Day Trip from Nice to Saint-Paul de Vence: A Journey Through Artistic History (+Photos)

It was the middle of a relentless summer on the Côte d’Azur. I had spent the past few months studying abroad in Nice and was waiting for my adventurous grandmother to arrive for a quick stopover on her annual trip to Europe.

She had been visiting the area for years and couldn’t wait to show me her favorite spots. First on the list was a day trip to St. Paul de Vence. Although by no means a hidden gem, this iconic medieval town on the French Riviera is famed for its historic architecture and artistic allure, housing some of the country’s most important modern art studios, museums, and galleries. As a student with a passion for art and culture, it’s safe to say I was up for the adventure.

Public Transport from Nice to Saint-Paul de Vence

Our trip started in Nice at the iconic early 20th-century Le Negresco Hotel – a much-appreciated respite from my basic student accommodation on the outskirts of the city. We decided to use public transport while we were brimming with energy, and Uber our way home.

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we wandered along the iconic Promenade des Anglaise to catch the number 12 bus from Gambetta bus station. Journeying along the coastline, we switched buses twice to catch the 9 and 655 before reaching our final destination. The entire journey cost less than €4 per person and took about an hour and a half in total. The last bus was a bit crowded, but if it weren’t for the scorching heat and lack of well-working aircon, I’d recommend this journey to most.

A Taste of the Town’s Creative Legacy at La Colombe d’Or

La Colombe d’Or

We arrived a little sleepy from the winding roads and summer air, so we stopped off at La Colombe d’Or for a coffee. A hotel my gran has frequented throughout her visits to the Riviera (along with some of the most notable artists of her era), this place was a feast for the eyes and the soul. Once a simple bar and terrace, it quickly became one of the continent’s favorite meeting places for artists and thinkers.

It’s a living piece of history wrapped in a beautiful package of artistic allure. So much so that the facade is assembled with stones from an old castle, and the fireplace was designed with the hand imprints of the builders who helped construct it. Every stroke of paint on the walls tells a story of the icons who once walked the halls.

La Colombe d’Or

We enjoyed a cappuccino in the bar, with worn stone walls that seemed to echo discussions between Picasso and Chagall. Faded murals perfectly accentuated the simple wooden furniture and arched windows, which opened out onto the hotel gardens below. To this day, my favorite image of this bar graces my phone screensaver. Can you tell I’m a big fan of interiors?

La Colombe d’Or

I took the liberty of strolling through as much of the hotel as I could without a room key, making my way through every tunneling passage and impressive room. Just about every wall is adorned with art from famous and unknown artists who would pay for meals with their paintings. It’s nothing short of museum-worthy.

The terrace, which was once a place of evening dancing and drinking, was buzzing with pre-lunchtime activity. If there’s one thing I would have done differently on this day trip to St. Paul de Vence, it would be to have lunch on the terrace at La Colombe d’Or.

The Timeless Alleyways of Saint-Paul de Vence

Saint-Paul de Vence

With a bit of caffeine to keep us going, we ventured up the hill on foot and entered the town. The entire old village is less than three square miles big, with around three thousand residents. Since most alleyways are narrow and steep, there is no way to get around the village other than on foot. Without spending time in the various museums and galleries, a walk through the winding streets would take less than a couple of hours.

And I recommend doing exactly this. I left my gran at a coffee shop and made headway through the cobblestone streets. It was pretty busy but manageable, considering it was at the height of the French Riviera’s summer season. That said, I would recommend visiting outside of peak season, both for crowd and heat reasons.


Some buildings date back to the 16th and 17th centuries when the city was built by the King of France as a fortress to protect its citizens. While I recommend walking the length of the main street of Rue Grande, my favorite moments were when I took the path less wandered and explored the more residential part of the village. Crumbling buildings clad with fragrant jasmine and perfectly kept pot plants lined the streets. I could only imagine what the historic homes might have looked like inside, and I felt a small envy for the residents who call them home.

The Artistic Treasures of Saint-Paul de Vence: Galleries and Shops

Galleries and Shops

Back on the beaten path, I did what most do in this artistic hotspot and hit the galleries. There are so many that I can hardly remember which gallery held which art, but I do remember being blown away by the quantity of modern art and sculpture.

While there wasn’t much that I’d hang in my own living room, there were some incredibly impressive pieces on display at Art Galerie 31, Bogena Galerie, Galeries Le Capricorne, Galerie Joel Guyot, and Galerie Bartoux-Vieux Saint Paul. But let’s be frank: the entire town is pretty much an open-air gallery.

Maison Grimaldi

Tucked between the countless galleries are boutiques and shops for every occasion. Between the plenty of overpriced and slightly tacky tourist souvenir shops (not unpleasant to browse, but not worth spending too much time in), there are a few real gems. For high-quality travel gifts, Galerie J’Aime is packed to the brim with art and decoration souvenirs.

My favorite shop was Fragonard Parfumeur just outside the old town. We shopped here on our way out of the village, where my gran brought me a fresh summer scent to remember the day by. I also popped my head into L’Atelier du Solein, French Collections, and brought a bottle of wine to share with my friends back in Nice at La Cave de Saint Paul – a 14th-century wine cellar known for their Provencal wine tastings.

La Fontaine for a Local Nicoise Lunch

La Fontaine

With my cultural glass full to the brim, I headed to the main square of the old town to meet my gran for lunch at La Fontaine. We sat on the terrace overlooking the iconic fountain and other listed heritage buildings. Shaded by large umbrellas and in line with a good cross-breeze, this was the perfect spot to engage in some classic people-watching.

We shared a Caesar salad and a truffle risotto (highly recommended), which was more than enough food in the heat of the day. Of course, we took the opportunity to have another cup of coffee, too. Per head, we spent around €25 each, which was less than expected in such a tourist hotspot.

Other than La Fountaine and La Colombe d’Or, I’ve heard rave reviews of Le Petite Chapelle, which is located in a stone chapel dating back to 1885.

Panoramic Perfection: Views from the Village

Views from the Village

One of the most impressive things about St. Paul de Vence are its views. Built on a small hill, you can gaze out over Cagnes-sur-Mer, across to Antibes, and even admire the seasonally snow-capped peaks of the Maritime Alps during colder months.

As we let our meal settle, we walked down a narrow path of stairs to the eastern side of the town, where we were greeted with 180-degree views of the rolling hills and surrounding villages.

Fondation Maeght: The Artists’ Enclave

Fondation Maeght

It was now early afternoon and time to soak up our daily dose of art and culture (as if we hadn’t already done so). Less than a mile from the entrance of the town, Fondation Maeght was France’s first independent art foundation, personally visited by renowned artists like Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, and Joan Miró, to name a few.

You’ll quickly see why the artists of the time found the sun-drenched modern building a peaceful place to create masterpieces. And create they did. Today, the museum features one of the most important European art collections from the 20th and 21st centuries. The art that filled the museum was impressive, to say the least, and the contemporary maze-like gardens scattered with sculptures and fountains were a vibrant contrast to the cobblestone streets of the medieval village down the road.

Fondation Maeght

The walk from the old town was a steep incline, so we decided not to be heroes and Ubered the four-minute drive up the hill. That said, if you’re saving cash, it’s easily walkable. Getting an Uber to the museum was easy, but we had some trouble finding a nearby car on the way back. It could be in your interest to take a local cab and organize for the driver to come back and collect you at a specific time.

Once we had secured a driver, we ordered the Uber all the way back to Nice. The ride cost €40 and was well worth it after a long day in the heat. Did I mention it was the middle of summer?

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