Falling in love with Saint Paul de Vence, France

by Adam Jacot de Boinod

For fragrant romance and French style glamour, head to the historic village of Saint Paul de Vence

Situated 12km from Nice Airport, Saint Paul de Vence is reportedly the third most visited destination in France. One of the most beautiful villages in Provence, Saint Paul is drenched in artistic heritage and favoured by many artists who live or reside there, some within the ancient village walls, others in the surrounding countryside. It also attracts celebrities, and Roger Moore and Tony Curtis are rumoured to be residents.

The hilltop village oozes history and understated glamour - cobbled streets, galleries, restaurants and boutiques add to the air of wealth and elegance. However, there is a price to pay for such beauty so be prepared to splash out. It also gets very busy (and hot) during the peak summer months as huge numbers of tourists arrive. But travel in spring or late September and you'll find that not only is the weather spot on, but the hordes have departed, too.

Where to stay

Hotel Les Messugues (Allee des Lavandes, Impasse des Messugues, 06570 Saint Paul) is a small, three-star hotel surrounded by vineyards and situated about 1km out of Saint Paul village, so you will need a car, unless you are fond of walking everywhere. Alternatively, you can hire a bicycle from the hotel for €10 a day.

This hotel de charme has a relaxed atmosphere (honesty bar, free towels for use by the pool, family cats etc) and cosy yet luxurious rooms, decorated with eclectic touches such as doors reclaimed from the old Nice jail. Considering the size of the hotel, the large, heated swimming pool with its central island has the real wow factor, and off season you'll have your pick of the sunloungers.

The selection at breakfast is stupendous, which is taken on the covered terrace facing the vineyard. There is also a cute little outside covered 'room' adjacent to the breakfast area containing quirky seating, where you can sip coffee and listen to the birds singing overhead. The hotel does supply plug-in mosquito machines but you might also want to take some insect repellent, as there are a few bugs around.

Alternatively, check in to the luxurious hotel Le Saint Paul, a Relais & Chateaux property which sits between other Medieval buildings in the heart of the village and combines discreet charm with Provencal style.

Where to eat

The world-famous La Columbe d'Or hotel and restaurant in Saint Paul village (www.la-columbe-dor.com), is where in the past starving artists such as Leger and Matisse used to stay and pay for their meals with original artworks, which can now be seen adorning the walls.

Sip champagne and dine on traditional French country cooking under the stars on the terrace which is the place to see and be seen, while you marvel at the largest menus ever, featuring dishes including rabbit (€20), fresh fish (av. €39) and amazing crème caramel (€8) and chocolate gateaux (€12) to finish.

Another intimate, albeit pricey place to dine in the village is at Le Saint Paul, which has a beautiful flowered dining terrace. Chef Ludovic Puzenat holds a Michelin star and you'll need to dress up. The 'Saint Paul' menu costs €70 per person, while the Gourmet menu comes in at €100 per person (or €85 for three main courses, cheese and dessert).

What to see

In the village, the White Penitent's Chapel decorated by Folon is a beautiful example of the Belgian artist's artwork, and the peaceful atmosphere makes it a must-see. Decorating the chapel was one of the last commissions undertaken by Folon who died in 2005, and you can even book a guided tour from the tourist office for the lowdown (in English) on the artist's fascinating life.

Just outside the village, The Maeght Foundation (www.fondation-maeght.com) is an impressive museum of contemporary modern art in peaceful surroundings, and a must if you are interested in such artworks. It boasts almost 9,000 works of art, both inside the museum and outside in the gardens, including Miro, Leger, Braque and Giacometti.

Grasse is about a 40 minute drive from Saint Paul, and fairly easy to find on the motorway. A perfume town since the 17th century, today its reputation speaks for itself as over two million tourists a year arrive to visit the Fragonard perfume museum and factory outlet.

Situated in the heart of Grasse Old Town, Perfumerie Fragonard (www.fragonard.com) is a fascinating place, having housed perfume making since 1782, and continuing to do so today.

There's a free, guided tour that gives you the chance to discover the various procedures involved in creating and producing fragrance, while in the museum you can admire 3,000 years of perfume history which features a fantastic private collection of perfume bottles, presentation boxes, stills, documents and apparatus from ancient times to the present day.

And don't forget to follow your nose – literally – to the very popular factory outlet, and treat yourself to one of the many unique fragrances created in the factory.