There are so many wonderful things to do in the South of France. Starting from basking in the sun, through eating yummy treats to visiting cultural sights, South of France is the perfect place for a late summer holiday. We spent one full week exploring South of France and we absolutely fell in love with its quaint towns, gorgeous nature and epic cuisine.
South of France is a pretty big place, so how do you even begin to decide what is the best destination for your holiday? We couldn't pick just one location, so we embarked on a once in a lifetime river cruise adventure with Avalon Waterways. We spent a week aboard and explored well-known locations as well as some off the beaten path destinations which we would have never known about it if it weren't for the cruise.
Whether you decide to book a river cruise or explore on your own, there are plenty of things to do in the South of France which will help you make long-lasting memories with your loved ones. Here are the highlights and what we loved the most.
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Visit the rooftops of Lyon
Once upon a time, we dreamt of moving to Lyon. Have we ever told you that? We didn't end up moving there, but we sure get excited every single time we visit the city. Nicknamed the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon is the place to be if you are a self-declared foodie traveller. We will travel for food, no questions asked.
But beyond its magnificent culinary scene, Lyon is a city where you can admire French architecture, stunning cute streets and enjoy that chilled holiday atmosphere. Lyon is a pretty city, by all accounts, so if street photography is your thing, you'll find an array of photogenic places.
But perhaps the most unconventional thing to do in Lyon is to be on top of it. Sort of literally... take a rooftop tour and admire the city from above. On clear days, you can see as far as Mont Blanc. That's pretty spectacular.
Go on a food tour around Lyon
Hey, look, we are not trying to tell you to eat more... who are we kidding? You are going to France, of course, we are telling you to eat more. French food is divine, starting with their incredible cheeses, seafood and wines. We can't get enough of it.
Lyon is lined with restaurants, bars and bistro, as well as cafes, patisseries and boulangeries, so trust us, you won't starve. You can take a guided tour and discover some off the beaten path locations or just trust your gut (no pun intended) and let the gorgeous smell of freshly baked croissant guide you around the city.
Admire Pont d'Avignon
Sur le Pont d'Avignon, L'on y danse, l'on y danse... not singing time? Well better start learning the song as you'll have to sing it out loud when you'll see the bridge. Ok, not really, but the song is of significant importance to the people of Avignon. They say that you have to sing this song to celebrate that the bridge is still standing. This is a local tradition dating back to the 18th century.
This medieval bridge was built between 1177 and 1185 from wood. At the beginning of the 13th century, the bridge was rebuilt in stone but it was abandoned in the mid-17th century as the arches collapsed every time the Rhône flooded, thus making it very expensive to maintain.
Walk around Avignon
Avignon is the capital of Provence so visiting the city itself is definitely one of the best things to do in South of France. We especially loved the entrance to the old town through a large wall. Think a massive, well-preserved wall, a bit like Game of Thrones style. If you've been to Dubrovnik, you'll know what we mean, it's similar to the city walls there.
Visit the Palais des Papes and learn how from 1309 to 1377, Avignon was the seat of the Catholic popes. Walk around Avignon and see all those cute, narrow streets, lined with adorable shops.
Drink wine in Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a small village with a twist: not only it looks incredibly cute, but it also has a huge variety of wine cellars. We feel that entering the town itself just simply gives you the licence to go from cellar to cellar and ask for tastings (some of which are free of charge, by the way) until you find the wines you want to buy. There is a catch though (there's always a catch!) once you taste one of their wines, you'll want to buy right away, so make sure you leave enough room in your backpack for several bottles.
Hey, they say red wine has antioxidants, so who said sipping the ripe taste of liquid grape is not healthy? Red wines are fantastic in the region, thanks to the gorgeous vineyards on the sunny plains and hills.
Walkthrough the Camargue National Park
The Camargue National Park or the French Delta is an oasis for nature lovers. If you love wildlife and want to enjoy gorgeous Mediterranean flora, then this place is for you. The Camargue is also known for its flamingos. Fun fact, did you know that flamingos are pink because of the brine shrimp and blue-green algae they eat?
The Camargue has its own secrets beyond flora and fauna and that's oyster farmers. Some of the best quality oysters come from the region, known to be grown in an eco-friendly manner. There are also small wineries creating bio wines which taste sweet and delicate, just as the beautiful Mediterranean air by the Camargue.
Learn about Van Gogh masterpieces
Everyone knows Van Gogh. The interesting painter who experimented with self-portraits and cut off his own ear. You know his Starry Night, the Almond Blossoms and the Sunflowers. But did you know that this incredibly talented artist found a lot of his inspiration in Japanese art? He was an avid collector too and a walk into his private life and art collection will reveal an amazing side to this artist and his love for Japan.
We too are fascinated with Japan so we completely understand the lure. But how interesting is it that artists from the other side of the world, can make such an impact on one's style of creative work? Take a guided tour around Arles and learn more about Van Gogh.
Take a walking tour in Arles
Arles has a lot to offer, beyond learning about the creative painter, Van Gogh. Arles has a gorgeous Roman Amphitheatre which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and it attracts countless visitors from all over the world.
It features cobbled stone streets lined with cute houses, plants and shops. Arles didn't have a city feel to us, it was more like a laid back summer destination where you'd want to go to just take it easy. The food was perfect, of course, but you can rarely fault a French bistro. The French sure know how to cook.
Meander around Les Baux-de-Provence
Have you ever heard of Les Baux-de-Provence? We haven't before either. Thanks to our river cruise with Avalon Waterways, we went to explore this gorgeous little town located atop of a hill.
From all our trip around the South of France, this was perhaps the most notable quaint location. Think of it as a charming maze of streets lined with all sort of souvenir shops. There are cafes, vista points, lovely little rooftops and all sort of Provence French souvenirs.
It was simply perfect, and stunning.
Check Rencontres d'Arles
My dream was to become a photographer. Back when I was 17, I used to go to the University of Arts back in Bucharest to attend classes and see how could I possibly gain enough insight to be admitted in. Well, I ended up doing law so you know, life has is own ways. But if I only knew back then about the festival Rencontres d'Arles.
The Rencontres d’Arles is an annual photography festival held during the summer months. The idea behind it is to showcase an array of photography from various artists from all around the world.
I think, for aspiring artists, this is a fantastic opportunity to tell the world their own visual story.
Join an oil tasting experience
If you must have oil as part of your diet, let it be extra virgin olive oil. And if you must purchase oil, make sure you buy it directly from local producers who know the art of their trade. The South of France has plenty of olive orchards and most of them are used to create the divine elixir we call olive oil. I'm a fanatic. Every warm country I visit, I drag my husband to local producers to taste the finished product and I usually end up buying litres upon litres of oil.
We recommend joining an olive oil tasting to learn about the product is made. Then, you can select your own oil based on your own taste. Some will taste sweet, full-bodied or even slightly spicy. I like olive oil more than wine.
Purchase French souvenirs
From soaps, through culinary delights to magnets made locally, you'll find too many things you'll want to pack up in your suitcase. One of the best things to do in the South of France is to explore the local craft and artisan shops to discover hand made souvenirs.
Of course, Provence is associated with endless lavender fields, so naturally, you'll find plenty of hand made soaps and oils with lavender and French herbs. Herbs are another great souvenir, as well as wines and cheeses (for a short flight only).
And if you love fashion, know that France has some of the best-tailored clothes in the world. One glance at Franch people and you can see they know how to make themselves look stunning, and how to accessorise as if they are all ready for the runway. And while my husband probably disagrees, I say that holidays are made for (at least a little bit) of shopping.
Guided Hike around Val d'Enfer
As part of our Active & Discovery river cruise, we went on a morning hike around Val d'Enfer, a beautiful nature area with rugged terrain, stunning vista points and local flora.
This hike is easy if you are in good share but the beginning can be slightly challenging for the elderly. It's well worth it, as the viewing points are from another world. Allocate 1-2 hours for this.
Visit Carrières de Lumières
Visit the charming Carrières de Lumières, which is an old quarry transformed into an art gallery. This is an audio-visual experience where you get to walk into famous paintings. You can see them change from wall to wall, listen to music and just hear and feel the music.
We were fortunate enough to see a Japanese gallery too, which was absolutely stunning. The magic of it was from a different world. It can get quite busy but because of the high walls and relatively large area, you don't even feel there are others around you.
Do arrive as early as possible, as the lines at the ticket office can get pretty long.
Here's the deal. I never liked oysters... until I tried them in France. Now I crave them all the time. With a dash of freshly squeezed lemon juice and a touch of Tabasco sauce, my mouth is watering just by writing this.
We sat down at Du Bar à l'Huître in Arles and ordered (far too many) oysters for the both of us. We ended up taking some sweet time enjoying our food and we are still dreaming of that restaurant. South of France will have plenty of oyster bars and seafood restaurants. Give it a try, with a little glass of wine on the side, and we guarantee you'll have a great time.
Take a guided tour around Marseille
Marseille...just another city to some, but to me, it's so much more than that. Have you ever heard about Dumas' novel, The Count of Monte Cristo? If you haven't read the book, go and download the movie which is incredible!
The Château d'If is a fortress (later a prison) located on the island of If, situated about 1.5 kilometres offshore in the Bay of Marseille in southeastern France. According to Dumas, the Count of Monte Cristo escaped the prison and swam to the shores of Marseille. After a nomadic life, he eventually returned to Marseille to claim his old life back. It's a fantastic story which paints Marseille to the colours of ink on a brilliant novel.
A port, a city, a story, Marseille is a city which should be added to your list of top places to visit in France.
Eat your weight in French food
Croissants for breakfast, baguettes and seafood for lunch and delicious stews for dinner. Pack your comfortable jeans for when you visit France as the food there is way too delicious to be ignored. Don't fight it, just immerse yourself in the local foods and forget about calories.
French food is one of the best in the world and whether you are after small snacks from the local boulangerie or a Michelin Star restaurant, South of France has it all. Some of the best chefs in the world are French cuisine trained, so you know you are in for a treat.
Fall in love with the French Riviera
Sunshine, azure seas and cocktails on the beach, yeah that sums up the French Riviera. They say the French Riviera is only for the rich, but we promise, if you are willing to be a bit crafty with your holiday, you can do it on a budget too. We rented an apartment, did self-catering and DIYed our itinerary.
Hike the gorgeous Alpes-Maritimes
Just one hour away from Nice you can find yourself on hiking trails on the Alpes-Maritimes. Rugged terrain, vista points and amazing history, await for you there. South of France is this deliciously great location which has so much charm, it will make you want to return over and over and over.
What are the things you'll want to do in the South of France? Let us know in the comments section below.
Avalon Waterways partnered up with You Could Travel in order to take professional photographs and create videos, as well as promote Avalon Waterways on our platforms. Avalon Waterways hired us on a basis that we will provide honest, unbiased opinions of their services which is exactly what we did. We were very much impressed with our French river cruise and couldn't stop recommending it to family and friends since. We are now inviting you to book your next adventure with Avalon Waterways, in order to experience the true spirit of what is like to embark on an active and discovery European River Cruise