived, our landlord did warn us about the "summer tourists" and not only their horrible driving skills, but their inability to follow directions, signage and abide by common courtesies (and laws). This extends to their inability to really give a hoot about someone else and if they want to double park in the middle of the street to enjoy a 2-1/2 hour dinner (while you wait to extract your blocked car), so be it. Apparently it's the French way. We witness this behavior every day and I'm still asking myself "who does that?". I am really surprised that the local police don't start ticketing and towing these vehicles -- think of the extra revenue! But nobody really seems to care except for the poor people whose vehicles are getting blocked in by the more "entitled." It's seriously baffling.

I love visiting medieval villages and Saint-Paul de Vence did not disappoint. This small village perched above the sea was only about a 15-minute drive from Cagnes-sur-Mer where we are staying. It is one of the most intact fortified medieval villages in the area and inhabited by 380 people or so. It's also the third most visited tourist destination in France with over 2.5 million visitors a year.

It is very touristy and there were times that I wished everyone would leave so I could take my pictures without "tourists" in them. I realize I am one as well, but my photos would look so much nicer without all of the alleyways full of people!

The village does have an interesting history. In 1388, when Nice fell to Savoy, Saint-Paul de Vence was founded and fortified as a border town. In 1537, François I (at war with Charles V for 20 years) decided to fortify the cities at the edge of his kingdom. He included Saint-Paul de Vence, which was strongly coveted for its strategic placement within these fortifications.

This was a prosperous period for the city, during which it became known as “Ville Royale”. It was not until 1747, with the wars of succession, that Saint-Paul suffered its first assault of invaders, who destroyed the city.

The fortifications were abandoned at the end of the Empire. However, in 1832, a committee of military engineers decided to restore them. When Saint-Paul de Vence was demilitarized in 1870, the ramparts were sold off at auction. The mayor of the commune, deeming the fortifications of public importance, negotiated with the French government to save them from demolition. In 1872, the commune bought the ramparts for 400 Francs.

With its maze of charming streets, little shady squares, its ancient fountains, gateways and porches, its easy to see why Saint-Paul de Vence is a favorite destination for photographers and tourists alike. I think between Sean and I we took over 200 photos of this picturesque village during our 2-hour visit.

There are lots of shops and artist galleries to browse as we wandered around, but nothing too inspiring to entice us to buy (or we could not afford it). I was just happy to enjoy the beautiful warm weather and the scenery. And the pain au chocolat I purchased from the boulangerie was delicious!

From the back of the village you can see all the way to the sea. Another interesting factoid is that the artist Marc Chagall is buried in the cemetery.

You can view the rest of our photos here.

À bientôt!


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