The South of France Is My Favorite Vacation Destination — Here Are Its 20 Best Places to Visit

The lavender fields, quaint villages, and beautiful beaches have my heart.

<p>Alexander Hafemann/Getty Images</p>

Alexander Hafemann/Getty Images

France ranks among the most popular tourist destinations in all of Europe — of course there are remarkable destinations in the country that gave us boeuf bourguignon, the Eiffel Tower, and Champagne. But with alluring beaches along the Côte d'Azur, magical lavender fields, and the vineyards of the Luberon, the South of France is a superb destination all on its own. I'm a professional travel writer who's been to 45 countries across six continents, and it's my absolute favorite place in the world to visit. If you’re planning on spending even just a few days in le Midi, this list will help you choose which of the region's many, many highlights to include in your itinerary.


<p>kolderal/Getty Images</p>

kolderal/Getty Images

Gordes is one of the most beautiful small towns in the world, with roads and facades that seem to have sprung from the pages of a children's storybook. Unsurprisingly, tourists beeline to this enchanting Luberon village to see — and snap photos of — its cobbled lanes, white stone buildings, and churches.


<p>AtanasBozhikovNasko/Getty Images</p>

AtanasBozhikovNasko/Getty Images

A French Riviera hotspot put on the map by Bridget Bardot and other members of the jet-set pack in the 1960s, Saint-Tropez still sizzles. Sun-kissed holiday goers crowd glamorous beach clubs here, moor their mega yachts in the harbor, shop for breezy linens at the boutiques, and traipse around the old fishing quarter.

Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque

<p>Alexander Hafemann/Getty Images</p>

Alexander Hafemann/Getty Images

Just outside the tourist-trodden center of Gordes lies Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, a photogenic monastery founded in 1148 by Cistercians monks. Guided tours of the church and cloisters are available throughout the year. When the lavender fields bloom in the summer, this site reaches peak prettiness.

Île Sainte-Marguerite

<p>maudanros/Getty Images</p>

maudanros/Getty Images

Île Sainte-Marguerite floats about half a mile offshore from Cannes. In contrast to its mainland neighbor, the largest of the Lérins Islands is small, slow-paced, and steeped in nature. Expect rocky beaches, turquoise waters, and a eucalyptus forest, as well as a very interesting underwater sculpture museum.


<p>Gabrielle Therin-Weise/Getty Images</p>

Gabrielle Therin-Weise/Getty Images

It’s not hard to find enchanting hilltop towns in Provence. The enduring charm of Mougin that lured Edith Piaf and Christian Dior enamors all who visit. This medieval village has a snail-shaped center with cobbled lanes and flower-clad houses, plus large-scale art sculptures and award-winning restaurants overlooking the leafy countryside.

Oppède le Vieux

<p>imageBROKER/AnnaReinert/Getty Images</p>

imageBROKER/AnnaReinert/Getty Images

In stark contrast to the Disneyland-like atmosphere of Gordes, Oppède le Vieux is an under-the-radar village that’s built atop rocks and surrounded by overgrown trees. The stone pathways, steps, and structures here are in various degrees of ruin, which imbues a time-worn charm.


<p>robixy79/Getty Images</p>

robixy79/Getty Images

Escape to Porquerolles, off the coast of Hyères, for a peaceful respite that can include time lazing on near-empty beaches, swimming in placid tides, sipping your way through vineyards, cycling in the countryside, and wandering through old forts.

Plage des Marinières

<p>cwrgutierrez/Getty Images</p>

cwrgutierrez/Getty Images

Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the French Riviera, crescent-shaped Plage des Marinières in the darling village of Villefranche-sur-Mer is the perfect spot for a day of basking in the sun, strolling across golden sand, and splashing in the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.


<p>Nickzas/Getty Images</p>

Nickzas/Getty Images

The exclusive commune of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat has long attracted the attention of artists and jet setters with deep pockets and a desire for privacy. Exquisite villas are obscured from sight by lush vegetation. Pristine beaches, scenic hiking trails, and a yacht-filled harbor define this desirable destination.

Site Archéologique de Glanum

<p>Fernando Fernández Baliña/Getty Images</p>

Fernando Fernández Baliña/Getty Images

Named after the Celtic god Glanis, Site Archéologique de Glanum traces its roots back to 600 BC. It’s at this extensive site just outside the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence that visitors can walk through remarkable surviving remains of both Gaulish and Roman settlements.

Le Sentier des Ocres

<p>Filippo Maria Bianchi/Getty Images</p>

Filippo Maria Bianchi/Getty Images

The most iconic and unmissable sight in the Luberon village of Roussilian, Le Sentier des Ocres is a former ochre quarry with walking paths through rust-hued hills. The setting certainly provides spellbinding photo ops.

Vieux Nice

<p>Wirestock/Getty Images</p>

Wirestock/Getty Images

Nice is a vibrant seaside city with a lovely historic core. If Vieux Nice is on your itinerary, begin with the Promenade des Anglais, then wander through the narrow cobblestone streets, admiring the pastel-hued facades and shopping for Niçoise soaps. Experience a Provencale market, grab socca (chickpea pancake) at one of the outdoor cafes, and soak in the views from Colline du Château before you depart.


<p>Francesco Riccardo Iacomino/Getty Images</p>

Francesco Riccardo Iacomino/Getty Images

The untamed region between the Mediterranean Sea and the two branches of the Rhône River delta, Camargue defies preconceptions with its vastly different landscape. Rather than olive groves and grape vines, expect salt marshes and reed beds inhabited by free-roaming white horses and pink flamingos.

Valensole Plateau Lavender Fields

<p>Paula Galindo Valle/Travel + Leisure</p>

Paula Galindo Valle/Travel + Leisure

Lavender is the emblem of Provence. The fields on the Valensole Plateau that erupt into a fragrant and gorgeous purple bloom each summer are some of the most popular — and photogenic — attractions in the region.


<p>lucentius/Getty Images</p>

lucentius/Getty Images

Fragrance fans are no doubt familiar with Grasse, a French Riviera town in the hills behind Cannes that’s considered the perfume capital of the word. Rare roses and jasmine for designer luxury scent makers grow in this sunny village. It’s also home to many perfumeries.

Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole

<p>SEN LI/Getty Images</p>

SEN LI/Getty Images

If you’re at all interested in the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh, consider a visit to Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole. This is the monastery-turned-psychiatric facility in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence where the tortured Dutch artist sought treatment and famously painted “The Starry Night.”

Palais des Papes

<p>Maremagnum/Getty Images</p>

Maremagnum/Getty Images

The standout attraction in Avignon, the enormous Palais des Papes served as a pontifical residence in the 14th century. It's also on the shortlist of the most significant medieval Gothic buildings in all of Europe, with ceremonial halls, chapels, a cloister, and frescos.

Mines Bruoux

<p>DEA/ALBERT CEOLAN/Contributor/Getty Images</p>

DEA/ALBERT CEOLAN/Contributor/Getty Images

Mines Bruoux, near Gargas, gives visitors the chance to tour a maze-like complex of tunnels and galleries in a 19th-century ochre mine. You will learn about the fascinating mining process as you go. The cool underground temperature provides a reprieve from the summer sun, too.

Promenade de la Croisette

<p>Federica Fortunat/Getty Images</p>

Federica Fortunat/Getty Images

Few places embody French Riviera glamor quite like Promenade de la Croisette. Running along the Mediterranean Sea, the famous palm-fringed thoroughfare is crowned by Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, which hosts the Cannes Film Festival, and you'll find many upmarket hotels, shops, and restaurants here as well.

Carrières de Lumières

<p>Francois LOCHON/Contributor/Getty Images</p>

Francois LOCHON/Contributor/Getty Images

For an unforgettable experience that speaks to Provence’s artistic pedigree, head to Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux-de-Provence. Housed in an old quarry, this contemporary art center hosts multimedia shows that combine larger-than-life projections of famous paintings and music.

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