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Picture-Perfect French Riviera Day Trips in the Footsteps of the 19th & 20th century French Artists

Au Revoir Paris!! Heading South to the Sunny French Riviera & Rustic Provence

In the 1870’s the Impressionists were centralized in the Parisian capital, discussing art in the cafes and nightclubs of Montmartre and planning their next exhibition. However, towards the end of the 19th century, the impressionists started to scatter and go their separate ways.

Seaside Village of Nice painted by Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse – Seated Woman, Back Turned to an Open Window

Their fascination with light and bright colors brought many of them south, away from the grayness of Paris. Many gravitated to the warmer weather in rustic Provence and the seaside villages of Cote d’Azur .

Let’s discover the French towns that inspired these painters from over a century ago, whose names and works enchant us more than ever today! These places are fabulous French Riviera day trips for lovers of art!

French Riviera Day Trips: The Art Trail
French Riviera day trips/ Photo by marc valdener on Flickr

Who Went South & To Where?

Pablo Picasso’s Love Affair with the French Riviera started in Antibes

In 1946, Picasso was first drawn to the bright sunshine and seaside villages of Cote d’Azur. He first settled in Antibes and resided in the enchanting Château Grimaldi overlooking the sparkling, blue Mediterranean sea. Here he produced some wonderful masterpieces.

When Picasso decided to leave, he donated many of his artworks to Antibes. Today, the chateau is the beautiful Antibes Picasso Museum. Here you will view more than 200 Picasso artworks!

Antibes has a lot to offer and is a wonderful day trip in this region. In addition to visiting Picasso’s museum, you can easily spend one full day here getting lost in Antibes old town. It is a delightful town!

French Riviera Day Trips Antibes & the Picasso Museum
French Riviera Day Trips Antibes & the Picasso Museum
Photo by mksfcaon Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Picasso’s other places of Residence in the French Riviera – Vallauris & Mougin

Vallauris – the ceramic region of France

Picasso then moved to the nearby town of Vallauris, where he discovered ceramics. Here, he produced over 4000 artworks!!. Picasso then settled in the nearby city of Cannes, where he bought a beautiful 19th century villa offering magnificent seaside views.

Vallauris is worth a visit and is a fabulous French Riviera day trip. Pop into the castle of Vallauris, which has been converted into a collection of museums and galleries. Inside the castle is the National Picasso museum. This museum exhibits the famous Picasso mural called ‘War and Peace’. The rural is located in the castle’s chapel. Also, many of Picasso’s ceramic artworks created during his time in Vallauris are displayed here.


Picasso’s final residence in this region in Mougin where he lived for the last 12 years of his life. He died in Mougin but Picasso’s body was buried in the gardens of another home he owned in the village Vauvenargues ( in Provence).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir – Cagnes-sur-Mer, Cote d’Azur

In 1907 the Impressionist painter, Pierre Auguste Renoir, bought a beautiful rustic farmhouse in Cagnes-sur-Mer in the Cote d’Azur. Like the other artists, he fell in love with the bright colors and lights of southern France. Renoir remained in Cagnes-sur-Mer until the end of his life.

Renoir’s house and gardens in Cagnes-sur-Mer are now a lovely museum called Musee Renoir. This place is a gem and highly worth visiting. Press here for more details.

French Riviera Day Trips: Musee Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer, the former house of Renoir
French Riviera Day Trips
Musee Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer, the former house of Renoir
Photo by naoko kawachi [CC BY 2.0]

Cagnes Sur Mer offers a number of other sights as well. Wonder around Haut de Cagnes, a medieval town with narrow streets and unforgettable sea views below. Nearby is a lovely pebble beach that stretches on for over four kilometers .

French Riviera Day Trips: Haut de Cagnes in the French Riviera
Haut de Cagnes , Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Vence – A Medieval Town Far Enough Away From the Busy Seaside Villages

Another wonderful French Riviera day trip is to the lovely medieval town, Vence. It is located way up in the mountains, a stone throw away from the crazy crowds of the Riviera towns.

Chagall and Matisse did not live in Vence but spent a lot of time here. They certainly left their mark in this wonderful town. In fact their art works here are major tourist attractions. Press here for detailed information for things to do and see in this picturesque town.

French Riviera Day Trips: Vence, France
Old Town of Vence / Photo  by bill anderson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Henri Matisse – Nice

Henri Matisse, another postimpressionist, was also drawn to the seaside villages of Southern France. He eventually settled in the city of Nice.

“I left L’Estaque because of the wind, and I had caught bronchitis there.  I came to Nice to cure it, and it rained for a month.  Finally I decided to leave.  The next day the mistral chased the clouds away and it was beautiful.  I decided not to leave Nice, and have stayed there practically the rest of my life.” – Matisse

When visiting Nice, I highly recommend that you visit the beautiful Matisse Museum dedicated to his colorful and whimsical artworks. And if you have the chance, pop into the Matisse chapel in Vence.

French Riviera Day Trips: View of Nice
French Riviera Day Trips: View of Nice

One of the Most Popular French Riviera Day Trips is to Saint Paul de Vence

Not far from Vence is a small medieval village called Saint Paul de Vence.

NOTE: Vence and Saint Paul de Vence are two different places!!!!

This picture-perfect town has a fascinating history of art. Marc Chagall lived here for many years and was even buried in the small cemetery here. Many other artists gravitated to this gorgeous hilltop village.

Saint Paul de Vence is a very popular French Riviera day trip. Pop into Fondation Maeght and the Colombe D’Or hotel, both of which have world class art collections. Both places collected artworks from the emerging young painters way before they became famous. Their stories are fascinating.

Saint Paul de Vence oozes with wealth, charm and art. Wander along the ancient walls of this town and experience the views that inspired so many artists to paint here. From the top, you will see gorgeous views of the seaside villages of Cote d’Azur beyond the magnificent scenery of this region.

French Riviera Day Trips: Saint Paul de Vence, France
Saint Paul de Vence, France

Musee National Marc Chagall, Nice

Marc Chagall loved Southern France and he spent the last twenty years of his life here. In 1973, a magnificent art museum opened in Nice, dedicated to Chagall’s artworks alone! It is a fantastic art museum and one of the best art museums in the region. For more information press here.

Biblical paintings by Marc Chagall - Musee National Marc Chagall, Nice
The Biblical Message by Marc Chagall / Photo by Rosino (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Paul Signac – Saint Tropez & Antibes

Paul Signac, the famous neo-impressionist, was born in Paris in 1863 and died in Paris in 1935. However he painted his most beautiful and colorful canvases during the years that he lived in Saint Tropez in the Cote d’Azur.

Paul Signac paiting of The Port of Saint Tropez - French Riviera seaside villages
The Port of Saint Tropez by Paul Signac [Public Domain]

Like so many other artists, he was drawn to the sun, colors and bright light of the South. When he arrived Paul Signac said:

“A strange wind pushed me toward the eighth wonder of the world, I have enough here to work on for the rest of my life”

It is also here in Saint Tropez where young Henri Matisse and other younger generation artists sought out the older Signac for guidance and mentoring.

French Riviera Day Trips: Saint Tropez Port / seaside villages
The Seaside Village of Saint Tropez
Photo by Frédérique Voisin-Demery (CC BY 2.0)

A Gem: Musee de l’Annociade in Saint Tropez

The town of of Saint Tropez pays tribute to its own artistic history with a beautiful museum called Musee de l’Annociade. The building itself was once a chapel and it was converted into a museum. Here you will see a fantastic collection of Paul Signac and other painters who lived & loved the French Riviera. For more information about this museum, press here.

Raoul Dufy moves South to the City of Nice

Raoul Dufy was born in Le Havre. However after a few years of studying in Paris, he moved to the city of Nice. For most of his life, Dufy alternated his stays between Normandy, Paris and the Southern France.

In 1911, when he married a woman from Nice, Dufy started to spend much more of his time in this region.

Raoul Dufy created many famous paintings of the French Riviera, such as the views of Vence and landscapes of other seaside villages. One of his most iconic paintings is of the Bay of the Angels (Baie des Anges) of Nice.

Raoul Dufy painting / Seaside Villages
The Bay of the Angels – Raoul Dufy [Public Domain]

He loved the sunny French Riviera and this showed in his paintings which are characterized by intense luminosity and bold bright colours.

Raoul Dufy died on March 23, 1953 and is buried in a small cemetery in Cimiez, a posh suburb in Nice.

The Fine Arts Museum of Nice (Musee des Beaux-Arts) exhibits a wonderful collection of Raoul Dufy paintings. This musuem is a MUST if you are a Dufy fan. Press here for more information.

Le Cannet

Known for its vibrant light, Le Cannet has always attracted artists to its charming, narrow streets and its hilltop views.

The French post-impressionist painter, Pierre Bonnard left Paris and moved to Le Cannet for the last 20 years of his life. Many of his most beautiful and colorful artworks were painted here.

In celebration of Pierre Bonnard, Le Cannet opened a fantastic museum dedicated to him. It is a MUST museum for all Bonnard fans!

There are other beautiful gems in Le Cannet to discover! Press here for more details.

Pierre Bonnard Painting of Le Cannet - seaside villages
Pierre Bonnard Painting of Le Cannet [Public Domain]

Not Far from the French Riviera is Rustic Provence:

Paul Cezanne – Aix-en-Provence & L’Estaque

The most famous son of Aix-en-Provence is the post-impressionist painter Paul Cezanne! Except for a short period in the French capital, Cezanne spent most of his life in Aix-en-Provence. He also lived for a period of time in the seaside village of L’Estaque with his mistress and illegitimate son, where he painted together with Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Press here for wonderful things to do in Aix-en-Provence in the footsteps of Cezanne.

Photo of the streets of Aix-en-Provence

Vincent Van Gogh – Arles & Saint Remy

Vincent Van Gogh left Paris for Provence in 1888. He moved to the small & charming town of Arles, seeking peace and quiet. Here in Arles, Van Gogh’s created some of his best known paintings.

Vincent Van Gogh painting of Arles Cafe
Cafe in Arles – Van Gogh Painting [Public Domain]

Paul Gauguin, a fellow painter & friend followed Van Gogh to Arles. They lived and worked together in Arles for six weeks. However their prolific collaboration didn’t last long as Gauguin could not handle Van Gogh’s craziness. Gauguin fled after a violent fight!

Van Gogh became increasingly unwell and admitted himself into the hospital in Arles. When released, Van Gogh moved to the small town of Saint-Remy to a psychiatric asylum, hoping for a cure. In this asylum, he continued to paint many masterpieces, including Cypresses, Irises and The Starry Night.

The Lavender fields in Saint Remy
Norman Walshon Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
an Gogh's painting of the Asylum
Van Gogh’s painting of the Asylum [Public Domain]

Today, the tourist office of Saint-Remy offers a walking trail called the “Circuit Van Gogh”. It is a route that leads you to 21 landmarks immortalized in Van Gogh’s paintings. At each landmark there is a panel showing the Van Gogh painting of that particular site.

Press here to download the map and detailed information of the trail.