Our interest in South of France started with a day trip to Ax la thermes from Barcelona Spain. Southern France is sprinkled with old world charm, cobblestone lanes, and beautiful fields and countryside. Here are the 10 best places in South of France that are worth adding to your bucket-list.
10 Best Places in South of France for your bucket list
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This map below will give you a good idea of the region and major cities in the south of France. As you can see the southern France area has a long coast-line, so a majority of the popular destinations are sun-kissed beach towns and resorts like Cannes and Nice. Add luxurious villas and shopping and dining to the mix, and you are sharing vacation-space with celebrities.
However, there is more to south of France than A list beach destinations – there are lavender fields, UNESCO world heritage sites, TONS of museums, provincial markets, wine and fine dining, and many hidden gems.
Hope our post inspires you to book a trip to one of the best places in south of France. Let’s check them out below!
When you think of Provence, the image of lavender fields come to mind. It is true many travelers visit the region of Provence for that very reason. There are many small towns and villages that make up the region. And no matter where you go, a lavender field is within your reach.
Aix-en-Provence is one of the popular places to visit and stay, while exploring the region. Aix is also within convenient distance to explore the lavender fields of Valensole and Luberon.
Keep in mind, if visiting the lavender fields are top of your list, then ensure you are planning a trip to South of France in late spring or summer months – particularly from April to early August (July is the best time) for a high probability of sighting lavender fields in full bloom.
Aix was the capital of Provence region once upon a time, and it is home to the French artist Cezanne. Cezanne was a renowned artist whose work was inspired by Mount Saint-Victoria in Provence.
When you are in Aix, explore their tree lined boulevard – Cous Mirabour and make it a point to stop by their street cafes.
There are tons of historical sites to visit in Aix. Choose one of their art museums, like the Musee Granet, located just 5 minutes from Cous Mirabour. Or head to Camp des Milles – which was originally a factory turned concentration camp.
A short visit to the unique Cathedrale St Sauveur will amaze you. The church is an example of mix architectural styles of Gothic and Roman designs, which makes it special. But know that it took a few centuries for the church to be completely built. The architectural designs tells you a story of different rulers who occupied this region in France, something that you will notice quite frequently in the southern part.
Aix is also has a local marketplace which is worth visiting. Le Grand Marche is a popular provincial market in Aix, offering fresh fruits and other local delicacies.
Distance from Paris: 4.50 hours by train, 7.25 hours drive.
Nearest Airport: Marseille airport
Nice French Riviera
Nice is the popular beach town located in the French Riviera. The sun is extra special here with many glamorous private and public beaches, resorts and cafes to indulge in.
The town of Nice is beautiful to explore. The old town or the Vieille Ville is filled with French restaurants and local shops. Its close proximity to the beaches, makes it for an ideal ‘off-beach’ site to hang out in Nice.
Relaxation is the motto here, but don’t forget to check some of the coolest museums in town – Musee Matisse, Chagall Museum and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
The Cathedral of Saint Nicolas (Russian Orthodox Church) and the Calline de Chateau (castle hill offering sweeping views) are must-visits for a day of exploring.
As with most Southern French towns, add a trip to a local market. This time explore a flower market.
In the evenings, enjoy a stroll at the Promenade des Anglais and remove buyer’s remorse at the Ave Jean Medici Stores.
Distance from Paris: 7 hours train ride, 9.50 hours drive
Nearest Airport: Monte Carlo airport (17 km)
Ax la thermes
Ax la thermes is located in the south western part of France, near the Spanish border and Andorra. Ax la thermes is not your typical resort town or lavender village. Instead it is one of the cutest medieval village to explore.
The city’s name is derived from the word, Ax meaning water and thermes meaning hot. And yea, it refers to hot springs. Ax la thermes is home to sulphuric hot springs that were founded by the Romans. It is believed that it cured leper’s disease and healed rheumatism.
Many travelers heading to Ax la thermes, do so for a quiet weekend away to rejuvenate, whilst enjoying the beautiful views.
So what can you see and do in Ax la thermes? First off, head to the town center. The town center is quite small, but is lined with many restaurants and shops. Further into the town, you will notice a square with fountains. Shops are set up here every Saturday, offering locally grown vegetables and TONS of cheese.
After crossing the market square a small thermal water area welcomes you, known as the Leper’s pond. You can sit back and soak your tired feet and enjoy the healing properties of the thermal waters. Close to the fountain, there is the Le Teich Thermal Spa.
The Ax la thermes town is very picturesque with the Ariege River flowing through town and the stunning mountain backdrop.
There is a small sequoia park as well as the Church of Saint-Jerome (formerly the Chapel of the Blue Penitents Ax la thermes).
Location from Paris: 7.75 hours train ride, 7.25 hours drive
Nearest Airport: Barcelona airport and then drive
Bordeaux is one of the MOST elegant cities in France. The city is known for its wines, particularly of Saint Emillion and so it deserves a place in every wine lover’s diary.
But Bordeaux is definitely more than just wine or wine museums. You see, the city was far away from the loot and unrest of the French Revolution and so you will find many grand chateaux and structures maintain its integrity (and still lovely).
The grand Place de la Bourse is a must visit in Bordeaux – it is a lovely central square, adorned with beautiful fountains and gardens. But that’s not all, you will find a ton of 18th and 19th century mansions, with gardens – giving a very lush look to this wine city.
The Gothic Cathedral of Saint Andre is stunning. It is also called the Bordeaux Cathedral.
And if you have time on your hands, head to the Basilica of Saint Michel, which is the tallest and the most elegant church/structure in Bordeaux, offering amazing views of the city.
An elegant city like Bordeaux also has some of the finest arts museums. Two of the popular ones worth visiting are Musee des Beaux Arts and CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art.
And of course, wine is not to be forgotten. So book a wine tour were you can sample a few of Bordeaux’s specials and add a river cruise to it. We love river cruises and it is a great way to discover a city, when you are short on time (or if you are busy wine-ing and dining). Bordeaux is also home to some of the finest restaurants in the country.
The calm Garonne River deserves a special mention. Much of the city’s character today, is a result of the once-abandoned-port-houses, now beautiful tree lined quays. Definitely you will have to stop by and admire quai de Bacalan’s elegance.
Bordeaux is an excellent option as a base city to explore other regions in southern France. There are many luxurious accommodation options to choose from, and of course tons of activities to still keep you busy in the city.
Bordeaux is conveniently connected via trains from London and Paris. Many travelers vacationing in Paris, love to add a day tour to explore Bordeaux (Paris to Bordeaux is 2+ hours one way).
Distance from Paris: 2.25 hours train ride, 6.50 hours+ drive
Nearest Airport: Bordeaux airport, 7 miles from the city center
Cannes French Riviera
This sun-kissed French Riviera jewel is a favorite spot for celebrities and is also known for its film festivals. Yes Cannes needs to further introduction.
Cannes has all the beautiful ingredients to holiday in style. It is also one of the expensive beach towns in France. In Cannes, spend the majority of your day in top class beaches that comes with full service restaurants and beach beds.
When bored of beaches, take a stroll in the town center of Cannes, get some post card worthy shots. Eat your heart out (and admire amazing views from roof top or bars).
Cannes is also a shopper’s delight. You will find all the luxurious brands and their outlets here, including Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Hermes, to name a few.
Nearest airport: Cannes – Mandelieu Airport or Aéroport de Cannes – Mandelieu (5 km west of Cannes)
Welcome to Marseille, it is the second largest city in France. Marseille is ONE of those unique European destinations where you can combine history, beaches and luxury without a high price tag.
Marseille was founded by the Greek sailors in around 600 BC and this port city was later ruled by the Romans and then the counts of Provence. Marseille was a strategic port back then, an important trading route and port. It still is and today it is one of the busiest ports of France.
Being a port city, you can expect a variety of seafood options and stunning quays.
So let’s do food first. Food deserves a special mention here, due to the plethora of spices and sea-food found here. In Marseille, you should try Bouillabaisse – a meal, made of 4-5 varieties of fish, with African spices.
Yes, you heard it – African species. Marseille has been a melting of (fishes) and cultures since time immemorial, thanks to the port history.
Marseilles has a wonderful coast line. Although beaches here are similar to the ones in the French Riviera, you can expect resort and beach bar menu rates to be cheaper then their celebrity counterparts – the likes of Nice and Cannes. Beaches in Marseille are not super glamorized in travel magazines.
Marseille also has a ton of fantastic arts museums worth checking out.
Marseille has an international airport, serving the 2 communes (Marseille Provence Airport or Aéroport de Marseille Provence. And hence it becomes an obvious choice to land and stay here, for further exploring the rest of Southern France.
Distance from Paris: 3.50 hours train ride, 7.25 hours drive
Nearest Airport: Marseille Provence Airport or Aéroport de Marseille Provence(27 km northwest of Marseille)
Montpellier is a dynamic city in the south of France, with a lovely mix of the old and the new. It is one of those hidden gems that are worth visiting.
Montpellier is often overlooked by travelers, as they make way to other pretty cities of Provence or Nice for beaches. But you can get all of those in Montpellier, without the big crowds.
Montpellier’s beaches are blessed with 300 days of sunshine, and are almost untouched and away from the French Riviera lime light. The city gives you the time to relax, yet stay connected with the rest of the world.
Montpellier has a bustling city center with a plethora of things to do from exploring art galleries and museums, to being a transport hub, and a local dining and shopping haven.
Montpellier was founded by the counts of Toulouse in the 10th century. Later on, Louis XIV set up the city as the administrative seat of the wine region of Languedoc – 15th century.
The city is known for its academic history. The University of Montpellier was founded in the 13th century and is still functioning, making it one of the oldest European universities. You can imagine how young and vibrant the city is. The famed Nostradamus studied in Montpellier. And the city is also credited to having founded the first medical school – opened in the 12th century.
As a tourist, you should experience the history and French cultural vibes in the city. In Montpellier, the grand square – Place de la Comedie is a must visit. There are many restaurants and shops surrounding the old square, where you can easily spend a couple of hours. This square is also a popular hang out place for students.
Montpellier is home to many museums like its southern neighbors. Musee Fabre houses one of the richest art collections in the whole of Europe.
The stately Cathedrale of Saint-Pierre de Montpellier is a fine example of gothic architecture in the city. The presence of Roman influence is absent, unlike other places in the south of France. You will however, find many vintage-y chateaux, especially from the 16th and 17th centuries which are now heritage hotels.
Distance from Paris: 3.50 hours train ride. 7 hour drive
Nearest Airport: Montpellier–Méditerranée Airport, with multiple flights from other European destinations.
Avignon is a historic city in the south of France. It is popularly known as the ‘city of Popes’, as this is the place where Popes arrived in the 14th century, after fleeing from corruptions in Rome.
Being a papal city, you will find many structures which are laced with that important chapter in history. To begin with, the Palais des Papes or the ‘palace of the Popes’ shouldn’t be missed. It is the worlds’ largest Gothic edifice, depicting a story of rebellion, of sacrifice and enlightenment. The palace lost its importance when the pope moved back to Rome. However, the grandeur of the edifice stayed.
One of the other iconic landmarks of Avignon is the medieval Pont Saint Benezet Bridge. The bridge was established to connect pilgrimage routes from Spain and Italy to Avignon and was an important means of communication in the middle ages. Today, only 4 arches of the bridge remain. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Palais des Papes.
Just like other places in Provence, Avignon has a provincial food market worth checking out. The Les Halles Food Market is actually one of the FINEST in south of France. This indoor market is a permanent marketplace offering local delicacies and pastries and is bustling with chatter at all times of the day.
The central area of Avignon is filled with historical and architectural gems. They are perfect for a stroll and photography enthusiasts will find tons of opportunities to keep busy. The city is also dotted with many museums and art gallery – a common feature amongst all places in south of France.
Avignon is also one of those picture perfect quintessential cities, thanks to the Rhone River that flows through. At the city’s upper level, you can soak in those mesmerizing views.
Rocher des Doms gardens are a must visit for those viewpoints and with amazing wine and dine – this place should be included in your South France Itinerary.
Distance from Paris: 2.75 hours train ride, 6.50 hour drive
Nearest Airport: Avignon Provence Airport or Marseille and Montpellier International Airports
Carcassonne is a fortified medieval town in France. This city of legends and history dates back to the 4th century. However it’s famed Cite of Carcassonne dates back to the 12th century. Carcassonne is an UNESCO World Heritage Site today.
But for many, it is still a hidden gem, tucked away from the French capital. Tourists are slowly warming up to Carcassonne and rightly so, as there are tons of things to do in the city.
Visiting the Cite de Carcassonne is a MUST. This is the walled city, which was fortified by the Romans. After the Romans, the attraction of Carcassonne started to fade. The fortress was destroyed in the Hundred Years War and later demilitarized by Napoleon.
This fortress was abandoned for the longest time. With renewed restoration projects, Carcassonne is now preserved and is appreciated for its legacy.
Speaking of legacies, who doesn’t love medieval stories and mythical knights? Well, you will find tons in Carcassonne.
The name of the city, Carcassonne is also laced with legends. The legend of Dame Carcas, the wife of King of Saracens is said to have defended the fortress from attacks. The siege lasted for years and finally Dame Carcas successfully guarded the fortress and the people rejoiced by ringing the city bells or “Carcus sounds” and hence the name!
You won’t be disappointed with the city’s historical remnants and museums – that showcases Carcassonne’s rich history.
Other than the legends and museums, you can relax by taking a stroll by the canal du Midi or visiting the Carcassonne popular food market.
Canal du Midi is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The canal’s locks, bridges and aqueducts are definitely worth exploring. If you prefer, take a boat ride in the afternoon.
Distance from Paris: 5.50 hours train ride, 7 hour drive
Nearest Airport: Carcassonne Airport and Castres Mazamet airport (37 km)
Principality of Monaco
Monaco is not a part of France. Many would wonder why – so the history goes that Monaco has retained its sovereign status since 1861 – with the signing of the Treaty of Franco-Monegasque.
The principality of Monaco is bordered by France on three sides and the Mediterranean on one, making it a perfect partner to the French Riviera neighbors. Monaco beams with sun-kissed Mediterranean weather, celebrity status casino and resorts and shopping.
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