When most travelers think of Southern France, iconic images of the French Riviera and the lavender fields of Provence typically spring to mind. While these are definitely two areas not to miss on your travels, there is so much more to explore in the south of the country. From tranquil beaches and renowned wine regions, to the Southern Alps and a mix of Roman antiquities and modern masterpieces, the south of France offers a myriad of opportunity for exploration. If you’re planning an upcoming trip, here’s a look at where to go in Southern France.
Arles and Nimes
These two cities offer visitors a look at impressive remnants from the Roman occupation in France. Nimes is home to what is considered the best-preserved Roman Arena in the world, which is still used today for an annual bull fighting festival. Just north of Nimes is the Pont du Gard. One of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southern France, the Pont du Gard is an extraordinary example of a Roman aqueduct.
Those who visit Arles will be rewarded with a look at a Roman Amphitheatre and Forum worth exploring. Another interesting tidbit about Arles – it’s where Van Gogh painted some of his most famous masterpieces, and the site of his ill-fated partnership with another artistic master, Paul Gauguin.
Avignon was home to French Popes during the 14th century, and one of the most important sights here is Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). Aside from its historical importance, Avignon is quite scenic and is a photographer’s paradise.
The seaside town of Collioure is quite close to the Spanish border and is where the Languedoc’s Pyrenees meet the coast. This results in a noticeably sharp rise in landscape, a stunning view especially during winter with the snow capped mountain tops. Swim in one of the secluded coves or wander the town with its impressive fortifications.
Lac de Serre-Poncon
This manmade lake in the Southern French Alps is worth a visit, especially if you are into watersports. Sports such as sailing and windsurfing have developed into popular pastimes here, receiving regular visitors from all over France. If you are just looking to relax, there are gorgeous beaches surrounding the shores of Lac de Serre-Poncon.
Oenophiles might recognize Languedoc-Roussillon due to its high-quality wine production. Just west of Provence, this region includes a number of small villages and quiet coastline, making it an ideal spot for travelers looking to get away from the busy areas of Marseille, Cannes, etc.
Sète is a small seaside fishing village that is sometimes called “Little Venice” due to its canals. However, it lacks the mass tourism you find in Venice, Italy, and even other parts of Southern France. Seafood lovers will have their pick of restaurants here with streets lined with spots selling moules frites (mussels and fries) or traditional bouillabaisse, a fish stew. Be sure to fuel up and then head up one of the town’s staircases to Mont St. Clair, where you can overlook Sète’s coastal landscape, windmills, and nearby vineyards. For those who are concerned about the strenuous climb, there is an option to drive up. Which of these dream destinations would you visit first?