From ancient hilltop towns to beautiful beaches, and absorbing art to gourmet gastronomy, the South of France has plenty to offer visitors.
Planning a trip to this special part of the world is an attractive prospect, and many of us are already dreaming about our summer holidays – or perhaps thinking about a spring minibreak to a warmer climate.
So, whether you’re drawn to the medieval villages of Provence or the glamorous beach resorts of the Cote d’Azur, here are nine of the best holiday destinations in the South of France.
St-Tropez might be a former fishing village, but this small coastal town has transcended its humble beginnings to become one of the most glamorous and well-known holiday destinations in the world.
In summer, St-Tropez is flooded with more than 100,000 visitors, extravagant yachts, and plenty of celebrities. But in the low season, it still manages to feel quietly charming and authentically French.
You can stroll through the old cobbled lanes in the fishing quarter, La Ponche, enjoy petit-déjeuner in the Place des Lices square, sip pastis or coffee at waterfront cafes, or enjoy a leisurely walk along the beach.
If you want to visit the very best beaches, it’s worth taking a hike along the Sentier du Littoral coastal path, which takes you past tucked-away coves with turquoise waters (that are otherwise only accessible by boat).
If you’re into history or architecture, you won’t want to miss the impressive Notre Dame de l’Assomption, which dominates the St-Tropez skyline, and wander along the cannonball-scarred walls of the fortified Citadel.
Wine enthusiasts will love the rosé wine this region is famous for. And for foodies, the town’s namesake cake, La Tarte Tropezienne – brioche cake stuffed with custard – is a must-try!
2. Porquerolles Island
If you like the thought of avoiding crowds and escaping to a beautiful and quiet Mediterranean island, why not head to Porquerolles? This beautiful island is just a 15-minute boat trip from the town of Hyères on the tip of the Côte d’Azur, and an hour from St-Tropez.
There are three islands in this small archipelago, but Porquerolles is the best known. Plus, at four miles wide and two miles long, it’s also the biggest.
With 300 sunny days a year, Porquerolles enjoys a blissful climate, and from the moment you arrive at a sandy cove with gently bobbing sailboats, it’s a safe bet to say you’ll fall in love instantly. This is an island of rustling pine trees and chirping cicadas – a place where the scent of wild herbs and eucalyptus drifts in the air, and the pristine white sand beaches back onto craggy limestone cliffs.
The island’s village was founded in the 19th century when a local man bought the island as a gift for his wife – and today, the vineyards he planted still produce exceptional wine.
Cars aren’t allowed on Porquerolles, so bikes are the best way to get around. You can spend your days cycling from beach to beach, visiting the 14th-century Fort Sainte Agathe and the Cap d’Arme lighthouse, and enjoying fresh, delicious food at locally-owned restaurants.
If you love exploring historic cities, a visit to the old university town of Aix-en-Provence is worthwhile. Founded by a Roman general in 123 B.C., this is a classy, elegant city of tree-lined boulevards, grand stone monuments, ornate fountains, and sophisticated cafes.
It was during the Renaissance that Aix came into its own, and since then, artists and academics have flooded into this cool, cultural city.
Aix-en-Provence is also known for being the home of French artist Paul Cézanne, and you can see many of his most inspiring works at museums and studios throughout the city. The cathedral is well worth a visit, as well as the legendary Hotel de Ville, where you can enjoy coffee in the pretty square. You can also head to the Quartier Mazarin to admire the city’s most famous fountain: the Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins.
In the centre of the city is the Vieil Aix – a network of narrow medieval lanes where you can marvel at spectacular sixteenth and seventeenth buildings, browse unique shops, and enjoy fine food and wine in the many excellent restaurants, cafés, and shops.
On the weekend, Aix plays host to some of the best farmers’ markets in Provence. So if you’re looking to pick up some delicious culinary souvenirs to take home, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
When people think of the South of France, there’s a good chance that Nice is the place that first springs to mind.
An intoxicating blend of old-world opulence, urban grit, and beachside bliss, Nice is like nowhere else in France – and whether you want to see ancient architecture or world-class art, swim in crystalline blue waters or indulge in delicious food and wine, Nice offers it all.
With its wide avenues, grand waterfront promenades, and big, sweeping beach, Nice is built for holidaymakers – which is a good thing considering around three million people flock here every year!
If you’re into architecture, head to Vieux Nice to admire the town’s unique Italian-style buildings. Or, if it’s art that interests you, the Musées Matisse, Chagall and d’Art Moderne all await.
Visitors to Nice will want to bring their appetite with them because you’ll want to sample a bit of everything here. You can feast upon street food like socca (chickpea pancakes), pissaladière (caramelised onion tart) or tourte de blettes (Swiss chard, pine nut, and parmesan pie), enjoy authentic salade niçoise and lemon tart in the many great bistros, and browse fresh produce from the Alpine foothills at the lively food markets.
Explore beautiful Nice
Glitzy, glamorous, and synonymous with cinema, Cannes has attracted the rich and famous for decades, and this resort town certainly has a lavish appeal.
For anyone with an appreciation for the finer things in life (whether it’s slick supercars, spacious yachts, or designer boutiques) Cannes won’t fail to impress. But there’s more to this resort town than being a celebrity playground.
With long sandy beaches, glorious sunshine, and a deep-blue bay, there’s plenty of natural beauty here too. For gorgeous views, trek up to Le Suquet – the old quarter. Walking along these cobbled streets allows you to get a feel for what Cannes would have been like 400 years ago. And, if you need refreshments, the bars and restaurants lining these historic streets are the perfect places for a break.
If you want to enjoy some glamour, head to the famous Boulevard de la Croisette in the evening, where you can stroll past grand, Belle-Époque hotels, buzzing bars, and elegant restaurants – and if you’re into seafood, be sure to try the local Provence speciality bouillabaisse.
To escape the crowds, jump on a ferry to the Lérins Islands, where you can unwind on unspoiled beaches and sip wine made by Cistercian monks – who are the island’s only inhabitants.
Enjoy some glamour in Cannes
If you’re more interested in history and culture than glitz and glamour, the Provençal town of Avignon might be the destination for you.
In the 1300s, Avignon was the home of the Pope and the beating heart of the catholic world. Seven hundred years later, it’s important religious role is evident in its magnificent architecture – most notably the Palais des Papes, Europe’s largest Gothic palace.
From the outside, this World Heritage-listed palace-cum-fortress will take your breath away, but the interior is just as interesting. Inside you can admire stunning Giovanetti frescoes that date back to the 1300s, stroll through ceremonial rooms and chapels, and admire beautiful views of the Rhône River from the palace’s hilltop position.
If you’re visiting in July, you can check out the Avignon annual arts festival, which is the biggest in France – though the town’s leafy squares, ancient streets, medieval bridges, and fabulous restaurants are alluring at any time of the year.
Wine enthusiasts should visit the Chateauneuf-des-Papes, which was once the Pope’s summer home, and now makes some of France’s most esteemed wines.
Venture back in time in Avignon
Tucked between Nice and Cannes on the south coast, Antibes may have begun life as a Greek colony. But it’s since become a hugely popular holiday destination, particularly among artists and writers.
Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Graham Greene all fell in love with Antibes – Picasso so much so that it was the focus of many of his paintings (there’s a museum in town dedicated to him).
From the flower-adorned cobbled streets of the port, you can gaze out at the boats bobbing on the azure waters, then stroll along the fortified stone walls as you learn about the city’s stronghold history.
There are many excellent cafes and restaurants in Antibes, but no visit is complete without sampling a baguette from the three-generation Le Pain JPV boulangerie!
If you want to swim, it’s best to avoid the Antibes beaches, and instead, head to the beautiful Cap d’Antibes. Here, you can hike along pretty trails to some of the cape’s best beaches (like La Garoupe), which was the favourite of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fans of The Great Gatsby may also want to visit Hôtel Belles Rives, where Fitzgerald lived in the 1920s.
And, if you’re hungry, the hotel restaurant, La Passagère, is known to be one of the best places to eat in town.
Medieval towns might be a dime a dozen in the South of France, but if you only visit one, it should arguably be Saint-Paul-de-Vence.
This thousand-year-old walled city radiates history, and as you walk along its cobbled streets, centuries-old buildings, and fortified ramparts, it’s easy to feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. Wander up the narrow streets to see the old fortress tower and Gothic church, and admire the sweeping vista from the top of the hill.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence is also known for its artistic side – and its beauty and charm attracted artists like Calder and Chagall, who both lived here. Picasso, Matisse, and Modigliani also spent time here, and famously traded their work for lodgings at the Auberge de la Colombe d’Or, where their paintings still hang from the walls. The hotel is absolutely worth a visit – though you’ll need to book months in advance if you want to eat here!
At the modern art museum Fondation Maeght, you can admire one of Europe’s largest collections of 20th-century paintings, and there are many other galleries and museums located throughout town.
The Place du Jeu de Boules square is the perfect place to enjoy a coffee or pastis as you watch the world go by. Plus, on Wednesdays and Friday mornings, the square hosts farmers markets where you can pick up all kinds of Provencal specialities.
Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful hilltop villages in France, Roussillon is the ideal destination if you prefer staying somewhere a bit quieter.
Located in a land that’s home to the world’s largest ochre deposits, Roussillon is known for its famous sienna-coloured buildings, which give the village a distinctly Spanish flavour (the Roussillon region is known as French Catalonia).
This is a village packed with authentic charm, and wandering along the narrow, winding streets away from heaving throngs of tourists, allows you to get a sense of what rural life in Provence is all about. If you’re a keen photographer, remember to have your camera ready just before sunset, as this is the time when the light starts to look magical, and the village positively glows with colour.
Though this is a small village with only 1,300 inhabitants, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, markets, and cafes to keep you occupied – as well as an ecomuseum where you can learn about the importance of ochre to this region.
The pretty Place de la Mairie is the best place to people-watch and get a feel for village life. And from the highest point in the village, you can enjoy gorgeous views of the Vaucluse mountains.
The South of France is incredibly popular with holidaymakers, and for good reason.
Whether you want to visit some of the world’s best wineries, explore thousand-year-old cities, or visit glitzy beach towns where you can enjoy fine food and kick back on the beach – the South of France offers something for everyone.
With captivating culture, fascinating history, glorious weather, and some of the best food and wine in the world, the South of France is entirely unique.
This part of the world is known for inspiring countless artists and writers – and if you’ve never visited before, it won’t take you long to figure out why.