The South of France is quite a large area and I have lived in and visited both the South East and the South West of the country. However the two regions have different cultures, cuisines and a huge number of towns and cities, it would be impossible for me to combine them into one post. So for now I am focusing on the South East but fear not the South West is in the works!
For years I have had a love affair with the South of France, just the name itself creates images in my mind of sun, wine and the beautiful French countryside. Most people have heard of Provence and the Cote d’Azur, how could you not? Its a popular location featured in so many books, films and magazines. From the famous Cannes film festival to the lavender fields and the vineyards this region is famous for all the right reasons! The official name of this region is PACA. It’s a department composed of Provence, the Alpes and the Cote d’Azur – that’s sun, sea and snow all in one department so there really is something for everyone. You may be put off thinking that it can’t possibly be a budget destination but it definitely can (with some careful planning). That being said, of course a week in St Tropez or skiing in the Alpes are going to stretch far outside a small budget but there are so many other destinations!
I spent my Erasmus year in the city of Aix en Provence and truly have fallen head over heels for the region. During that year I explored the far and wide and came back last summer for 3 months to venture even further. Its impossible to pick one must see destination as there are so many places to see and things to do. From summer holidays to city breaks, luxury holidays to budget breaks – there are endless options. I have picked 5 places that I have been to but there are places I haven’t yet discovered like St Tropez and the Alpes although they are on my bucket list! Also combining a few of these in one trip is definitely possible!
Here are my top 5 must see destinations in the South of France:
- The Lavender Fields
The Lavender fields are absolutely beautiful and a must see for everyone at least once in your life. They really sum up Provence – a natural beauty. If you’re thinking of visiting check out my previous post on the route I took to see Lavender fields last July. A word of warning, be sure you choose the right time of year to go because the fields are only in bloom for a few weeks before they are cut! You’ll need to head to Provence in July to get the full experience.
The towns along the way – like Gordes are also beautiful!
2. The Calanques
Aix is unfortunately a land locked city and with temperatures reaching up to 36 degrees in the summer I needed to escape to the sea. The best option was to go to the Calanques. These are inlets into the land all along the Cote d’Azur and the ones we visited were in the Marseille area. Getting to the calanques involves a hike but it is worth it, trust me. My favourite Calanque is reachable from the town of Cassis, a beautiful town close to Marseille. From the town you follow a road leading up to the start of the trail. The trail leads through a forest and along cliffs beside the sea. When it gets too hot the trail is closed due to the risk of forest fires. You’ll need to bring water and a packed lunch, its not like a beach side resort, its a natural inlet very much unspoilt.
If you’re looking to fly into the Cote d’Azur Nice is the best option. It has an international airport and is the perfect base for exploring up and down the coast. This city is really something special, with its stunning beaches and its Mediterranean vibe. There’s a slightly Italian feeling about the place, not surprisingly as the Italian border is not too far away. The city itself is modern with lots of shops, restaurants and cafes. The food of course is delicious. One nicoise dish I would recommend trying is called socca, its a kind of pancake made from chickpeas and its strangely addictive. There’s an area in the old town with a few restaurants to try from, I’ve tried Lou Pilha Leva (Google maps link) which is fast food type socca place, but there’s another just beside it as well.
Nice is a great base if you want to explore the Cote d’Azur, you can easily hop on the train down to Antibes or up to Monaco. Monaco is less than 30 minutes from Nice and its a nice day trip. Its a principality and its absolutely tiny. Monte Carlo is a ‘city’ inside Monaco and is minuscule. Its made up of casinos and designer shops. Monanco in general is very cool to visit if you like to see huge, beautiful yachts and fancy cars. To get a real feel for the place stand outside the Monte Carlo casino for a few minutes, people drop of their Lamborghinis and Ferraris and the valets make a real show of driving them away to be parked.
I went just after the Monaco grand prix so got to see the track, which is just the roads that are normally used for driving around the city. Hotel prices wold be sky high if the grand prix or the Cannes film festival is on so make sure to check your dates.
4. Antibes and Cannes
I have a seperate post on Antibes and Cannes which has lots more practical info on these two towns. Antibes and Cannes are definitely the more flashy side of the Cote d’Azur. Cannes is famous for its film festival and for the rest of the year the wealthy flock here for their summer holidays. If you want to see amazing yachts and window shop the fabulous stores Cannes is your town. There is also the old town which is really pretty and a really different atmosphere. Here you can visit the Musée de la Castre which has a tower with a great view of the city. Definitely check it out if your in Cannes.
Antibes is just up the road from Cannes not far from Nice and is a great holiday destination. I rented an air bnb here for a few days so that we could have a beach break and it worked out relatively cheap. You can stay in Antibes old town or the Juan les Pins area. Juan les Pins is where we chose, it has all the beaches and restaurants. Prices for dinner vary a lot.
5. Aix en Provence
I couldn’t talk about the South of France without mentioning my all time favourite destination – Aix en Provence. Anyone who has lived here has fallen in love with this city, anyone I have met anyways! There’s just something special about it. Aix is a pretty small city, too small to live in forever but I have come back once and I know I’ll be back again! Its somewhere I would recommend visiting and have written a more comprehensive post on it here. With some insider knowledge you can appreciate the city to the fullest 😉
So that’s my must see list! Have you been to the South of France? Is there anywhere you would add? I would love to hear from you so be sure to leave a comment below!