There’s so much to see, and so much to experience in the sunny south of France that it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. So, we asked Julia Girard-Gervois of TripUSAFrance for her top tips. Her tours are all about getting to know the south of France that the locals know and love, not being a tourist. Authentic visits that are huge fun and fill of memorable moments. And, she’s a local who now lives in the US when not taking happy visitors round France.
These are her top 5 must-see destinations in the south of France:
Cassis – charming and colourful
This small fishing village (top photo) with pastel coloured houses is sure to make any holiday in the South of France completely unforgettable. You should definitely explore the Calanques, which are small coves which can be reached by foot or boat. This town is also home to Cap Canaille, a seaside cliff that offers extraordinary views of vineyards and the Gulf of Cassis. Don’t leave without sampling some bouillabaisse. This region is rightly famous for the dish that’s a firm favourite with locals who really do take it seriously. In fact, the authentic recipe is outlined in the Marseilles Bouillabaisse Charter. Pair this local dish, which is made with at least four different species of fish, with wine from one the town’s local vineyards.
Cassis is also home to a charming local market. You’ can’t help but fall in love with the chance to ogle the stalls and buy candies and other sweet treats.
Tip: Eat a true Bouillabaisse at the restaurant Chez Gilbert by the port of Cassis port. Their dish includes five different types of Fish: John Dory, Monkfish, Red Mullet, Gurnard and the Mediterranean Red Scorpiofish.
Calanques – irresistibly pretty
If you are coming to Cassis you MUST see the Calanques and their amazing shades of blue. The most accessible one is the Calanques of Port-Miou. It’s just a 30 minute walk from the city centre. You can also drive as there is a parking lot on site. There is no beach at this Calanques, only flat stones, but it’s comfortable enough for sunbathing. Restaurant La Presqu’ile has an amazing view over the water from the top of the cliff.
If you are looking for a bigger Calanque with a beach try Port-Pin or En-Vau, though you can’t reach these beaches by car. You can either walk (about 1h30 each way for the further one) or rent a boat (if you have a boat licence) or rent a Kayak from Port Miou and paddle to Port-Pin!
Roussillon – incredible colours
Roussillon glows with every shade of the ochre palette. It lies on a hill between the Monts de Vaucluse and the Luberon valley. It is one of the most beautiful villages of France and a must see in Provence. Wandering the narrow streets, plazas, and stairways in Roussillon rewards you with the discovery of the unique colours and beauty of the village, created over centuries by artisan builders with natural materials and pigments.
Visit the town on a Thursday to see the morning farmer’s market with about 30 vendors. Finish the morning by getting lost in the colourful streets. Then enjoy a delicious lunch at Restaurant David in the Clos des Glycine hotel, reservation recommended. Ask to be seated upstairs on the terrace to enjoy the fabulous view over the countryside. Then, continue your day with the Ochre trail, an easy short walk through a surprising Ochre canyon.
Montpellier – historic and gorgeous
Montpellier is one of the most vibrant cityies of France. It’s home to a renowned medical university (the oldest Medical school of Europe still in activity today!) and has a large student population which makes it very dynamic. There are numerous squares filled with cafés and restaurants dotted though the maze of medieval streets. You’ll find shades of Paris here, with an Arc de Triumph, Haussmananian style buildings and wide avenues lined with fancy boutiques.
Montpellier’s city centre is the perfect place for shopping and people watching. Just take a seat at Le Cafe Riche 1893 on Place de la Comedie, order a glass of wine and enjoy the show. You’ll see that the chairs face the square, you’re already expected to watch life go on rather than chat to your partner!
Don’t miss a visit to the Fabre Museum where you can discover the paintings of Frederic Bazille. The Fabre museum, which is itself an innovative combination of classic and contemporary architecture, holds a collection of 800 paintings..
Tip: Montpellier is located just 20 minutes from some of the best sandy beaches of Southern France. With 300 hundred days of sunshine a year, head to the beach from the city!
St-Guilhem-le-Desert – magical
St-Guilhelm-le-Desert is off the beaten track, a breath-takingly pretty village tucked in the Gellone valley. It’s labelled one of the most beautiful villages of France and is home to an abbey founded in 804 by the Emperor Charlemagne’s cousin. Some houses in the village date back to the 11th century. A small spring in the town fills the fountains and even runs in channels under the houses.
Going to St Guilhem is like traveling back in time. And if you love hand-made goods and the work of artisans, you’ll love it here. It’s hard to resist the hand-crafted bags and shoes, wooden toys, hand stitched kids clothes and essential oils made from the wild lavender found in the mountains. And there are also fabulous food products such as olive oil, tapenade, saucisson, pastries etc..
It’s also perfect for hikers as you can find some beautiful trails in the mountain overlooking the village. And if you are going during the summer, take a costume so you can enjoy a coolinng wim in the river!
Tip: I love the restaurant L’Oustal Fonzes run by a local family, they are so nice and so friendly. The terrace seating offers incredible views over a canyon where the river throws itself along. The food is delicious, and they give you plenty for an affordable price.
This is a wine region extraordinaire, so after your visit to St-Guilhelm, make a stop at Chateau de Jonquieres Winery (check website for visiting times: www.chateau-jonquieres.com/en).
St Paul-de-Vence – simply sublime
St Paul-de-Vence is located in the French riviera just half an hour drive from Nice. This medieval village perched on a hill is a must-see. It’s long been a haven of the famous, mostly due to the La Colombe d’Or hotel, whose former guests include Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso. During the 1960s, the village was frequented by French actors Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Lino Ventura, and poet Jacques Prévert.
Saint-Paul is also well known for the artists who have lived there, such as Jacques Raverat, Gwen Raverat and Marc Chagall. Rolling Stones guitarist Bill Wyman has a home there.
Get lost in the cobblestone streets and climb winding staircases lined with shops, galleries and restaurants. Stop off at the town cemetery where Marc Chagall is buried and enjoy spectacular views over the countryside from its tranquil location.
Take a tour of the south of France with TripUSAFrance to discover its most beautiful sites and most alluring secrets!