Doesn’t matter if you’ve been before or if you’re a first-timer – the South of France is one place that’s guaranteed to be an easy yes when it comes to deciding where to holiday. The beautiful beaches, amazing food and plethora of cute little French villages to pop into only serve to add more to the appeal of this sunny part of France (or indeed, to the envy of your friends visiting these beautiful French towns and cities).
So it’s decided! You definitely want to visit the South of France this summer. Now that we can take that for granted – the next question is, where to visit. It’s not like you can just visit ‘The South of France” – that’s like attempting to booking plane tickets to “Asia” – you need to be a tad more specific!
To help you along your merry, hopefully sun-kissed and wine-addled way, here are 10 places you need to visit in the South of France.
Avignon is a city steeped in rich religious history and with the requisite stunning architecture that you’d come to expect from such a place. There was a time in the middle ages when this charming city was the centre of western Christendom. No fewer than six papal conclaves were held in the breathtaking (UNESCO World Heritage) Palace of the Popes in the 14th century, and this building still has fascinating little relics from this time, such as the invaluable gothic frescoes on the walls of the papal apartments.
Essentially, if you want a city break that’s filled with amazing sights to see and perhaps aren’t too bothered by catching some rays on the beach, then Avignon is perfect for you!
Oh, almost forgot to add – the magnificent ruins of Pont Saint-Bénézet (also known as the Pont d’Avignon) pokes out across the Rhône and is also a UNESCO World Heritage sight worth seeing in the city. Shift down a gear and browse the arty walled town, take a cruise on the river, and see if you can come for the Theatre Festival in July, when the city becomes one giant stage.
The center of Carcassonne, above the right bank of the Aude is truly a sight to behold: walls have hugged this part of the tow since the 4th century, but they were reinforced in the 13th century to stand as an even mightier barrier against the Crown of Aragon to the south. (Sounds almost like something out of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, don’t you think? 😀 )
After the 17th century the barriers were no longer needed and left to decay, till an architect with a sense of purpose (and a whole lotta time) came along and revamped them in the 19th century.
Why the history lesson? Well to show off how impressive (and rather old) this town is and (in addition to the photo above) really emphasize why you need to visit this amazing part of France.
Sidebar: Be sure to pop by to see the stained glass windows in the Basilica of Saints Celsus and Nazarius – these 17th century windows are pretty impressive in their own right.
Aix differs from Carcassonne and Avignon in that people visit this town, less so for its plethora of amazing sights, but for its more laidback charm, the beautiful Cours Mirabeau, and those famous lavender fields that the area has become very well-known for.
Nice is pretty much where everyone thinks of when they think of the South of France. It is a grand city of long esplanades and spacious squares – it’s also the 5th largest in France so you won’t be feeling bored for a single second here. You come to Nice for that beach life, the stunning medieval old town and some pretty delicious French food!
Essentially, if you’re looking for a relaxed and rather indulgent holiday in the South of France, Nice is where you head to!
I’m willing to bet that you know one of Albi’s most famous sons (even if you don’t recognise his name)! It’s Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who painted those iconic scenes of dancers at the Moulin Rouge, and created the art nouveau posters inextricably linked with the Belle Époque. To honour him, there is a museum dedicated to him at the Albi’s Episcopal Palace, which houses over a thousand of his works.
But why should you visit Albi? Well mostly because this pretty much sheer French perfection! It’s an absolutely beautiful town with the Episcopal city being a UNESCO World Heritage site – not to mention the region (formerly Languedoc-Roussillon – now part of Occitanie) being known for its delicious wine! *Fun fact: The vineyards in this region are more than 3 times the size of Bordeaux!
The little village just to the south of the Luberon Massif is the quintessence of Provence: all the ingredients for a stunning holiday are here – not least of all the picturesque orchards (to spend many an-afternoon getting lost in), towering mountains (almost like they’re standing guard over the village itself) and vineyards as far as the eye can see.
We’re not the only ones impressed with this place – Lourmarin is regarded by most as one of France’s “most picturesque” villages and it certainly lives up to the hype! It’s a lively little place, with over a dozen cafes and restaurants that make use of what little outdoor space they can find on its tangle of streets.
Back in the day, Biarritz used to be your regular French seaside town and over time turned into one of France’s most luxurious holiday destinations. An embodiment of this transformation is the Hôtel du Palais, built as a summer getaway in the middle of the 19th century for Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of the French and wife of Napoleon III and till this day, still serves as a grand hotel open to the public (though be prepared to shell out some top dollar to stay here – it’s an amazing place with an equally ‘amazing’ price point).
Other noteworthy landmarks include the Casino Barrière, built at the turn of the century and families flock to the regal Grand Plage, a broad golden sandy beach right in front of it.
Marseille, a chaotic, cosmopolitan and edgy city, is a living challenge to all of the stereotypes about Provence and the French Riviera. It’s beautiful, hectic but is as far from the relaxed charm of Nice or Avignon as you can get (it’s France’s second biggest city after all). If you’re looking for some city action, even if it’s just for a day or two, Marseille is definitely worth visiting. If you’ve only got a short amount of time here and want to throw yourself into the thick of where the action is, Marseille’s humongous Old Port, founded by the Phocaeans around 2,600 years ago, is still the best place to see the city live and breathe.
Up to the late 18th century, Pézenas was the seat of the Governors of Languedoc; a fact that has left this town with lots of stately renaissance and baroque buildings – over a 100 buildings here have been listed as “historic” – which is impressive for a place of just eight thousand inhabitants. It’s not the most obvious place to visit when you’re in the South of France but one that you definitely need to – even if for more of a real, less touristy feel of life in the South of France.
A UNESCO World Heritage site because of its abundance of Roman and romanesque architecture (…a Roman theatre, amphitheatre, baths, necropolis and aqueduct; to mention but a few), Arles is one stunning French town. Every corner you turn is pretty much a guaranteed picture perfect moment. This probably explains why this was home to Vincent van Gogh for quite a few years. The Ligurians (yes, the same ones a-la Cinque Terre), back in 800BC were the one of the first in this area, followed may others such as the Celts, Phoenicians (*they’re Greek) and eventually the Romans – hence why this city has such a rich and strong heritage is an amazing place to visit.