The south of France has long attracted artists and visitors who fall in love with the incredible light, the charm of the locals and their singing accents, the culture and history of this picturesque part of southern France, fields of fragrant lavender and glorious countryside, authentic and rustic seaside villages. We look at some of the prettiest places in southern France.
‘When I see Villefranche, I see my youth again. Pray Heaven it may never change’… French poet Jean Cocteau on Villefranche-sur-Mer
The 700-year-old traditional fishing village (top photo) is home to around 5000 inhabitants but welcomes about a million tourists every year (thanks to the large cruise ships which drop anchor just at the entrance of the bay). Nevertheless, the village has managed to retain its authentic and charming nature, winding medieval streets and ochre, pink and yellow houses topped with orange tiled roofs. From the hills, those who climb have a splendid view of Cap-Ferrat, and from some spots even the Cap de Nice.
Just as Picasso, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Henry Ford discovered, it is the perfect place to have a drink at the end of a beautiful day, while you soak up the view of the stunning sunsets.
Antibes is one of those places that you stumble upon and realise that you’ve found a sun-drenched French corner of paradise. Of course, others have found this too, Picasso, Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway all fell in love with its charms. They would probably recognise its famous sites today, almost a hundred years after they partied here in the roaring twenties. Take a dip in the sea. Wander the old district where the scent of orange blossom, lavender and jasmine fills the air. Narrow winding roads with ornamental cobbles that lead you past tall old houses dripping with bright pink bougainvillea. It is a true treasure of the French Riviera.
Words don’t do justice to the charms of Nice. You have to see the palm trees gently swaying from the light sea breeze under the azure sky and taste the salt in the air. Walk down the chequered paths of Place Masséna and along the narrow wiggly streets of the old town, lined with bright terracotta-coloured building.
Wander the Promenade des Anglais that winds around the Bay of Angels, lapped by the unbelievably turquoise sea, glittering from the rays of the warm sun. Listen to the clanking anchors of yachts in the harbour and explore the Cours Saleya with its daily market and stands selling local Socca and Pissaladière and smell the olive oil, sea salt and smoke waft around you. Nice is a city that assails your senses and fills you with the joy of life.
In Uzès, rich Mediterranean skies slowly bake a rocky green landscape and olive trees grasp the leafy fingers of the mulberry trees to provide welcome shade in a medieval town square. It’s a place where pale limestone houses gently glow and where history and ancient architecture walk hand in hand under the watchful eye of three feudal towers and the ancestral home and chateau of the town’s Duke. Be lured into its narrow, medieval streets, rest beneath its heavy canopy of thick leaved plane trees and cool stone arches, and be seduced by its charm that leaves you breathless.
“When the Good Lord begins to doubt the world, he remembers that he created Provence” – Frederic Mistral
Aix will have you believing that dreams are real – it really is that lovely. The hometown of Paul Cézanne has some of the most glorious architecture of southern France, wander the Cours Mirabeau, shop at the market for homemade jam, exotic spices, sunflowers, organic honeys, juicy fruits, soothing lavender and local arts & crafts – all of this whilst gaping at the pastel-coloured buildings. Aix will steal your heart.
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, or as the locals say, Saint-Rémy, is located at the base of very long and jagged limestone deposits. With a bit of imagination, they look like dragon teeth! The town is laid out in a circle with plane tree shaded squares with tinkling fountains and cobbled streets lined with ancient buildings. Just above the town centre is the perfect viewpoint for lovers of Van Gogh’s paintings. Many of his most well-known artworks were created during the time he spent in the asylum at Saint-Rémy. Have you ever noticed the steeple in Starry Night? Remember his series of olive trees and the jagged mountains in the background? The sensory world of Van Gogh surrounds you in this magical spot above Saint-Rémy.
There are few more breath-taking sights than fields of lavender in bloom and from the village of Sault, perched atop a rocky outcrop, the views are marvellous. Situated between the mountains of Lure, Luberon and Mont Ventoux – the area is famous for its picture-postcard-pretty lavender fields, forests and plains where goats and sheep wander. Visit on a Wednesday morning for the vibrant market and wander the pretty medieval streets for an eyeful of charm.
Menton is said to be the warmest town on the French Riviera with around 316 days of sunshine a year! During the time of the Belle Epoque, royals from around Europe flocked to the town and luxury hotels and villas were built in the magical setting. Stroll the steep narrow streets which cascade down to the sea. Sit in shaded squares and watch the world go by, beguiled by this corner of captivating charm.
Words by Janine Marsh; Photos by Marianne Furnes, a photographer from the Netherlands, find her on Instagram at: MyFrenchMap
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