We left for St-Paul-de-Vence bright and early. Armed with my iPad for navigation, we found our way with no problems at all. Hubby found it rather easy getting back into the habit of driving on the wrong side of the road, and I found navigation much easier this time around. We got to St-Paul-de-Vence just after 9am.
St-Paul-de-Vence is a classic medieval village perché. These villages were built on a hill to avoid enemy attacks. St-Paul-de-Vence was first ‘discovered’ by artists like Modigliani in the 1920s. It became a ‘celebrity haunt’ for French movie stars and French personalities which included Sophia Loren, Catherine Deneuve, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Greta Garbo, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Jacques Prévert, just to name a few.
The village is a popular tourist destination and groups of tourists from the cruise ships descend on this tiny village in droves. We were lucky we got there early in the morning before it got too crowded. The streets are lined with a variety of shops and art galleries. Yes, very touristy, but charming nonetheless.
Being on a hilltop, the streets were a steep climb uphill. All the streets were made out of tiny pebbles, arranged in a myriad of intricate patterns. It is definitely not a village to explore while wearing your favourite stilettos.
We spent the whole morning exploring the village and its shops. For lunch, we were so tempted to stop by at Le Tilleul. The restaurant has a terrace seating, which was full of chic French diners, enjoying a glass of wine and the customary cigarette. It was so tempting but realizing we were short on time as we had planned to spend our afternoon at Fondation Maeght and Biot, we opted for the quicker takeaway version next door at Les Gourmandises du Tilleul. We had yummy takeaway baguettes. We got in just before the lunch crowd and even managed to score a bench on the opposite side. The baguettes were washed down by some ice-cream.
Getting into the daily French rhythm, I felt the need for an espresso on our way out of the village. We walked past the boules pitch next to Le Café de la Place just outside the village, and a busker was singing chansons français to the lunch crowd. Of course we had to stop by for a coffee. It was nice and relaxing, sitting under the trees, with live French singing, and a cup of good espresso.
On the way back to our car, we stopped by a santon shop. Santons are little clay figurines made to represent saints or local figures. The figures are painstakingly painted to have all the facial expression and individuality of a human being.
Moving on to our next destination – Fondation Maeght, we parked our car at the carpark and walked up the hill to one of the finest museums of modern art in Europe. Entry was 14 euro per adult, with an extra 5 euro for filming and photography. The extra 5 euro also got you a little pin that you could wear to identify yourself as a person who had permission to photograph the artwork. Hubby thought that was kinda cool. The collection on display was that of artist Gérard Gasiorowski, a French painter that some have likened to Van Gogh.
Even though I am not a modern art person, I found the exhibition interesting. Gasiorowski was clearly extremely talented. The museum itself was chock-ful of little gems. If we weren’t keeping track of time, I’m sure we could have easily spent an entire afternoon there.
The gardens of grounds of the museum is filled with sculptures and statues by famous artists. It was a delight to walk under the cool shade of the trees because you never knew what you would stumble across.
By the time we left Fondation Maeght, it was late afternoon. It was a short drive to Biot but this is where the navigation with the iPad let me down a little. We struggled to find a way into the village. We saw the sign for La Verrerie de Biot and decided to stop by to check out the the Galerie Internationale du Verre. It is a museum with free entry, which houses glasswork from all over the world. La Verrerie de Biot also houses a glass workshop where you can see artisans hard at work, making the famous bubble-flecked glasses.
Moving on we finally found a parking at the bottom of the village. Biot is another village perché, so it was a steep uphill walk to the village centre. Reaching the village centre, we decided to stop for a quick break at Auberge du Vieux Village. This quaint little restaurant is a crêperie like no other. We were welcomed warmly and Christel was very kind to recommend a crêpe with apples that was just delicious. I also tried their Kir Maison which was so refreshing. Hubby and dad tried the bière médiévale, which they both really liked. Mum however was not as adventurous with her choice of Orangina. We had a table outside and we sat down, had our crêpes and our drinks and people-watched, just like the French do. The weather was warm and sunny and it was really quite lovely.
After that, we wandered down rue Saint-Sébastien, checking out the various shops that lined the street. We walked into the atelier of Marc Zanardelli, an ‘artisan maroquinier’. Marc hand-makes his beautiful leather bags by hand. The quality is superb, the colour dazzling and the style ‘très chic’ as they would say in French. Needless to say, mum and I thought we had gone to bag-heaven. Marc’s lovely wife Muriel mans the shop-front and she was totally charming. We starting chatting in French and pretty soon we were getting along like old friends. She was more interested in making sure we were choosing a bag that we would love, than in trying to sell us something. Mum and I got a bag each and Muriel made sure we got our forms filled out correctly for the detaxe. My little cross-shoulder bag is a brilliant red and tan colour. I love it because everytime I look at it, I remember that wonderful afternoon spent in Biot.
Further down the street, we found the atelier of Pascal Guyot with glassware in every colour imaginable. Every piece in the boutique is hand-made and signed by him. We decided to buy a ‘flaçon’. The jug was carefully wrapped in bubble-wrap for us to carry with us. On our way back to the car, I decided to check out the matching glasses to our jug as I was very tempted to get them as well. Imagine our surprise when we noticed the shelves were almost empty. In the span of a little over an hour, at least a dozen pieces had been sold. It would seem that production could barely keep up with sales. ‘Pascal’s pieces are very popular and they sell out very quickly,’ his wife proudly tells us.
By the time we left Biot, it was late in the evening and after an exhausting day of walking, mum and dad were keen to head back to the apartment. We decided to forego our plan to visit Antibes. Wanting to have a quick dinner, we decided to get takeaway pizza for dinner, which we washed down with a tub of Häagen-Dazs ice-cream. And so that was our first day in La Côte d’Azur.