Saint-Paul de Vence - An escape for the stars

Saint-Paul de Vence – An escape for the stars

In many of the towns and villages I visited on my Côte d’Azur tour, the main reason was to find out where a film or TV series had been made. With Saint-Paul de Vence, I discovered where the actors stayed while making those films and TV series.

Names such as Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Michael Caine and Kirk Douglas have all been linked to the legendary Colombe d’Or hotel and restaurant, a place where they can wind down after a day of filming or escape the crowds at Cannes.

Watch a short video tour of my visit:

La Colombe d'Or Hotel and Restaurant

La Colombe d’Or Hotel and Restaurant

The building became a favourite of local artists – including Picasso and Matisse – from the 1920s. The story goes that when they couldn’t pay their bills they’d offer their paintings in return, ensuring the restaurant’s walls are lined with some rare works of art.

Inside La Colombe d'Or

Inside La Colombe d’Or

As the French Riviera became more synonymous with filmmaking so the Colombe d’Or began to make an impression on the rich and powerful. Over the years the restaurant has welcomed 100s of film stars through its doors and yet it doesn’t feel overly exclusive thanks to its welcoming staff.

The Colombe d’Or was where actors Yves Montand (Jean de Florette) and Simone Signoret (Room at the Top) first met in 1949, before getting married in Saint-Paul de Vence two years later. Scenes from Mervyn LeRoy’s 1965 film, Moment to Moment, were shot on the terrace of the Colombe d’Or.

Moment to Moment filming at the Colombe d'Or - Photo Jacques Gomot

Filming Moment to Moment – Photo Jacques Gomot

Assuming the restaurant isn’t fully booked, passers-by can stop by for a meal and there’s a chance they’ll rub shoulders with movie royalty, though I didn’t spot 007 eating any foie gras in the courtyard during my visit.

Michael Caine and Roger Moore at the Colombe d'Or - Photo Jacques Gomot

Michael Caine and Roger Moore at the Colombe d’Or – Photo Jacques Gomot

Just a few steps away from the Colombe d’Or is the famous Place de Gaulle, where locals play the French pastime of boules throughout the day. The Café de la Place is right beside it.

The Place de Gaulle

The Place de Gaulle

While most of the time you’re likely to see small groups of Saint-Paul residents in the Place de Gaulle, I did hear that celebrities from the Colombe d’Or have been know to stop by for a game. Roger Moore and Tony Curtis are rumoured to have played while shooting The Persuaders! in the 1970s.

Billy Zane’s 2004 film, Big Kiss, was partly shot in the Place, as he stops for a drink at the Café de la Place.

Playing boules in St Paul de Vence

Playing boules in St Paul de Vence

The village almost became part of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955), which I’ve mentioned at length elsewhere on this blog. While looking for a location to shoot the graveyard sequence, Hitchcock approached the mayor of Saint-Paul de Vence for permission, only to be turned away. The scene was eventually shot a few miles away at Cagnes-sur-Mer.

As I took a walk around the village I found it has retained all of its charm over the years, the small lanes winding up a hill flanked on either side by pretty houses and other buildings.

After stopping for lunch at the excellent Le Tilleul Menthe restaurant, I passed through the Place de la Grande Fontaine (see bottom right photo), used in 1965’s Moment to Moment.

Around Saint-Paul de Vence

Around Saint-Paul de Vence, including the Place de la Grande Fontaine

Saint-Paul de Vence also holds on to its artistic connections with a number of art shops selling paintings, sculptures, jewellery and more to eager tourists.

Art shops in Saint-Paul de Vence

Art shops in Saint-Paul de Vence

Don’t miss the Maeght Foundation, located close to the old village, is devoted to modern art. The Foundation will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014.

The Maeght Foundation

The Maeght Foundation

Château Saint-Martin & Spa

Near Saint-Paul de Vence is the famous Château Saint-Martin & Spa, a place for the famous – and not-so-famous – to escape from the real world in a hotel built on the ruins of a 12th Century Templar outpost.

Château Saint-Martin

Château Saint-Martin

Although I didn’t manage to get inside on this visit, I was reliably informed that some of its former guests include Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who are well known fans of the Côte d’Azur.

Visiting Saint-Paul de Vence

The Côte d ‘Azur, within three hours of over 30 European destinations, offers a wide range of themed stays all year round. With France’s second airport, Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport, the French Riviera is within reach of over 33 countries, 103 destinations and served by 56 airlines.

The 2013 schedule is available at Visit the Côte d’Azur Tourist Board website for more information on the region.

Saint-Paul de Vence is located approximately 19 kilometres from the town of Nice. Visit the local tourist office at

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Top image and La Colombe d’Or photo,  © Office de Tourisme de Saint-Paul de Vence – Photographe : Elisabeth Rossolin

Michael Caine/Roger Moore photo and Moment to Moment photo: © Office de Tourisme de Saint-Paul de Vence – Photo Jacques Gomot

Maeght Foundation photo © Archives Fondation Maeght