Beautiful towns in Southern France

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Discover hilltop villages, walled citadels and coastal havens, all in the south of France.

The mere mention of well-known towns and cities like Perpignan, Montpellier, Marseille, Cannes and Nice is enough to make Francophiles want to hop behind the wheel and head south. But, it’s not just these popular destinations that should have holidaymakers excited. There are plenty of beautiful, lesser-known towns in the South of France that are also certainly worth exploring.

Peillon

Where in France: Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
Distance from Calais: 1,24km / 11h 25m

Peillon looks as though it were carved from the rock face it sits upon
Peillon looks as though it were carved from the rock face it sits upon.

The first on our list is Peillon, a delightfully-small commune seated atop a cliff in the Alpes-Maritimes department in South-eastern France, just 18km from Nice.

On arrival, visitors must leave their cars behind as the only way to get around once within the tiny, tranquil town is by foot. Strolling amongst the incredibly charming, ancient stairways and walkways is a joy, and the town’s little restaurants and cafés provide guests the opportunity to dine like a true local. Those who visit will also forever remember the breath-taking views of the surrounding mountains and the Paillon Valley.

Èze

Where in France: Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
Distance from Calais: 1,245km / 11h 15m

Èze overlooks the glistening Mediterranean sea
Èze overlooks the glistening Mediterranean sea.

Èze is another small hilltop village found in the Alpes-Maritimes region of Southern France. The views looking south are punctuated by the endless blue of Mediterranean Sea, particularly from the cactus garden found at the village’s highest point. When exploring, visitors are advised to seek out the ancient, Chapelle de la Sainte Croix, built in 1306, as well as the many galleries and museums, dotted throughout the cobbled streets.

Being on the French Riviera grants Èze blissful weather during the summer months, making the nearby beaches of Plage de Passable St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Eden Plage Mala Cap, ideal excursions for those with a car.

Gordes

Where in France: Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
Distance from Calais: 1,013km / 9h 20m

The lavender field at Sénanque Abbey
The lavender field at Sénanque Abbey.

Some may have already heard of Gordes as it is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in not just Provence, but the entirety of France. Similarly to Èze and Peillon, Gordes is also a hilltop settlement, much like many of the towns and villages in Provence. With its collection of terracotta rooftops, church towers and narrow passageways, Gordes is most stunning when bathed in the glowing light of the setting sun.

A 15-minute drive from Gordes is the Sénanque Abbey (Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque), a Cisterican abbey founded in 1148. The monks who call the abbey home, tend to honey bees, as well as a number of lavender fields which are open for visitors to stroll through. The best time to visit is during warmer months as the lavender is particularly spectacular under the French summer sun.

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Where in France: Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
Distance from Calais: 1,001km / 9h 13m

Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausolé inspired many of Van Gogh’s works
Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausolé inspired many of Van Gogh’s works.

The birthplace of Nostradamus and the inspiration for Van Gogh’s, ‘Starry Night’, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a truly unmissable destination for anyone visiting Provence.

The small city is a prime example of the ‘Provençal way of life’, with winding streets lined with hotels, chapels and private mansions dating from the Renaissance period to the 18th century. A visit during the summer months has tourists in awe of the shaded boulevards and squares that feature ancient fountains, as well as the abundance of terraced cafés and restaurants.

A rite of passage when in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is to visit the Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausolé, a fine example of Provençal Romanesque architecture that was once an asylum that treated Vincent Van Gogh in 1889. For those with an interest in Roman history, the archaeological site of Glanum, mentioned in our ‘A Roman Ruins Road Trip Through France’ blog post, is just a few minutes’-drive south of the city.

Carcassonne

Where in France: Aude, Occitanie.
Distance from Calais: 1,052km / 10h 10m

Carcassonne’s walled city is proudly illuminated during the evening
Carcassonne’s walled city is proudly illuminated during the evening.

A hilltop town with a difference, Carcassone is found in southern France’s Languedoc area and is home to Europe’s largest walled-city. The Cité Médiévale - famed for its many watchtowers and double-walled fortifications - has been a Unesco site since 1997 and is a superb window into medieval France.

A point of interest for visitors is Pont-Vieux, the oldest bridge that crosses the Aude River. It was initially built in the 14th century to provide quick access between Carcassone’s elevated, walled city and the town below. After being renovated in the 1800s, it remains in use today and is even illuminated by spot lights during the evenings.

St-Tropez

Where in France: Var, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
Distance from Calais: 1,172km / 11h 0m

Saint-Tropez is an unmissable stop when driving through the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
Saint-Tropez is an unmissable stop when driving through the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.

Unashamed, bronzed and a hot spot for British tourists during the summer months, St Tropez certainly is a must-see, beautiful town in southern France.

As well as its sun-drenched image, the town has a number of interesting sites to enjoy such as the Musée de l’Annonciade and Citadelle de St-Tropez. Historic landmarks like these within St-Tropez allow visitors to enjoy the rich history behind the many towns and cities dotted along the French Riviera, alongside the millionaire-yacht culture. Head to Place des Lices for a bite to eat or a cup of coffee or kick back and relax on the famous Pampelonne beach, just 5.4km south of the town.

Bandol

Where in France: Var department, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
Distance from Calais: 1,120km / 10h 10m

The port in Bandol features a delightful promenade, the perfect setting for a stroll
The port in Bandol features a delightful promenade, the perfect setting for a stroll.

Bandol is ideal for those looking for peace and quiet. The coastal commune’s renowned wine region is one of Provence’s most internationally recognised, and it’s said that the grapes owe their unique flavour to the soil’s silicon and limestone properties. Wine connoisseurs will be glad to know that there are a number of local wine tours organised in the area.

Bandol is also surrounded by glorious beaches. To the east, explorers can find delightfully sandy beaces like Plage Centrale, Plage du Casino and Plage du Grand Vallat while smaller, rocky and more secluded spots can be found to the west, such as Plage Eden Roc and the Plage de l'Anglais. The Anse de Renécros is a relatively untouched cove worth tracking down. Found just west of the centre, its unique shape allows for calmer waters which are ideal for swimming in.

Whether it’s a town boasting secluded beaches, an ancient medieval citadel or breath-taking mountain views, Southern France has it all. So don’t miss out, book a ticket with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle in advance to secure the best fare, and let the adventure begin!