Day Trip to Vence and Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Vence and Saint-Paul-du-Vence are two medieval hill-top villages fairly close together but with completely different vibes.
Saint-Paul is the postcard-perfect walled village with just one entry and stupendous views. Vence is a little more spread out and a little less touristy, but equally spectacular and picturesque in its own way. They are so close that it is worth doing a day trip to see them both.
Basically, Vence has a direct bus from Nice. For Saint-Paul-de-Vence there is no longer a direct bus so you instead need to take a train to Cagnes-sur-mer, then a different bus to Saint-Paul (which also goes to Vence, allowing you to make a loop and see both villages).
Whatever route you choose (see below), you will arrive by bus at the Saint-Paul-Village bus stop.
From there, a short 5-minute walk takes you to the prestigious Foundation Maeght museum. Pronounced “mag“, this estate is filled with fanciful, mostly abstract works (both inside and throughout the gardens) by Joan Miro, Fernand Legér, Bonnard and Braque, among others, plus always-intriguing temporary exhibitions. It’s the most expensive museum on the Riviera at 16€, but discounted to 11€ for students of all ages (with student ID) and children under 18. Children under 10 get in free. Open every day from 10am-7pm July-Sept, 10am-6pm Oct-June.
Or head straight to the village, where just outside the entry gate is a great little bar where you can sit and watch the local denizens pass the afternoon playing boules.
If you want to splurge for lunch, reserve far in advance at the La Columbe d’Or, where their ancient stone walls are covered with original paintings from the French impressionist masters, who all used to be customers back in the day.
…And that’s all before even entering the village! Be sure to wear flat walking shoes as the 1000-year-old cobblestones can be uneven and slick. Once inside the village you’ll find picturesque vistas, lots of art galleries, and many high-end one-of-a-kind shops and boutiques. The village cemetery is the final resting place for Chagall and also the famous French chef Escoffier.
Getting to Saint-Paul-de-Vence
There used to be a direct bus from Nice to the hilltop village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, but no more!
Now if you want to see the perched village you have to either take the train to Cagnes-sur-Mer (3.30€) and then from the train station take the bus #655 Vence par Saint-Paul which costs 2.50€ and you buy the ticket from the driver (Nice bus passes won’t work on this line.) This bus leaves the train station every 30 minutes or so, and goes to Saint-Paul-de-Vence (bus stop Saint-Paul-Village) and then finishes in Vence.
Getting back to Nice
You can take the bus #655 two stops back to Vence (another 2.50€ ticket that you buy from the driver) and then return to Nice on the #9 direct bus (using your Nice bus card so only 1.70€, which will include your tram ride once back in Nice),
Or take the bus #655 down the hill where the 30 minute ride ends at the Cagnes-sur-Mer train station and then you can take the train back to Nice for 3.30€.
Going Between the two Villages
It’s only 4 kilometers between the two villages so you might be tempted to just walk it, but I highly advise against it! There is no sidewalk so you end up walking in the narrow bike lane, which not only disappears at many points, but cars and busses are frequently rounding the bends…in the bike lanes!
Just take the bus #655 for the 7-minute, 2 stop ride, which will cost 2.50€ from the driver as you board. Bus #655 makes the trip every 30 minutes.
Whether you take the direct bus from Nice or the train/bus combo, you will arrive at the last stop which is the Halte Routiere de l’Ara, or Vence bus station. From there it’s just a 5 minute walk straight into the old town, and the tourist office is on the way to pick up a map and find out if anything special is going on.
There are bountiful fruit and flower markets every morning except Mondays, and a big antique market all day on Wednesdays.
Vence is known for its vibrant slate of culture festivals, including the free Festi’Vence – last weekend in June, with back-to-back classical music concerts spread out over 3 days in the town square.
Vence Nuits de Sud features world music and happens in the town square on successive weekends mid to end of July.
Art lovers, be sure to visit the Matisse Chapel, which he designed himself down to the tiniest detail, has been entirely restored, and is really a treasure. It’s a 20 minute walk outside the village at 466 boulevard Henri Matisse. Tickets are 7€ and it’s closed Sunday and Monday.
In the Steps of Chagall tours in English are available from the St Paul de Vence tourist office upon request: Tel. 04 93 32 86 95 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. They charge 9€ a person if they have a group, otherwise they’ll do a private tour for 25€ a person, 2 person minimum.
Getting to Vence
To get to Vence, you either take the direct bus #9 from Nice, or take the train from Nice to Cagnes-sur-mer (3.30€) and then take the bus #655 (2.50€) which stops in Saint-Paul de Vence on the way but ends at Vence.
I suggest taking the direct bus from Nice Bus #9 Halte Routiere de l’Ara which leaves approximately every 30 minutes (once an hour on Sundays), from the Parc Phoenix tram/bus stop (near the airport), and takes 30 minutes to get to the end, the Vence bus station. Important: Be sure to take the one that says Halte Routiere de l’Ara because the #9 Le Gue/Polygone only goes half-way.
You can use your Nice rechargeable bus card for 1.70€, and your trip is included in your Nice day-pass or week-pass. Load up your rechargeable card ahead of time at any tram stop because if you buy a ticket from the driver on the way back it will cost 4€ a pop. Also note that your bus/tram ticket gives you unlimited transfers in Nice for 74 minutes, so if you take the tramway to get to the Parc Phoenix bus stop, it will not cost extra.
For getting back, the bus leaves Vence every 30 minutes, usually at the top of the hour and on the half-hour (less on Saturdays and Sundays). The last bus leaves Vence at 11pm Mon-Sat, and at 10:45 on Sundays, which is convenient as Vence has lots of music and cultural festivals.
To double check the bus timing, just use Google Maps which is much easier, in English, and has up to the minute real-time info. Other apps with reliable real-time info include Moovit (in 35 languages!), Transit App, Zenbus, and others.
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Photo Credit: St. Paul de Vence by Wng, licensed under Creative Commons