20 Best Places to Visit in the South of France

The South of France conjures up images of stylish seaside holidays, complete with private beach clubs, upscale boutique shopping, and fancy gourmet dining. This description fits the Côte d’Azur, filled with glitzy towns like Nice, Cannes, Monaco, and Saint-Tropez, but this is just one aspect of the South of France.

After the French Riviera, the second most-visited area in the South of France is Provence. This sun-drenched countryside bursts with charm and historic attractions, including enchanting medieval hilltop towns and ancient Roman ruins. Small farms, fields of lavender, and colorful open-air markets add to the rustic appeal. In terms of cultural value, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, and Avignon are must-see cities in Provence.

For those interested in the South of France’s less touristy side, Marseilles provides a glimpse of a real working city with a cosmopolitan vibe. Toulon is another authentic seaport with tourist appeal.

In Southwest France, the Basque seaside resort of Biarritz boasts an elegant Second Empire hotel, beautiful sandy beaches, and spectacular coastal scenery. Biarritz also has a superb aquarium and many fine-dining restaurants, as well as trendy bistros.

Slightly off-the-beaten-path, the Languedoc-Roussillon region includes outstanding attractions like the UNESCO-listed fortified city of Carcassonne and lively university town of Montpellier.

The most undiscovered area in the South of France is the rural Gascony region. This unspoiled countryside is known for its quiet villages and hearty cuisine. Toulouse is the biggest city in Gascony yet has the feel of a small town, thanks to its relaxed and convivial ambience.

Plan your French sightseeing itinerary with our list of the best places to visit in the South of France.

1. French Riviera Seaside Resorts

Beach in Cannes

Beach in Cannes

The sunny weather, mesmerizing deep-blue sea, and leafy palm trees give the French Riviera a dreamy quality. It is no wonder British aristocrats began vacationing here in the 19th century. By the early 20th century, artists followed suit to capture the sublime scenery on canvas. As a result, the Côte d’Azur is filled with art museums displaying the works of Renoir, Matisse, Chagall, Picasso, and other painters who were captivated by the local landscapes.

Nice is prized for its gorgeous waterfront promenade and lush gardens, while Cannes is known for private beach clubs and the annual film festival. Other top resort destinations include Monaco and Saint-Tropez. The French Riviera also has smaller lesser-known towns that are full of charm, such as Fréjus, Antibes, Villefrance-sur-Mer, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Èze, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, and Menton.

Of all the French Riviera resorts, the coastline near Antibes has the best beaches, especially outside of Antibes’ Old Town, nestled along the Golfe Juan on the Juan-les-Pins and Cap d’Antibes headland. In this area, there are about a dozen public beaches with excellent facilities, including showers, restaurants, and snack bars. The Plage de la Garoupe is the prettiest beach, with a fine white-sand shoreline, but much of it is occupied by private beach clubs during the summertime.

2. Nice: Art Museums and Beaches

Place Massena in Nice

Place Massena in Nice

One of the highlights of the Côte d’Azur, the town of Nice deserves special mention because of its atmospheric old town and amazing art collections: the Matisse Museum, Chagall Museum, Fine Arts Museum, and Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

With its scenic beachside location, balmy weather, and pleasant Mediterranean landscape, Nice is the quintessential French Riviera resort town. The centerpiece of Nice is the Promenade des Anglais, a palm-fringed seafront promenade, while the Vieille Ville (Old Town) is a delightful warren of medieval alleyways and winding cobblestone streets.

Surrounding Nice, the sunny Provence countryside is full of wonderful day-trip possibilities, such as Grasse and Fréjus. Within a 30-minute drive are the adorable hilltop towns of Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Èze, as well as the fetching seaside villages of Cagnes-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Other highlights include the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula and the sea-facing Villa Kérylos in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, a replica of an ancient Greek nobleman’s mansion of the 2nd century BC. Both villas are open to the public for visits.

3. Aix-en-Provence

The Fontaine de la Rotonde in Aix-en-Provence

The Fontaine de la Rotonde in Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence immerses visitors in the lifestyle of southern France, with its vibrant open-air markets, bustling outdoor cafés, and refreshing fountains that adorn the public squares.

As in most towns of Provence, the ambience is slow paced and relaxing. Local residents have perfected the art de vivre, with leisurely meals and strolls along graceful tree-lined streets.

Top tourist attractions in Aix-en-Provence are Vieil Aix (the Old Town); the Cours Mirabeau, a lovely tree-lined avenue with many sidewalk cafés and restaurants; and the Quartier Mazarin neighborhood, which was developed in the 17th century.

Those who appreciate Post-Impressionist art will enjoy visiting the Atelier de Cézanne, the studio where Paul Cézanne created many famous paintings. Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence and spent his childhood here. The Cézanne Trail gives visitors a chance to explore the landmarks associated with the artist on a self-guided walking tour.

4. Historic Monuments in Avignon & Arles

Palais des Papes in Avignon

Palais des Papes in Avignon

To discover the cultural heritage of Provence, the best places to visit are Avignon and Arles. The UNESCO-listed Palais des Papes in Avignon stands as an awe-inspiring testimony to the grandeur of Christendom during the 14th century.

Avignon also has an outstanding museum of fine arts (the Musée du Petit Palais), noteworthy medieval churches, and lively festivals throughout the year.

Renowned for its ancient Roman monuments and traditional festivals, Arles is a characteristic town in the heart of Provence. Tourists are awed by the remarkably well-preserved Roman Amphitheater that was built in the 1st-century to accommodate 21,000 spectators, as well as several other Roman-era archaeological sites.

In Arles, it’s fun to wander the town to find the landmarks that were painted by Vincent van Gogh. Depicted in one of the artist’s famous paintings, the Café du Forum has a typical Provençal ambience thanks to its outdoor terrace on the Place du Forum. Also on the Van Gogh Trail is the scene immortalized in the Starry Nights painting.

5. Saint-Tropez: A Charming Village with Beautiful Beaches

Vieux Port in Saint-Tropez

Vieux Port in Saint-Tropez

Saint-Tropez was just a humble fishing village until 1956 when the film And God Created Woman (starring Brigitte Bardot) made it famous. Scenes from the movie were shot on location throughout the town, including at the Plage de Pampelonne, which is still known for its glamorous private beach clubs.

Today, this alluring beach resort still seduces visitors with its picturesque port (Vieux Port) and quaint historic town center (La Ponche), luxuriant Mediterranean scenery, and pristine sandy beaches. Tourists can hike the Sentier du Littoral, a seaside trail with superb views of the scenery.

Besides its old-world charm and natural beauty, Saint-Tropez also offers many touristic and cultural attractions. An outstanding collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art is on display at the Musée de l’Annonciade, housed in a chapel that dates to 1510.

At the Musée d’Histoire Maritime, visitors learn about local fishermen who began traveling beyond the Mediterranean Sea in the 16th century.

To soak up the ambience of Saint-Tropez, visitors should spend time at the Place des Lices. At this central town square shaded by leafy plane trees, outdoor café terraces provide the perfect vantage point to take in the everyday scenes of men playing pétanque (a traditional Provençal game similar to bocce ball) and women shopping at the open-air produce market (on Tuesday and Saturday mornings).

6. The Upscale Seaside Resort of Biarritz

View of Grande Plage in Biarritz

View of Grande Plage in Biarritz

Stunning coastal scenery and elegant architecture distinguish Biarritz from other seaside resorts in the South of France. The town was once a holiday destination for aristocrats and royalty, and for that reason is known as the “Queen of resorts and the resort of Kings.”

Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III) adored this seaside location in the Basque region because of its natural beauty. Thanks to the empress and other aristocratic visitors in the 19th century, the little fishing village became a sophisticated and genteel beach town. The regal air of the past is evident in opulent oceanfront mansions and streets named after royalty.

The magnificent palace built for Empress Eugénie now houses the five-star Hôtel du Palais overlooking the Grande Plage, the main beach of Biarritz. Guests are treated to sumptuous accommodations in exquisitely decorated rooms and fine dining in lavish Second Empire salons. Tourists may enjoy a meal at one of the hotel’s gourmet restaurants.

7. The Walled Medieval Town of Carcassonne

The walled town of Carcassone

The walled town of Carcassone

Carcassonne gives travelers the impression of stepping into the scene of a fairy tale. This marvelously well-preserved, fortified medieval town is surrounded by massive ramparts. In fact, some portions of the ancient walls and turreted towers were restored by Viollet-Le-Duc in the 19th century, which lends a Disneyland-like quality.

By exploring the narrow alleyways and cobblestone streets of Carcassonne, visitors can imagine what life was like in a typical town of the Middle Ages. Le Grand Puit is one of the wells where townspeople withdrew drinking water.

As early as the 12th century, residents worshipped at the Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire et Saint-Celse, an impressive Gothic monument that is now a basilica.

For a peek at a medieval fortress, visitors should head to the Château Comtal, where the Vicomte of Carcassonne resided in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Carcassonne is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its cultural value and tops the list of attractions in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

Another nearby UNESCO site is the Canal du Midi, a canal created in the 12th century to link the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

8. Hilltop Villages of Provence

Saint-Paul de Vence

Saint-Paul de Vence

Quaint medieval hilltop villages encapsulate the old-world charm of Provence. Many of these ancient towns are still enclosed by ramparts, which adds to the magical feeling of being enclosed in a little medieval world.

Visitors enjoy wandering narrow cobblestone streets and pedestrian lanes to discover small boutiques, fountain-adorned squares, and historic churches. Another delightful aspect of the Provençal hilltop villages are the splendid views of the countryside.

Travelers can create their own driving itinerary to discover the quaint country villages of Provence, especially in the remote Luberon region, which is designated as a UNESCO-listed Natural Regional Park.

For those based in Nice, several interesting hilltop villages are easy day-trip destinations.

About a 30-minute drive from Nice is a very popular tourist destination, Saint-Paul de Vence. This characteristic Provençal “village perché” (perched village) stands on a precipice overlooking the landscape. Beginning in the 1920s, many famous artists were drawn to the beauty of Saint-Paul de Vence, and their work is on display at the Fondation Maeght, two kilometers outside the village.

Along the French Riviera coastline, Èze is a captivating hilltop village (only 12 kilometers from Nice) perched 400 meters above the sea. This picture-perfect village affords sweeping vistas of the Mediterranean and the Cap-Ferrat coastline. Luxurious accommodations are found at the Château de la Chèvre d’Or hotel , a Relais & Châteaux property with a Michelin-starred restaurant.

It is also worth taking the 45-minute drive from Nice to visit Grasse, a lovely village in the foothills of the Maritime Alps surrounded by fields of flowers. Famous for its prestigious perfume factories, Grasse has a wonderful old town, with tree-shaded courtyards, pleasant outdoor cafés, and quaint cobblestone streets. Several lush, romantic gardens in Grasse feature superb views.

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Gourdon

Gourdon

One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France, Gourdon (kilometers from Nice) boasts many artisan craft boutiques and an impressive château with gardens designed by André Le Nôtre. From Nice, tourists can go on a full-day Provence countryside small-group day trip to visit Grasse, Gourdon, and Saint-Paul de Vence.

Medieval hilltop villages are scattered throughout the Haut-Vaucluse area of Provence. Two more of France’s Most Beautiful Villages are Séguret (10 kilometers from Vaison-la-Romaine), built on a hillside overlooking the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range, and the enchanting hilltop town of Venasque, which affords views of Mont Ventoux. The perched village of Saumane-de-Vaucluse delights visitors with its Romanesque church, old stone houses, and gurgling fountains.

Presiding above rocky gorges, Monieux has a museum dedicated to truffles, the Musée de la Truffe du Ventoux, and hosts a Medieval Festival in September.

Crillon-le-Brave offers the charm of a quiet hilltop hamlet. Besides its Romanesque church and medieval château, the main draw of Crillon-le-Brave is the Hôtel Crillon Le Brave , a plush five-star Relais & Châteaux resort property.

The Luberon natural regional park within the Haut-Vaucluse area has many medieval hilltop towns on the Most Beautiful Villages of France list: Gordes, dramatically perched on a steep promontory; Ménerbes, made famous by Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence novel; Lourmarin, which has a majestic château that hosts cultural events and festivals; Roussillon, built alongside an ochre cliff and surrounded by woodlands.

Also in the Luberon area, Bonnieux stands out because of its traditional Provençal market; wide selection of restaurants and cafés; and its fantastic museum devoted to the history of bread, the Musée de la Boulangerie.

Apt is known for its large Provençal market and museum of archaeology, while Cadenet has a luxurious boutique hotel, the Auberge La Fenière , with a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Fountain-adorned squares, pedestrian staircases, and terraces with views distinguish Joucas, a hilltop village with an aristocratic heritage.

Renovated by fashion designer Pierre Cardin, the adorable town of Lacoste is full of art galleries and outdoor café terraces that afford vistas of the countryside.

9. The Glamorous Seaside City-State of Monaco

View of Monaco on a beautiful summer day

View of Monaco on a beautiful summer day

This dazzling city-state on the French Riviera is home to a glamorous royal family with a heritage that dates back to the 13th century. Perched on a promontory above the sea, Monaco boasts an impressive ancient castle (the Palais du Prince) and splendid coastal views.

Just a 30-minute train ride from Nice, Monaco draws fashionable crowds to its high-profile yacht shows, the annual Formula One Monaco Grand Prix car race, and the Opening Gala at the Opera House.

Tourists should be sure to visit the top attractions of Monaco including the Palais du Prince, the Musée Oceanographique, and the Jardin Exotique.

10. Montpellier

Old Town of Montpellier

Old Town of Montpellier

Despite being a modern urban city, Montpellier has retained its historic character in the Old Town known as L’Écusson. This collection of ancient quarters has the feel of an open-air museum with its jumble of winding medieval streets, elegant squares, beautiful churches, and stately hôtel particuliers (aristocratic mansions).

Encircling L’Écusson, spacious tree-lined boulevards were created by Baron Haussmann (who designed the Grands Boulevards of Paris) in the 19th century, replacing the city’s medieval ramparts. The best of the 21st century is seen in Montpellier’s sleek tram system with new cars featuring decorations by Christian Lacroix.

An air of trendiness and youthful energy reigns throughout Montpellier, thanks to the university-student population. Hopping sidewalk cafés and chic gourmet restaurants delight locals and tourists alike.

11. Lourdes & Pyrénées Nature Sites

Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes

Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes

The densely forested, rolling hills of the Pyrenees Mountains provide an inspiring natural backdrop for the Lourdes cathedral, which stands beside the rushing Ousse River. Pure spring waters flow into a Grotto where Saint Bernadette received visions of the Virgin Mary. Water from this source is believed to have healing properties.

Millions of pilgrims visit Lourdes annually, making it the biggest pilgrimage destination in France and one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. Pilgrims visit the Grotto of the apparitions, worship at the Basilique Notre-Dame du Rosaire (Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes), and participate in candlelit Marian processions.

One of the top attractions of the French Pyrenees, Lourdes draws many pilgrims who hope for cures to an illness by bathing in the sacred waters. So far, the Catholic church has validated 70 official miracles.

Lourdes is an ideal starting point to explore the nature sites of the Pyrenees Mountains. The UNESCO-listed Cirque de Gavarnie awes visitors with its spectacular scenery of sheer granite walls and rushing waterfalls. The highest summits (Pics du Marboré au Taillon) soar to 3,000 meters; the Grande Cascade with a 422-meter drop is Europe’s tallest waterfall.

An easy walking path at the Cirque de Gavarnie allows tourists (of any fitness ability) to soak up the scenery of snow-dusted mountains, alpine chalets, and grazing goats, while listening to the refreshing sounds of a meandering stream and the chirping of little birds.

12. Marseilles, the Calanques & Cassis

Fishing Boats in the Port de Cassis

Fishing Boats in the Port de Cassis

To experience an authentic Mediterranean seaport, tourists should spend a day or two exploring Marseilles. A bustling harbor explains the city’s raison d’etre, as well as its rich multicultural heritage. With its historic buildings, artisan boutiques, and authentic restaurants, the Old Town (Le Panier) of Marseille is full of character.

The Vieux Port of Marseilles dates back to the 6th century BC and is still in use today as a launching point for fishing boats. A fish market is held every morning at the harbor, and the restaurants around the waterfront are the best places to visit to sample the gastronomic specialty of Marseilles, bouillabaisse (seafood stew). The upscale Restaurant Miramar (12 Quai du Port) is famous for its bouillabaisse.

From the Vieux Port in Marseilles, travelers can hop on a ferry to reach two favorite tourist destinations: the 16th-century Château d’If (fortress) on the Ile d’If, and the Calanques, a national park featuring white limestone coves filled with seawater. Tourists can also take cruises and private boat excursions to explore the Calanques.

It is even possible to take an Electric Bike Tour to the Calanques from Marseille . This full-day tour traverses the wild terrain of the Calanques with a stop at a beach for swimming and lunch, and concludes with a visit to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, one of the top tourist attractions in Marseilles.

A short drive from the Parc National des Calanques and less than 30 kilometers from Marseilles is the alluring Provençal fishing village of Cassis. The pastel-painted houses, picturesque port, and bright Mediterranean sunlight appealed to Post-Impressionist painters such as Paul Signac, Henri Matisse, and Raoul Dufy, who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th century to paint scenes of the harbor and coastline in their distinctive, vibrant style.

Today, Cassis is a recreational getaway for residents of Marseilles. It’s an equally enticing destination for travelers who appreciate the charm of a small seaside town. For those who would like to visit Marseilles, Cassis, and the Calanques in one day, the Provence Sightseeing Tour is the perfect option.

13. Ancient Roman Monuments & Archaeological Sites

Arènes de Nîmes

Arènes de Nîmes

Both Arles in Provence and Nice on the French Riviera have fascinating ancient Roman ruins, among their other tourist attractions. The Roman Amphitheater in Arles was designed for a large audience to attend gladiator fights and theatrical events. In the Cimiez Quarter of Nice are the ancient ruins of Cemenelum, revealing vestiges of the Roman baths and amphitheater.

Nîmes in the Languedoc region has some of the most impressive ancient Roman monuments in the south of France. The Arènes de Nîmes is a perfectly designed Roman amphitheater, remarkable for its exceptional state of preservation. A fully restored classical Roman temple, the Maison Carrée, presides over a square in the center of town. The colonnaded facade awes visitors with its monumental and harmonious proportions, while the interior reveals a sense of grandeur.

An important town during classical antiquity, Orange boasts a UNESCO-listed Théâtre Antique (Roman theater dating to the 1st-century). This incredibly well-preserved ancient theater today hosts the renowned Chorégies d’Orange music festival, as well as other cultural events.

In the Haut-Vaucluse area of Provence, Orange is a 30-minute drive away from Vaison-la-Romaine, which is considered one of the “Plus Beaux Détours de France” (France’s official list of places worthy of a detour). Vaison-la-Romaine has remarkable archaeological sites dating to the 1st-century. The old Roman theater of Vaison-la-Romaine is used as an open-air venue for Vaison Danses, an international dance festival that takes place every year in July.

Also in the Haut-Vaucluse area, Pernes-les-Fontaines was founded during the Gallo-Roman era. This relaxing town was named for its many fountains that provide abundant drinking water, a legacy of the Roman heritage.

14. UNESCO-Listed Albi

View of Albi and the Cathedrale Sainte-Cecile

View of Albi and the Cathedrale Sainte-Cecile

The historic episcopal city of Albi is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its exceptional architecture and cultural value. An imposing fortress-like cathedral presides over the medieval town.

Founded in the 13th century, the enormous Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile is the world’s largest cathedral built from brick. The breathtaking, spacious vaulted interior features over 18,000 square meters of frescoes and an ornately decorated Gothic choir with 200 intricate statues. Not to be missed is the Last Judgment fresco, a masterpiece of Renaissance painting.

Housed in the UNESCO-listed 13th-century Palais de la Berbie, the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum is devoted to the work of the famous artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who was born in Albi. The museum displays Lautrec’s distinctive posters, as well as paintings and drawings.

Albi is a worthwhile day trip from Toulouse ( a one-hour drive) or combined with an itinerary of other attractions such as Carcassonne (about a two-hour drive).

15. Toulon & Île de Porquerolles

Toulon

Toulon

Toulon is less touristy than other seaside cities along France’s Mediterranean coast yet offers plenty of attractions. This characteristic port town has an attractive palm-fringed waterfront, which is full of shops, and restaurants with outdoor terraces.

Highlights of Toulon are the atmospheric Le Mourillon quarter, an old fishing village; the historic harbor with the Porte de l’Arsenal, an 18th-century military building that houses the Musée National de la Marine (seafaring museum); and the astounding coastal views from Mont Faron (accessible by the Téléphérique du Faron cable car).

A traditional Provençal market has been held at the Cours Lafayette since the 18th century. Today, this market takes place every day (except Mondays) from 7:30am until 12:30pm; vendors sell fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers, specialty food products, and Provençal fabrics.

From the Port of Toulon, travelers can sail away to the Île de Porquerolles. Just an hour ferry ride away, this idyllic island features magnificent natural scenery, sandy beaches, and secluded coves. It’s the perfect destination for a relaxing getaway. Besides sunbathing, the Île de Porquerolles offers opportunities for snorkeling, hiking, and mountain biking.

16. The Gascony Region

Lavardens Castle in Gascony

Lavardens Castle in Gascony

The distinctive character of Le Gers (the Gascony region) in Southwest France derives from its ancient feudal heritage. In this unspoiled pastoral landscape, farmlands blanket the undulating countryside in a colorful patchwork while hilltops are dotted with imposing castles, walled medieval towns, and quiet country villages.

Toulouse is the largest city in the region, but it has a slow-paced, small-town feel. With its sultry climate and sidewalk cafés found at every turn, Toulouse immerses visitors in a relaxing ambience typical of southern France.

There are plenty of things to see in Toulouse, including a UNESCO-listed Romanesque basilica and 13th-century Dominican monuments, both constructed from the red bricks that earned the city its name of “La Ville Rose.”

In the country of the musketeers, La Bastide en Gascone in Cazaubon invites travelers to indulge in the relaxation and pampering of a bucolic retreat. This charming Relais & Châteaux property offers minimalistic yet refined guest rooms, a gourmet restaurant, spa, outdoor swimming pool, garden, and bikes (on loan) for exploring a scenic trail nearby.

17. Bordeaux

Place de la Bourse

Place de la Bourse

UNESCO has designated the entire city of Bordeaux as a World Heritage Site because of its cultural value and architectural treasures from the Age of Enlightenment. The city boasts over 350 buildings that are listed as Historic Monuments.

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Built up along the Garonne River in Southwest France, Bordeaux is a cosmopolitan port town with a heritage that stretches back to antiquity. The city flourished during the 18th century, which explains the coherence of neoclassical architecture dating to that era.

Among Bordeaux’s top tourist attractions are the UNESCO-listed 12th-century Cathédrale Saint-André and the 18th-century Grand Théâtre, which hosts ballet, opera, and music performances.

18. Le Var

Village of Cotignac in the Var Region

Village of Cotignac in the Var Region

Nestled between Provence and the French Riviera, Le Var region is a hidden gem of Southern France. Lush woodlands, rolling hills, and farmlands define the landscape of this rural area, which is also rich in cultural heritage. The countryside is dotted with historic towns, ancient abbeys, and beautiful villages.

A Carthusian monastery founded in the 12th century, La Chartreuse de La Verne stands amid an oak and chestnut forest in the Massif des Maures mountain range. This listed Historic Monument is currently home to a community of nuns, but also welcomes the public for visits. Tourists will appreciate the peaceful setting, as well as the Romanesque church and the ceramics (for sale at the monastery’s boutique) that are handcrafted by the resident nuns.

The Abbaye du Thoronet is another 12th-century abbey (classified as a Historic Monument) hidden deep within a forest of oak and olive trees. This tranquil abbey awes visitors with its austere architecture and serene ambience. The Thoronet Abbey is one of three important Cistercian monuments in the South of France (the others include the Silvacane Abbey and the Abbey of Sénanque in Provence).

The Var region is full of traditional country villages and towns featuring fountain-adorned squares and inviting outdoor cafés. Lorgues exemplifies a typical town of the region with its many fountains, an impressive historic church, an atmospheric medieval quarter, and a weekly open-air market that draws many visitors.

Near Lorgues are two tourist attractions that will appeal to luxury seekers and gourmands: Set amid vine-cloaked fields and olive groves, the Château de Berne (in the town of Flayosc) is a luxurious five-star Relais & Châteaux hotel with a Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant, spa, fitness center, tennis court, and outdoor swimming pool.

For traditional French cuisine, the famous Chez Bruno (in Le Plan Campagne Mariette, four kilometers from the Château de Berne) specializes in dishes made with truffles.

Sheltered by steep limestone cliffs, Cotignac (23 kilometers from Lorgues) is classified as a “Village de Caractère du Var” (Village of Character of the Var) thanks to its lovely ambience, picturesque streets, and pleasant tree-lined central square.

Nature lovers should be sure to see the Gorges du Verdon in the region’s northeastern corner. Part of the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon (Verdon Regional Natural Park), this dramatic 700-meter-deep river canyon offers an abundance of recreational opportunities. The Verdon Regional Natural Park is a great place for swimming, water sports, and hiking.

19. The Camargue

Wild Horses in the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue

Wild Horses in the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue

About a 20-minute drive from Arles, the Camargue is a unique landscape of wetlands, marshlands, beaches, and sand dunes. The area is protected as a Natural Regional Park, the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, which is home to wild white horses, Camargue bulls (used in bullfighting), and over 300 species of birds including pink flamingos.

Within the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer delights tourists with its sandy beaches and great selection of cafés, restaurants, and shops.

Just outside the Natural Regional Park are several noteworthy historic towns. Dating back to the 13th century, Aigues-Mortes has its medieval fortifications completely intact. These ancient walls conceal an atmospheric warren of narrow streets, steeped in the ambience of the Middle Ages.

Salt marshes surround the town of Aigues-Mortes and less than two kilometers away is the Salin d’Aigues-Mortes, where sea salt is harvested by artisans in the centuries-old manner. This saltworks company produces the prized Fleur de Sel de Camargue (a finely textured sea salt). At the Salin d’Aigues-Mortes site, tourists can take a guided walking tour of the salt marshes and watch artisans harvest the salt.

The Camargue Natural Regional Park area also boasts seaside vacation destinations: Le Grau-du-Roi (seven kilometers from Aigues-Mortes), an old fishing village that has been transformed into a modern resort; and Port Camargue (12 kilometers from Aigues-Mortes), which has sandy beaches.

20. Plage de l’Espiguette

Plage de l

Plage de l’Espiguette

The Plage de l’Espiguette ranks as one of the best beaches in France because of its pristine environment and calm deep-blue seas. This dreamy stretch of white-sand shoreline is a favorite summertime destination in the Languedoc-Roussillon region (a 45-minute drive from Montpellier).

At this wild unspoiled beach, outdoor activities are the main draw. Things to do include swimming, nature walks, horseback riding, kitesurfing, and fishing.

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Other Highlights of France: Many travelers begin a vacation in France by visiting the capital city of Paris. The TGV high-speed train takes just over 2.5 hours from Paris to Avignon, a good starting point to explore Provence. For other inspiration to extend a visit in France, read about the best places to visit in France. Other top tourist destinations include Normandy and the Loire Valley.

15 Best Places to Visit in the South of France

The South of France is the embodiment of style and sophistication, and might make you think of the jazz age, the jet set in the 50s, impressionist painters, ochre-hued Provençal villages or Roman ruins.

It’s all of that and a whole lot more, so we’ve tried to curate a list that ticks all the boxes, with famous cities that make the headlines, and towns forever linked to the artists or writers who were inspired by them.

So whether you’re drawn by the South of France’s history, landscapes, culture, food or beaches there should be a place on this list to tempt you.

Lets explore the best places to visit in the South of France:

1. Avignon

Avignon

Source: proslgn / shutterstock Avignon

For a time in the middle ages this city on the banks of the Rhône was the centre of western Christendom.

Six papal conclaves were held in the spellbinding Palace of the Popes in the 14th century, and the building has fascinating little vestiges from this time, like the invaluable gothic frescoes still on the walls of the papal apartments.

The exalted ruins of Pont Saint-Bénézet are also from this period, poking out half-way across the river, guarded by a gatehouse and boasting the little medieval chapel of Saint Nicholas.

Browse the arty walled town, take a cruise on the Rhône, and see if you can come for the Theatre Festival in July, when Avignon becomes one giant stage.

2. Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Source: Riska Parakeet / Shutterstock Carcassonne

The Cité de Carcassonne, above the right bank of the Aude is a sight that can you dream: Walls have encircled this part of the city since the 4th century, but they were beefed up in the 13th century to stand as a barrier against the Crown of Aragon to the south.

After the 1600s they were no longer needed and allowed to decay, until the architect Viollet-le-Duc came along and gave them a romantic overhaul in the 1800s.

Carcassonne has much more besides: The Canal du Midi crosses the city and is a mind-blowing accomplishment from the 1600s, while the stained glass windows in the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus are some of the loveliest you will ever see.

3. Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence

Source: RossHelen / Shutterstock Aix-en-Provence

Aix differs from the first two entries in that people visit this town, not so much for sights, but for its less tangible, atmospheric qualities.

On the evocative Cours Mirabeau, with its plane trees, fountains and elegant mansion, you’ll visit the haunts of the many famous personalities connected to Aix, like Paul Cézanne, Ernest Hemingway and Émile Zola.

You can continue the Cézanne theme by making the pilgrimage to Montaigne Saint-Victoire, just to the east of the city.

This jagged limestone ridge was a scene that Paul Cézanne returned to paint time and again in the late-19th century.

4. Nice

Promenade des Anglais

Source: trabantos / shutterstock Promenade des Anglais

Nice is grander, a city of spacious squares and long esplanades.

It was one of the first coastal destinations to attract tourists, furnishing it with imposing 19th-century palaces and hotels on the Promenade des Anglais.

You can duck down the alleys of Vieux Nice to shop at the boutiques and flower market at Cours Selaya, or ascend the Colline du Château for a view that never ceases to delight.

If you don’t mind pebbles you can also join the select few who go down to sun bathe on Nice’s beaches.

Even in July and August it’s never exactly heaving on the shore and most visitors stick to the promenade.

Nice also has a clutch of artists who swore by the city: Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse both have dedicated museums here.

5. Albi

Albi

Source: Nata Shilo com / Shutterstock Albi

Chances are you’ll know one of Albi’s most famous sons even if you don’t recognise his name: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted those iconic scenes of dancers at the Moulin Rouge, and created the art nouveau posters inextricably associated with the Belle Époque.

The museum in his name at the Albi’s Episcopal Palace has the largest single collection of his work in the world, with more than 1,000 pieces.

Its brick gothic home is also a UNESCO site, part of a group of dominating red brick buildings designed to inspire awe.

None more so than Albi cathedral, which looks like a fortress and was erected in the 13th century as a declaration of Catholic power after the suppression of the Cathar sect in this region.

6. Lourmarin

Lourmarin

Source: marketa1982 / Shutterstock Lourmarin

The little town just to the south of the Luberon Massif is the quintessence of Provence.

All the ingredients are here, particularly the landscape of mountains, orchards and vineyards that frames the Caselas belfry.

Lourmarin is one of France’s “most beautiful” villages, but is much more than an outdoor museum: It’s a lively little place, with 15 cafes and restaurants that make use of what little outdoor space they can find on this tangle of streets.

And, inevitably, there’s a cultural giant linked to the town.

Albert Camus lived and wrote here, and is buried in the town’s cemetery.

7. Biarritz

Biarritz

Source: trabantos / Shutterstock Biarritz

In the 19th century the European elites “discovered” Biarritz, and turned it from a seaside village into one of Europe’s most luxurious resorts.

Summing up this swift transformation is the Hôtel du Palais, built as a summer getaway in 1855 for Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of the French and wife of Napoleon III. Families flock to the Grand Plage, a broad golden sandy beach in front of regal turn-of-the- century landmarks like the Casino Barrière.

There are also good swells for surfers on the Grand Plage, as well as at Côte des Basques just along the shore.

8. Uzès

Uzès

Source: Joao Paulo V Tinoco / Shutterstock Uzès

North of Nîmes, with its profusion of Roman monuments, is the understated town of Uzès.

The nerve centre of this little place is the Place aux Herbes, where in summer the sunlight is scattered by the square’s plane trees, and the arcades on all sides shelter restaurants and cafes.

One of the south’s most celebrated markets is also held in these arches on Saturdays.

The square is the best place to begin a walking tour of this town with its feudal towers and creamy limestone mansions from the 1600s and 1700s.

You can scale the 100 steps of the Royal Tower for the best view of the symbolic Tour Fenestrelle, the romanesque campanile of Uzès Cathedral.

9. Marseille

Marseille

Source: S-F / Shutterstock Marseille

Chaotic, cosmopolitan and edgy, Marseille challenges all of the stereotypes about Provence and the French Riviera.

It’s France’s second city and the country’s largest port, with a lot of diversity, epitomised by the hectic Nouailles Market.

The colossal Old Port, founded by the Phocaeans 2,600 years ago, is still the best place to see Marseille in action.

And for one of France’s most recognisable landmarks, make your way up to Notre-Dame de la Garde, at the highest point in the city, just to the south of the Old Port.

The new MuCEM is a high-profile attraction devoted to the history of the Mediterranean, while Marseille can also be your gateway to the Calanques, those vast fjord-like cliffs to the south of the city.

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10. Pézenas

Pézenas

Source: All themes / Shutterstock Pézenas

Up to the late-1700s Pézenas was the seat of the Governors of Languedoc, which has left this town in Hérault with plenty of stately renaissance and baroque architecture for a place with just 8,000 inhabitants.

More than 100 buildings have been listed as “historic” in Pézenas.

You can check in with the tourism office for the locations of all of Pézenas’ “hôtels”, and begin a walking tour you won’t soon forget.

A famous citizen from this period is the revered 17th-century comedy writer Molière, who performed at the theatre here several times in the 1650s and spent time in the court of Armand de Bourbon, the Prince of Conti, inspiring some of his early works.

There’s a small exhibition to the writer at this plush monument.

11. Arles

Arles

Source: LI SEN / shutterstock Arles

A UNESCO site for its abundance of Roman and romanesque architecture, Arles has a Roman theatre, amphitheatre, baths, necropolis and aqueduct to discover.

The 12th-century Church of St. Trophime is immensely valuable too, for the peerless romanesque sculptures above the portal.

The city didn’t miss out on impressionist painters either, as van Gogh produced some 300 works in his year in Arles, and shared the “Yellow House” with Gauguin for nine weeks.

Arles is also in the north of the Camargue, a region of salt flats, marshes and meadows where semi-feral white horses roam free, and fighting bulls are bred for export to Spain.

Between April and June the briny lagoons and reedy marshes in the Camargue teem with thousands of flamingos, one of the most amazing natural spectacles in the south.

12. Toulouse

Toulouse

Source: Sergey Dzyuba / Shutterstock Toulouse

On the Garonne River, the old centre of this university city is replete with stately 18th-century neoclassical buildings all made with a pinkish terracotta.

This has won Toulouse the nickname “La Ville Rose”, exemplified by the glorious facade of the Capitole.

There are older monuments in the city, sure to set historians’ pulses racing.

The Church of the Jacobins is the resting place of Thomas Aquinas, the 12th-century friar with a lasting influence on modern philosophy.

You can spot the World Heritage Basilica of Saint-Sernin by its spired bell-tower, and if you take a close look, you’ll see how the design of the arches changes with phase of construction.

13. Gordes

Gordes

Source: Romrodphoto / Shutterstock Gordes

A typical “village perché”, Gordes is a small medieval town on a hilltop in the Luberon range.

Gordes is one of the “most beautiful” villages in France, and you can be sure that it intends to remain so.

Any new buildings in Gordes must be built with limestone and capped with terracotta tiles! Like many of Provence’s rustic settlements, Gorde has attracted celebrities in their droves.

The town’s cobblestone streets coil around the hill, and at the top is a renaissance castle containing the town hall and a small art museum.

Minutes from here is Sénanque Abbey, feted for the image of its walls at the end of a lavender field.

14. Bordeaux

Bordeaux

Source: JeanLucIchard / Shuttestock Bordeaux

Another of the south of France’s many World Heritage sites is Bordeaux’s historic quarter.

This was mostly planned in the 1700s, when the city became too big to keep within the walls.

So there was a large urban remodel endowing Bordeaux with many of the sights and monuments people adore today.

This goes for Grand Théâtre, Place de la Bourse and the Place du Parlement.

Add these to the list of medieval must-sees, like the Grosse Cloche, the 15th-century belfry of the old town hall, and the ghostly gothic cathedral.

We haven’t even mentioned that Bordeaux is the world capital of wine, or that it’s a fun-loving university town with some of France’s best nightlife outside Paris.

15. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Source: Oliverouge 3 / Shutterstock Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

The little capital of the Alpilles, a small range of low mountains to the south of Avignon, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a medieval town blasted by the legendary mistral in winter and spring.

On clear days this creates that unique light that attracted the impressionists, and van Gogh made 150 paintings in and around this town.

Art lovers will get frissons when they notice a scene or building immortalised by the artist.

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is adorned with mansions from the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was a prestigious place to be.

This was partly to do with Glanum, the ancient city a few minutes’ walk from the town.

There’s a 2,000 year-old triumphal arch, sacred spring and one of the most intact mausoleums in the former Roman world.

Best Places to Visit in Provence, France

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Visit Provence, Southern France

Provence is part of the French region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in the southeast of the country. It’s a beautiful area with amazing scenery, a history that goes back to Roman times, and adorable little villages. Whether you enjoy great food, sipping wine in sumptuous surroundings, or relaxing on the beach, you need to visit Provence!

To help you get the most from your trip to this part of France, then here are the best places to visit in Provence for every kind of traveler. Some of these places are high on our list of the best things to do in France!

Gordes - Provence

ROAD TRIP ITINERARIES THAT COVER PROVENCE

  • Road Trip Route du Mimosa
  • The Ultimate South of France Road Trip Itinerary (2 weeks)
  • The Ultimate Provence Lavender Route
  • Road Trip Gorges du Verdon

Most Beautiful Places in Provence

Marseille

Marseille - France

Marseille is the capital of Provence and the second largest after Paris. It’s a Mediterranean city with a busy harbor and the ideal place to experience authentic France. Well connected to Paris with fast trains, a weekend in Marseille is super easy to organize from the French capital.

Marseille’s historic district of Le Panier is a must-see in Provence with its narrow streets, café terraces, and street-art colored facades. You should also make sure to see the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde with its views of the bay from the terrace, and the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM) to learn more about the history of Mediterranean peoples.

The Hilltop Villages of the Luberon

Hilltop Village of Roussillon - Provence

The Luberon region is another Provence must-see. It includes parts of the Vaucluse and the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence departments and is 70km north of Marseille. This is an area of extreme landscapes, as well as small hill towns that guard sleepy valleys and vineyards.

The hilltop villages in this region are a popular tourist attraction. Each of them has its own distinct character and features, from Bonnieux, with its stunning clock tower, to Gordes and Roussillon, both listed as Most Beautiful Villages in France.

Aix-en-Provence

Cours Mirabeau - Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence is the quintessential Provencal city, with a unique blend of history, balmy weather, and elegance. The tree-lined boulevards, Roman monuments, and ornate fountains of this city are a Provence must-see, and the city has a wonderful warmth that’s characteristic of Southern France.

There are numerous tourist attractions in Aix-en-Provence, from welcoming cafés to a lively street scene. While you’re there, make sure you check out Les Deux Garçons, once a favorite hangout of Picasso and Edith Piaf, the architectural marvel that is Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur, Cézanne’s workshop, and Musée Granet, where you can see fine arts created by the greatest masters in history.

Calanques of Marseille-Cassis

Calanques de Marseille by boat

The Calanques of Marseille-Cassis is of the best places to see in Provence for nature lovers. It’s a series of limestone cliffs and bays located between the fishing town of Cassis and the city of Marseille. Not all Calanques are easily accessible on foot, but there are plenty of inlets and bays that you explore with a catamaran tour.

This is the perfect place for some outdoor adventures in the south of France. The scenery is simply spectacular, and you can do everything from kayaking to swimming, hiking, or sunbathing.

Lavender Fields

Sénanque Abbey

The lavender fields of Provence are an absolute Provence must-see. Located in the Luberon and near the towns of Valensole and Sault, the fields are seemingly endless seas of deep purple, complete with that heavenly smell under the balmy sun of the south of France.

The lavender season in Provence is different depending on where you go, so make sure you arrive before harvest time for the best views. However, a good time to see the fields in Provence, all areas, is in early July, which is before the school holidays start and the crowds converge.

The Camargue

Flamingos - Camargue

The Camargue Regional Natural Park is another of the most beautiful places in Provence. This natural area is located south of the city of Arles is the largest wetland in France, covering a surface of ​​100,000 hectares. The Camargue is famous worldwide for its stunning landscapes, lakes, and exceptional fauna.

The Camargue is designated as a Wetland of International Importance and Western Europe’s largest river delta. It’s a haven for wildlife and is home to more than 400 species of birds, countless insects, and larger wildlife from Camargue horses to cattle. It is also an excellent place for a relaxing getaway in Southern France Click here for the top-rated hotels in the Camargue.

The Colorado Provencal

Colorado Provencal - Rustrel

If you are looking for unique things to visit in Provence, then visit Rustrel for a total change of scenery. Rustrel is part of the region around Roussillon, famed for its dramatic, richly colored ochre landscapes.

Here, you can walk in the Colorado Provençal, a beautiful hike through cliffs and multicolored ocher rocks shaped for centuries by the erosion and the work of men. There are two walking trails available (1-2 hours), and they both combine the pleasure of hiking and discovering an industrial heritage.

Hyères Islands

Porquerolles - Hyères Islands France

The Hyères Islands are one of the most beautiful places in Provence for a relaxing vacation. They are a group of French islands off the town of Hyères in the Var department of Southeastern France. The Hyères Islands are often called the Iles d’Or or the Golden Islands and consist of three main islands and one smaller one. The smallest island, Île du Bagaud, doesn’t allow visitors.

The island of Porquerolles is the most popular of the four, with beautiful turquoise water, sandy beaches, a sleepy little village, and several wineries. Port-Cros, one of the other islands, is mountainous and home to a bird refuge and rare flora. And if you have the time, then you can explore Île du Levant, with its naturist community and privately owned village.

Avignon

Avignon - France

Avignon is on the left bank of the Rhône river. One of the most beautiful walled cities in France, Avignon was the seat of the Catholic Popes from 1309 to 1377.

Avignon is most famous for its medieval town and the Palais des Papes, Europe’s largest Gothic Palace and one of the most interesting places to visit in Provence. The Palais des Papes is a UNESCO-listed palace that was built in the 14th century when the papal court moved from Rome to Avignon.

The town of Avignon is filled with museums like the Musée du Petit Palais with its displays of artwork by Sandro Botticelli and Vittore Carpaccio. It also has beautiful churches and the famous Saint-Bénézet Bridge (Pont d’Avignon), which partially spans the river.

Gorges du Verdon

Gorges-du-Verdon, France

Gorges du Verdon is one of the best places to visit in Provence and is located in the beautiful Verdon Regional Park. It’s one of the largest canyons in Europe and reaches a depth of more than 700 meters.

The water in the gorge is a stunning bright turquoise color, and you can see the gorge from your car or take a boat /kayak and stop for dips in the water as you go. This natural landscape is also famous for its hiking and climbing routes, so it’s ideal for an active vacation.

The best way to explore this area is by car (check out this Gorges du Verdon road trip itinerary). If you don’t have a car, you can join a Gorges du Verdon guided tour from Nice, and there are also guided tours from Aix-en-Provence.

Source https://www.planetware.com/france/best-places-to-visit-in-the-south-of-france-f-1-41.htm

Source https://www.thecrazytourist.com/15-best-places-visit-south-france/

Source https://travelfrancebucketlist.com/best-places-to-visit-in-provence/

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