7 Secrets About the South of France

Add France to Your RTW Trip
Add France to Your RTW Trip

When most of us think of the South of France we tend to picture yachts in Cannes and beachfront hotels that we’ll never be able to afford, but that’s only one part of the picture. Part-time France resident Christine Cantera has discovered that there are many charms beyond the clichés, and the area is worth consideration from nearly everyone.

With beautiful natural surroundings, pleasant weather, delicious cuisine, and plenty of lesser-known towns that offer a slower pace of life than their jet-set neighbors, the South of France may just surprise you.

Here are 7 “secrets” about the South of France.

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1 – The South of France is not all about glamour – and that’s a good thing

Sure, there is the James Bond-worthy casinos at Monte Carlo, the mega-yachts of St. Tropez and the star-studded Cannes Film Festival. But if you think that’s all there is, you’re missing out on an astonishing array of simple, affordable experiences that make even the locals sigh with pleasure.

For example, in the back country off the coast you can attend the Jasmine Festival held every August 3 in Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, or water jousting tournaments in Sète; have a riverside picnic in the shadow of the ancient Pont du Gard, a testament to Roman ingenuity; participate in the Fête de Vendanges in Ouveillan, with its traditional music and parades; or go for a drive through the hauntingly beautiful Camargues National Park.

And natural beauty abounds, with the famous surreal sunflower and luscious lavender fields in Provence that are a must-see in the summer months.

>> Read about things to do in France

2 – The South of France is convenient

Paris may be the world’s most popular tourist destination, but using the South of France as your base opens up a world of travel options.

From centralized Montpellier, for example, you’re four hours from Paris, Barcelona and Nice. Biarritz, on the western side, puts you just 20 minutes from San Sebastian, Spain and an hour from the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. From Nice you can spend a weekend skiing in Switzerland, then head to the beach when you get back! And Andorra, a shopper’s tax-free paradise, is nestled in the Pyrenees between France and Spain like a tiny jewel – and offers world-class skiing as well.

With EasyJet and RyanAir’s large presence throughout the region, you can choose any one of a number of local airports to jet off to your next destination – whether it’s London, Amsterdam or Sicily.

3 – The South of France is a foodie paradise

First, there are the traditional dishes that characterize the South of France. Let’s talk seafood – grilled sardines sprinkled with sea salt from the Camargues. Moules frites in the walled city of Aigues Mortes. Bouillabaisse on the Vieux Port of Marseille. Towering raw bars at beachside bistros in Nice. Hungry yet?

Wintertime brings hearty cassoulet, a sausage, bean and duck stew that warms the soul and fills the tummy. Tartiflette – sliced potatoes soaked in wine, covered with lardons and cheese and baked, served with salad and dried meats – will send even the hungriest bear into sleepy hibernation.

Herbes de Provence that were growing in the sun just a few hours before they hit your plate. Honey, sugar, oil, and butter infused with lavender. Joël Durand’s incredible chocolate alphabet in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

And the wine. Oh, the wine! Bordeaux might be the big name – but Languedoc is a world-class wine-producing region, and the wine industry’s best kept secret. Stop into any vineyard you happen to pass on the dusty country roads, and sample the fruits of these independent vintners’ labors – you won’t be sorry. Pick up a bottle after you hit your local morning farmer’s market, and voila – lunch is served!

>> Discover the Languedoc region or learn more about French food 

4 – There are a lot of uncrowded spots in the South of France

In so many of the world’s more popular destinations, it seems like you’re on a perpetual conveyor belt of tourists schlepping from site to site. But the South of France constantly reveals the kinds of delightful surprises that make for a truly memorable vacation.

Sète’s canals have earned it the nickname of the “Little Venice” of France. France’s first university, where Nostradamus studied and taught, and Europe’s first botanical gardens, reside in Montpellier. You might not expect a tourist attraction at a train station, but the one in Perpignan is an homage to the artist Salvador Dalí, who called it the center of the universe and claimed that the Iberian Peninsula rotated at that exact spot at the beginning of creation. Apparently following the Dada movement, Perpignan is also home to the downright creepy Procession de la Sanch, an Easter Holy Week parade featuring black-robed and hooded participants.

Who knew that the crystal clear waters of the Côte d’Azur rivaled those of the Caribbean? For your best view – and another secret surprise – take the Grande Randonnée GR51 hiking trail, also known as the Balcony of the Côte d’Azur, which gives you a front row seat to the majestic beauty of what might be the Mediterranean’s most beautiful stretch of coastline.

And once again, the Camargues yield another stunning surprise – the famous white horses of the Camargues are a stunning, centuries-old breed that is used in sport, and can be seen roaming freely as well throughout the national park reserve.

>> Read more about Montpellier, France or check out the best beaches in the French Mediterranean 

5 – Travel options abound within the South of France

SNCF, France’s state-run train network, is user-friendly and perfect for the traveler. And, you don’t even have to stand in endless lines at the train station – every decent-size town has SNCF boutiques, where you can sit in air-conditioned splendor and get expert advice on your travel plans as well as purchase tickets for any trip departing from or arriving anywhere in France.

For a unique vacation experience, rent a house boat and make your way down the historic Canal du Midi from Toulouse to Sète, passing through its 91 historic locks, under the world’s first canal tunnel in Malpas, and hopping off to sample local wines and delicacies – without having to look for parking!

Renting bicycles for the whole family can be a fun way to take it at your own pace. Maps and information are available at tourist offices, most towns have at least one bike rental service, and there are well-marked, safe bike paths all over the place. And some cities, like Montpellier, have started to offer basic cruiser bicycles for quick jaunts at extremely affordable rates – perfect for heading to the beach.

>> Learn about train travel in France or barge tours in France 

6 – The South of France is all about embracing your inner slowpoke

No one moves very fast in the south – and you’ll have a better time if you fall in with the daily rhythm. Take a leisurely stroll through your town’s daily market.

Spend a lazy afternoon in the shade watching the locals perfect their boules game, known as pétanque in some parts of the Midi.

Perfect the art of renting a café table for the price of a cup of coffee.

Or, find the perfect outdoor terrace bar and toast the evening with a leisurely apero before heading out to dinner.

7 – The South of France is a year-round vacation destination

There may be no better way to spend a day than soaking in the Mediterranean sun and have frosty drinks and lunch delivered to your chaise lounge – but with an average of 320 days of sunshine per year and average winter highs nearing 16°C/60°F, you’re missing out on a lot if you choose to come only in summer.

After all, are you really going to miss the national holiday known as Beaujolais Day? The third Thursday in November, it’s when the entire country takes the day off to sample the new wine and welcome the end of the harvest season.

That alone is worth the plane fare!

Adding the south of France to your RTW trip

The following round the world itinerary embraces slow travel and builds in several areas to slow down, rent your own place (or look for housesitting gigs!), and really dig into and get to know several cultures. Customize the trip by clicking on the map.

>> Read more about weather in France or visiting France any time of year 

Ready to go? Book your flights to France,  look for hotels in France, learn about wine tasting in France, and find out 10 reasons why you should visit France now.

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Photos by Wolfgang Staudt, quinet, Laurent Martinez, Szymon Stoma, rhodeson, Szymon Stoma, M i x y

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Leave a Comment

  • Sachin Goel said at 2013-10-28T17:00:45+0000: I really wanted to do job and live in south of France but its impssoble because I am not European. Any help will be appreciated. I hope you all have dream and some of you are satisfied but please if you are capable to complete dream of person like me. I wont forget you for whole my life. I am Graphic Designer but can do any job due to my physical abilities. Just need place and food to live.
  • Tony Tidswell said at 2013-04-03T09:40:00+0000: Twenty five years ago we moved from the UK to the South of France with our two little girls - we don't regret one second. Our son, Jack, was born in Beziers and our three children are perfectly bi-lingual and all have had a great education, Jack is still in University in Montpellier studying Russian next year.We live twenty minutes from the Mediterranean in a farming village and have a small hotel and apartment business - I give casual courses in Zone system photography and we (just about) make a living. The South is much much more than the popular image and this article and the comments show this. Where else have people had half a million years of homes and habitations and over 2,500 years of continuous history, art and culture which can be seen every day as part of our lifestyle.Thank you Christine for reminding me how lucky we are :) (I wish I could plus our B&B, but it would be rude, perhaps).
  • Val Karam Quinlan said at 2013-07-25T21:04:04+0000: Hi there, We will be travelling through the south of France from 5 Aug to 18 Aug. We would appreciate it if you could. give us a few places of interest. How far is Grasse from Cannes and would you say the Montpillier is a place we should visit as well. Loving the pictures above. Could you please tell us what region they are in. thanks.
  • Absolutely Southern France said at 2013-04-03T07:43:45+0000: I'm a Canadian living in Sète, referred to in the article as the little Venice of France with the water jousting. I absolutely love it! I've lived in Provence and on the Riviera but Sète has all the ingredients that I am looking in the South of France. I operate gourmet walking tours of the town and all the tourists fall for the charm of this lively and colorful town with sandy beaches, terrific food from the neighboring oysterbeds and fresh fish from the Mediterranean, not to mention the fabulous wines of the region. Everything is so convenient with the trains station right in center town connecting Sète to Montpellier for instance in only 17 minutes. Thanks Christine for the article!
  • Jameson Farn said at 2013-04-03T06:44:16+0000: The South of France has everything!http://www.gayfrenchriviera.com
  • Jamessomervillelindsay/artist". said at 2013-04-03T10:37:34+0000: so true about it being much more than the cliche images. I travel/paint around the region gypsy like in an old campervan and there is enough beauty/subject matter to last many lifetimes. one day ( somewhere ) a must to set up a permanent base.
  • A Hideaway in France said at 2013-03-27T16:17:39+0000: All so true. Great article.
  • Nicole McMinn said at 2013-02-09T20:15:22+0000: nice article
  • Farhat BIgboy said at 2012-11-30T14:42:04+0000: drool, drool!
  • Dusti-Leigh Wessels said at 2012-09-03T14:35:32+0000: Great artical, sounds like a stunning place.
  • Paul Winn said at 2012-08-05T21:42:43+0000: Simply inspirational! Thank you / merci.
  • Greg Martin said at 2012-01-27T12:49:54+0000: Love the article! We lived there for six months during the winter Jan to June in 2010 and visited many of these areas. The other " Little Venice" is Isle Sur la Sorgue just 20 minutes east of Avignon. It has one of the largest markets in the region (Sundays) and is home to the most antique vendors in the South of France. From there, the hilltop towns of Gordes, Menerbes and so many more are within 30 minutes drive.
  • Darlene Norwood said at 2012-01-28T04:39:40+0000: Hard not to like what I've read and seen in this expertly done article. Thanks for sharing.
  • MaryLou Boal said at 2012-02-14T18:27:56+0000: Going to Nice in March & needed to know where else we should go. Good article.
  • Pet Printer said at 2012-01-30T17:07:31+0000: I must admit France was never on the top of my list of places to visit because of a lot of negative comments I'd heard but when I actually made it over there it was amazing, all the stuff I'd heard was ridiculous, I highly recommend it.
  • Sheila Weiss said at 2012-01-27T14:54:19+0000: It makes me feel lucky that we have a house in southern France. We know how great the region is.
  • William Proctor said at 2012-02-13T18:15:03+0000: Twice to the Azure Coast. First time, based in Cannes (in a campsite above the bay) for the Film Festival and spent the whole week there. The 2nd tme we based in Antibes for 10 days with many trips thru the entire area from St Tropez to Nice, to St Paul de Vence; up to Bussana Vecchia a town destroyed in 1887 by earthquake & now a thriving artists center; over to Grasse and many towns and villages in between... all just exciting places. Then up to Lago Maggiore for a few days & on to Schweiz for a day.
  • Carole Jordan said at 2012-02-14T19:32:57+0000: My favorite place to totally relax, savor, sip and breathe deeply of the pine and lavender high mountain meadows......takes me back......ahhhhhhhhh.
  • Carole Jordan said at 2012-02-14T19:18:45+0000: Thanks, sis, I will also dust off my memories......give you some fun stuff to think about.....first, is this a large group or individual or small group?
  • Debra Beaupre said at 2012-02-13T17:39:27+0000: learned more reading this article than already known! well done and 'intriguing!'
  • Julia Thompson said at 2012-01-31T14:07:20+0000: from #2 "From Nice you can spend a weekend skiing in Switzerland, then head to the beach when you get back!"Why would you drive (10 hours) or fly to Switzerland when there are some great ski resorts 1.5 hours by car from Nice itself? You know those mountains around Nice... they're called the Alps!
  • Nicola Christinger-Grant said at 2012-01-29T16:09:11+0000: it is a pleasure to live and work in this area, selling some of the most beautiful houses in provence and on the provence coastline - really lovely article.
  • Di DeFries said at 2012-01-29T14:39:42+0000: Great article. France is an amazing place to live.
  • Peter Schwartz said at 2012-01-28T15:19:27+0000: 6 – The South of France is all about embracing your inner slowpoke - LUV IT!
  • Positano Dreaming said at 2012-01-27T18:08:23+0000: Great article, fabulous photo's...both conjure up the desire to visit the area!

Older comments on 7 Secrets About the South of France

camorose
07 April 2010

What a great round-up of the South of France! I’m moving to Nice for six months in a few weeks, and people are constantly asking me why I chose Nice instead of Paris. I cited many of the reasons you listed: great weather, great location, yummy fresh food and a laidback lifestyle. I can’t wait to check out some of the other attractions you mentioned, like the Jasmine Festival!

maffinibearce
24 September 2010

Great article, many people miss the true South of France by staying down close to the coast. We have lived here over 8 years, in a beautiful hilltop village near Grasse, and even after this amount of time, there are still sites we have yet to discover. Definitely worth a visit with the family.