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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Saint-Paul de Vence is located approximately 19 kilometres from the town of Nice. Visit the local tourist office at www.saint-pauldevence.com.
View larger map
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