The 30 best places to visit in Southern France

 

On the south western coast, measuring approximately 500 metres wide by 2.7 kilometres (1.6 miles) long, standing 110 metres (361 ft) above sea level is the Dune Of Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe. Surrounded by dense forest on the edge of the Atlantic ocean, this natural tourist attraction boasts more than one million visitors a year.

30. Dune Du Pilat

 

In the southern centre of the country, north of the city of Toulouse is the picturesque medieval town of Sarlat-La-Caneda. It's historical centre, developed around it's large Benedictine Abbey and medieval cathedral have preserved it as one of the most untouched towns of 14th century France. With it's pedestrinaised centre surrounded by impeccably restored stone buildings, Sarlat is a relatively overlooked jewel of the Dordogne region.

29. Sarlat-La-Canéda

 

East of the nearby Sarlat-La-Caneda, in a gorge within the Causses Du Quercy Natural Regional Park is the ancient town and historical pilgrimage route of Rocamadour. Rising in stages up the side of a rocky cliff face reaching some 120 metres (390 ft) high, the buildings are connected by flights of steps that lead up towards the the towns chateau, built in the middle ages. The most revered site in town is the Pilgrimage Church Of Notre Dame, re-built in 1479 AD it contains the cult image of the wooden Black Madonna, reputed to have been carved by Saint Amadour himself, from whom the town takes it's name.

28. Rocamadour

 

Built around 40 to 60 AD between Avignon and Nimes is the rather impressive ancient Roman aqueduct, the Pont Du Gard. Crossing the Gardon River at 48.8 metres (160 ft) high, it is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts and one of the best preserved along with Spain's Aqueduct Of Segovia. This historical monument has stood for nearly 2,000 years, and has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

27. Pont Du Gard

 

Opened in 2004 near the small commune of Millau, spanning the Gorge Valley with a length of 2.46 kilometres (1.5 miles) is the Millau Viaduct. With a mast height of 343 metres (1,125 ft) it is the tallest structure in France and the tallest bridge in the world. Ranked as one of the greatest engineering achievements of all time, visitors will be struck by the sheer scale of this enormous modern landmark.

26. Viaduc De Millau

 

Built in the 1st century AD directly north of the city of Avignon is the ancient Roman Theatre Of Orange, the symbol and most notable landmark in the commune of Orange. Still used for summer opera's this historical structure remains one of the best preserved of all ancient Roman theatres. As one of the first built in this region of France, having stood for nearly 2,000 years, the theatre has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

25. Théâtre Antique d'Orange

 

Directly south of the Swiss city of Geneva within the Chartreuse Mountains, hidden away within a very remote area of the Regional Natural Park of Chartreuse is the natural double arched Tour Percee, sometimes named the Tour Isabelle Arch. With difficult and dangerous access in what is a very remote area, few visitors get to see the largest natural arch in the Alps.

24. Tour Percée

 

Founded in 90 AD​ in the southern centre of the country between Marseille and Montpelier is the ancient Roman Arles Amphitheatre, the most prominent landmark and tourist attraction in the town of Arles. Capable of seating over 20,000 people the theatre still attracts large crowds today when it holds summer plays and concerts.

23. Arènes d'Arles

 

In the east of the country, in the Vercors Plateau at the southern end of the Vercors Regional Natural Park is the Aguille Mountain, a prominent 2,085 metre (6,841 ft) single pillar that has remained from the eroded plateau. Capped with meadows, this mammoth limestone pillar towers over the surrounding villages and makes for one of the most picturesque locations in what is already stunning natural surroundings.

22. Mont Aiguille

 

In the south east of the country on the Mediterranean coast is the port city of Marseille, the second largest city in France. Among the many ancient buildings, numerous museums and churches of historical interest, the main attractions of the city are undoubtedly the Vieux Port and the Notre Dame De La Garde. The port, guarded by two huge forts, the Fort Of Saint Nicolas and Fort Saint Jean, where dozens of fine eateries line the waterfront is a tourist favourite. The Basilica Notre-Dame De La Garde, built in 1864 in a Romanesque Neo Byzantine style sits on top of the cities highest point and is easily Marseilles most visited site. Decorated with mosaics, standing at a height of 41 metres (135 ft) to the top of it's bell tower, topped by a 12.5 metre (41 ft) belfry it supports a monumental 11.2 metre (37 ft) statue of the Madonna and child made of copper and gold leaf. Unsurprisingly the Basilica is regarded as the symbol of the city.

21. Marseille

 

Between Vercors Regional Natural Park and the Regional Natural Park Of Chartreuse is the city of Grenoble, lying among high mountains and the glacial Isere River it is regarded as the capital of the French Alps. Popular and picturesque in all seasons, Grenoble is a city loved by skiers, trekkers, and outdoor enthusiasts with a vast rugged wilderness all around it. One of the cities main man made attractions is the Bastille, an ancient series of fortifications high on the mountainside. Visitors can take the cable car up to the forts for stunning views over the heart of Grenoble, the surrounding mountains and beyond.

20. Grenoble

 

Built around 70 AD in the southern centre of the country, between Montpelier and Avignon is the Arena Of Nimes, a large Roman amphitheatre within the city of the same name. With the capacity to hold over 24,000 spectators, this ancient Roman theatre has stood for nearly 2,000 years, still used to this day as a bullring and a place of concerts and summer plays.

19. Arène De Nîmes

 

In the south west of the country, north of the Spanish border in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains is the market town of Lourdes. It's two most notable attractions are the 8th century Chateau Fort De Lourdes, a castle built upon a rocky mound, and the Domain, better known as the Sanctuary Of Our Lady Of Lourdes. Among the historical ensemble, the Neo Gothic Basilica Of Our Lady Of The immaculate Conception with it's tall 70 metre (230 ft) spire has become the most iconic symbol of this pilgrimage site.

In 1858 a peasant girl saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary, making Lourdes one of the worlds most important pilgrimage sites and location for religious tourism. Today it is the countries second most visited location after Paris, and the third most important site of international Catholic pilgrimage after Vatican City in Rome and the Holy Land of Israel.

Pictured is the Notre-Dame De l'Immaculée-Conception De Lourdes (Basilica Of Our Lady Of The Immaculate Conception)

18. Lourdes

 

In the far south east of the country, north of the city of Nice on the border with Italy is Mercantour National Park. Covering an area of some 685 square kilometres (264 square miles) the protected park land encompasses high alpine mountains, deep valleys, lakes, forests and an abundance of wildlife, with luckier visitors able to catch a glimpse of a chamois, of which there are several thousand. Within the protected area there are also 28 villages, most of them perched upon rocks concealing beautifully decorative and architecturally rich churches and houses dating back centuries. Considered one of the most notable of these perched villages, is that of Belvedere.

17. Parc National Du Mercantour

 

In the southern centre of the country, between Montpelier and Lyon is the small medieval town of Le Puy-En-Velay. The towns most notable sights include the Chapel Of Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe, built in 969 AD it stands upon a volcanic plug reaching 85 metres (279 ft) into the air. The pink iron statue of Notre Dame De France (The Virgin Mary) was gifted to the town in 1860, made from hundreds of melted down Russian cannons taken in the siege of Sevastopol, standing 16 metres (52 ft) tall it too holds a prestigious high vantage point over the town. The most striking attraction of all is undoubtedly the Cathedral Notre Dame Du Puy, dating back to the early 12th century this historic Romanesque Landmark has been the centre of pilgrimage in it's own right from before the time of Charlemagne. Today a national monument of France, as part of the pilgrimage route of Santiago De Compostela it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

16. Le Puy-En-Velay

 

In the east of the country, close to the border with Italy is Ecrins National Park. Covering an area of some 918 square kilometres (354 square miles) with a maximum peak of 4,102 metres (13,458 ft) above sea level, the protected area encompasses high mountains, glacier fields, glacier valleys, alpine woodlands and pristine lakes.

15. Parc National Des Écrins

 

Founded around 274 AD in the south of the country between Toulouse and Perpignan is the Cité de Carcassonne, a medieval citadel located in the town of Carcassonne. With it's 3 kilometre (1.9 mile) encircling wall interspersed with 52 circular towers it is as much a fortified city as it is a castle. In the 13th century additional walls were placed outside the Roman walls which were later demolished. Restored at the end of the 19th century the Cite De Carcassonne was declared a national monument of France and later given the even higher honour of being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

14. Cité De Carcassonne

 

In the southern centre of the country between Toulouse and Millau is the historical commune of Albi, notable for it's medieval architecture and southern French Gothic style created from the use of local red and orange brick. The Pont Vieux or Old Bridge, and the Saint Salvi Quarter date back to the 10th century, beneath the 13th century French Gothic fortified cathedral. Beside the cathedral is the vast Palais De La Berbie, surrounded by residential quarters that date back to the Middle Ages. Largely unchanged over the centuries, considered one of the finest examples of urban planning from the period with a homogeneous ensemble of monuments, the Episcopal City Of Albi has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

13. Albi

 

In the far east of the country along the border with Italy is Vanoise National Park, the countries first designated national park. Home to the Vanoise Massif, the protected area encompasses high peaks, deep valleys and alpine forests in a beautiful natural area of the French Alps. Home to several small picturesque villages and well known ski resorts, Vanoise is one of the most incredible natural landscapes in the country. Continuing across the border with Italy, Vanoise National Park, combined with the exquisite Italian Gran Paradiso National Park encompasses some 1,250 square kilometres (482 square miles), making it the largest of all the alpine national parks.

12. Parc National De La Vanoise

 

Though highly dependent on the weather, from June to August the region of Provence comes alive as the hills turn purple with blooming lavender. Visitors should go in search of Luberon, around Mont Ventoux in the region of Sault and Valreas, the Haute Alps, the Banon and Saderon districts to witness one of the great natural marvels of Europe.

Pictured from the Plateau De Valensole.

11. Champs De Lavande De Provence

 

Dating back to the 13th century, in the city of Avignon in the far southern centre of the country is the Papal Palace, made up of two joined buildings that combine to make one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Designed by two of France's best architects, with lavish detailing from two of the best Italian students of Siena, this enormous landmark is considered the best example of international Gothic architecture on the continent. From a time when Avignon was the seat of the Pope, one of the most powerful cities of 14th century Europe, the dominating Palais Des Papes, the Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge make up the Historic Centre Of Avignon's UNESCO World Heritage Site.

10. Palais Des Papes

 

East of France's second largest city, Marseille, is an area of protected landscape that encompasses both the land and sea, Calanques National Park. Covering an area of some 520 square kilometres (200 square miles) the area contains the highest limestone cliffs in Europe, azure blue waters and rocky hilly terrain. The Massif Des Calanques and the Calanque d'En-Vau are two spots within this vast national park, both of which are considered to be among the greatest natural beauty spots in the country.

Pictured is the Calanque d'En-Vau.

9. Parc National Du Calanques

 

In the far east of the country, north of Chamonix, close to both the Swiss and Italian borders, is Lake Blanc, considered by many to be the most picturesque lake in the country. With an elevation of 2,352 metres (7,717 ft) above sea level, surrounded by the tallest and steepest mountains in the French Alps, visitors will be struck by the beauty of this tranquil blue lake within one of the countries most rugged and spectacular landscapes.

8. Lac Blanc

 

In the far east of the country, south of the Swiss city of Geneva is the beautiful French city of Annecy. Between alpine mountains on the edge of Lake Annecy, the old town of cobbled streets, winding canals between wonderfully decorated pastel coloured houses is considered to be one of the most picturesque urban settings in the country, with many people giving it the nickname, 'The Pearl Of The French Alps'.

Pictured is the Palais De I'Isle in the centre of the Thiou River.

7. Annecy

 

In the far east of the country, directly east from Chamonix along the border with Switzerland is the Argentiere Glacier, one of the largest glaciers within the Mont Blanc massif. Measuring 9 kilometres (5.5 miles) in length, set among the steepest and tallest mountains in the French Alps, it remains one of the most impressive and easily accessible glaciers in the region.

6. Argentière Glacier

 

South east of mainland France, north of the Italian island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea is the island of Corsica, a mountainous island of stylish coastal towns, dense forests and steep rocky peaks, the highest of which is the 2,706 metre (8,878 ft) Monte Cinto. The idyllic cliff side town of Bonifacio is one of the most picturesque on the island, a favourite among tourists in search of culture and perfect beaches. With almost half the island falling within the protected Corsica Regional Park, the beautiful scenery is everywhere, none more so than on the GR20, a 180 kilometre (112 mile) walking trail that crosses the entire island. It takes around 15 days to complete and is considered to be one of the best in the world. Visitors should also go in search of the Aiguilles de Bavella, red rocky spiked granite mountains and the Scandola Nature Reserve with it's sheer red granite cliffs. The reserve has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the cliff top town of Bonifacio.

5. Corsica

 

In the far east of the country where the Italian, Swiss and French borders meet, between Mont Blanc and Chamonix is the Aiguille Du Midi, a 3,842 metre (12,605 ft) mountain in the Mont Blanc massif. At it's peak, built in 1955, high within the French Alps is a panoramic viewing platform that can be accessed by cable car directly from the town of Chamonix. The platform offers visitors a chance to see the great range from the top of one of France's tallest mountain. An incredible feat of engineering, it is regarded as one of the greatest viewpoints over the high mountains anywhere in the Alps.

4. Aiguille Du Midi

 

In the south east of the country, west of Nice, sometimes called the Grand Canyon Du Verdon, is the stunning river canyon of the Verdon Gorge. Running for 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) in total, between Castellane and Moustiers-Saint-Marie the canyon walls reach up to 700 metres (2,296 ft) above the river below, and is often regarded to be one of Europe's most incredible river canyon's. Close to the French Riviera, the gorge has become a major tourist attraction, and a favourite among rock climbers and kayakers who wish to get lost among one of the Europe's great natural wonders.

3. Gorges Du Verdon

 

In the extreme south of the country, forming the natural border between France and Spain is the Pyrenees National Park, encompassing the Pyrenees mountain range. Stretching over 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the Aure Valley to the Aspe Valley, the national park is an area made up of waterfalls, high lakes, deep valleys, thick forests and peaks that rise over 3,000 metres (9,842 ft) above sea level. Among the most celebrated spots is the Cirque De Gavarnie Valley, the Cirque De Troumouse and the Vignemale massif. This entire national park with it's incredible mountainous landscape of outstanding natural beauty has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the Cirque De Gavarnie Valley.

2. Parc National Des Pyrénées

 

In the extreme east of the country, forming the natural border between France and Italy is the famous Mont Blanc, 'The White Mountain'. Standing at 4,808 metres (15,776 ft) above sea level this snow capped peak is the highest mountain in the Alps, and the highest European mountain west of the Russian Caucasus. One of the most well known mountains on the planet, wherever Mont Blanc is visible, the landscape in undoubtedly stunning.

Pictured from the town of Chamonix.

1. Mont Blanc

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