From the glamorous beaches of St. Tropez to the scenic vineyards of Bordeaux, the South of France has so much on offer that it’s almost impossible to pack it all into one visit. Whether you’ve already got the flights booked, or this region is on your bucket list for some point in the future, I’ve devised a list of six cities to make for an unforgettable vacation!
1 | Bordeaux
Many travelers visit Bordeaux for one reason and one reason alone: the wine. The vineyards along the banks of the Garonne River produce some of the best-quality wine in the world, and you’re invited to try a glass (or five) on one of the region’s many vineyard tours. If wine’s not your thing, the city of Cognac is just north of Bordeaux. While Cognac is technically in Central France, it’s worth the trip to try the world-famous brandy on its home turf.
In Bordeaux itself, you’ll find plenty of incredible sights. Enjoy a shopping spree along the Rue Saint-Catherine or watch a ballet and opera performance in the Grand Theatre. Soak up some classical French architecture at the Palais de la Bourse, with its impressive statues and gardens, or view the beautiful paintings inside the Cathédrale Saint-André, which opened as early as 1096!
Travelers tend to neglect the beaches near Bordeaux in favor of the French Riviera, but these Atlantic stretches are definitely worth a visit. Côte d’Argent highlights include Arcachon, home to the tallest sand dunes in Europe, Mimizan Plage, great for surfing, and Biscarrosse Plage, a family-friendly seaside town.
2 | Marseilles
Marseilles is a fairly chilled town, where you can find fresh seafood, relaxed bars, and plenty of people watching spots in the Vieux Port (Old Port). Nearby is the old La Panier Neighborhood, where Ancient Greeks once settled. Stroll around the hillside district for independent shops and small cafés and bars, in which you should try pastis, a local, anise-flavored aperitif. Alternatively, try a glass of white or red wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. This area makes for a great day trip from Marseilles if you’re looking to learn about wine production and, of course, try some for yourself.
Another fantastic day trip from Marseilles is Calanques. This stretch of coast offers gorgeous beaches, kayaking, canoeing, as well as hiking and cycling along the rugged cliffs. I’d also recommend a trip to Avignon, famous for the Palais des Papes, the largest medieval palace in the world!
3 | Nice
Start your time in Nice at the popular Promenade des Anglais. This five-kilometer stretch offers well-known hotels, palaces, restaurants, and shops, built in the Belle Epoque and Art Deco Styles. Venture into the city’s Old Town if you’re looking for small markets, selling arts and crafts. This is also a great, albeit overcrowded, district for nightlife, as is the nearby Rue Mascoinat if you’re after a quieter spot.
Nice’s gorgeous parks should also feature on your itinerary. Parc Phoenix, for example, is home to one of Europe’s largest greenhouses, exotic plants and flowers, unique bird species, and impressive waterfalls. While you’re on the Promenade des Anglais, I’d recommend making a detour to the Jardin Albert 1er, where palm trees from all over the world make for a tropical atmosphere.
4 | St. Tropez
While world-famous, star-studded beaches like Pampelonne and Nikki are worth visiting — especially if you’re looking for glamorous bars and celebrity spotting opportunities — it’s the lesser-known landmarks that make this town so appealing to me! Find fantastic hiking opportunities along the coast, which pass the Cap Camarat Lighthouse. This is the second tallest lighthouse in France and offers unbeatable views over the St. Tropez Bay. The beach below, Bonne Terrasse, is more secluded than nearby sandy stretches, and is home to plenty of native French tortoises.
There are also lots of vineyards near St. Tropez, where you can try wine with a very distinctive taste, owing to its location on the Mediterranean border. This region is becoming increasingly popular for its organic and rosé wine, so be sure to sample a few glasses during your visit. If you don’t fancy leaving the city, you can have a glass of vino in the Vieux Port (Old Port). While in one of the port’s small eateries, be sure to try a St. Tropez delicacy, the Tarte Tropézienne. This delicious treat is made from cutting a brioche roll in half and filling it with indulgent cream…yummy!
In addition to celebrities and wine, St. Tropez is also full of history. I’d highly recommend a trip to its 17th-century citadel, turned naval museum. It was once a fortress, built to protect the town, and now offers panoramic views over the city and its coastline. If maritime history isn’t your thing, you can also learn about film culture in the Museum of Police and Cinema or view gorgeous artwork in the Musée de l’Annonciade.
5 | Toulouse
Start your time in Toulouse in its main square, the Capitole de Toulouse, where you’ll find farmers’ and artists’ markets. From there, it’s just a five-minute walk to the Basilica of Saint Sernin, one of the largest Romanesque churches in the world. It’s a good idea to take a tour to learn all about the history of the building, and to sit in on a service to hear the incredible organs. For more impressive architecture, walk over the city’s oldest bridge, Pont Neuf, which offers picturesque views over the Garonne River.
Toulouse also boasts plenty of natural beauty. The Jardin Public, for example, was based on the gardens at the Palace of Versailles in Paris and is no less spectacular. Alternatively, enjoy gorgeous valleys and take a wine tasting tour around the vineyards in nearby Cahors, one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world!
6 | Cannes
Cannes’ most famous area is the Boulevard de la Croisette, which ends at the Vieux Port (Old Port). The stretch is home to busy bars, clubs, hotels, and a mix of private and public beaches. If you’re looking for a public beach to catch a tan, I’d recommend the popular Plage de la Bocca, the western Plage du Midi, or the more remote Palm Beach. The latter is located right on the tip of Cannes’ headland, and is much-loved among kite surfers and other watersports enthusiasts. If that’s not secluded enough for you, you could also take a day trip to the nearby Hyères for more wild and rugged beaches.
After ticking off major landmarks — including the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, where the Cannes Film Festival takes place each May — be sure to take a trip to the Île Sainte-Marguerite. This tiny island is just three kilometers in length but is worth a visit for its towering eucalyptus and pine trees, old fort, and small, independent restaurants.