Southern France is resplendent and filled with beautiful cities, beachside towns, and natural features. If you are after city life, there are several major cities like Avignon, Marseille, and Bordeaux, where you can find world-class museums, art, and dining as well as interesting historical features like medieval palaces and cathedrals. There are several beautiful towns along the seaside, such as Cagnes Mer, Cannes, Saint Raphael, and the popular resort town of Nice.
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Colorful and exciting, Nice is one of the most popular destinations in France for those looking to escape the cities. The city has everything you need for a delightful vacation, including historical sites, cultural attractions, a gorgeous seafront, and delicious food. Days in Nice are best spent exploring the Old Town with its charming historic buildings, shopping at the Cours Saleya, and strolling through some of the best art galleries on the coast. Adventurous travelers can kayak from the beach and climb the hills up to the Colline de Chateau for amazing views of Nice. For the foodies among us, you absolutely have to try a Nicoise salad here in its namesake town.
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Cannes is a sprawling, glamorous seaside town occupying an area that once was just a simple fishing village. It is a popular destination among Europe’s socialites and luxury travelers. One of the biggest events on the town’s social calendar is the Cannes Film Festival, during which you can see celebrities wandering the streets and get up-close and personal with actors, directors, and other celebrities on the steps of the Palais des Festival. The town is also known for its nightlife, luxury dining, and casinos. However, the city isn’t just for high-rollers, and there are attractions and accommodations for every budget.
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Lyon is France’s third largest city and its second largest metropolitan area. It is a jewel in the crown of France’s historical cities and is recognized by UNESCO as a heritage city. The city is made up of several interesting and diverse neighborhoods, and wandering the streets on foot or by bike is a great way to discover hidden architectural treasures. There are many churches, parks, and secret passageways to explore and most of them are completely free. The city has several interesting museums as well, some of the most popular of which are the Museum of Fine Arts, the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourviere, and the Miniature Museum and Theatre.
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Marseille is France’s second-most populated city. It is the largest port on the Mediterranean and is a major economic hub for the region. Visitors will find plenty of interesting sites and attractions suitable for any type of traveler. Sitting in the old harbor and watching fishermen selling their daily catch at auction is an interesting cultural experience. Taking a cruise out of Marseille and returning in the evening is a highlight of many visits. The oldest section of town is called Le Panier and contains the Vielle Charite, which is an old monument that houses exhibitions and museums. There are artisans working in their shops, charming restaurants with beautiful views, and more to explore in this delightful section of town, making it the perfect place to start a visit to Marseille.
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Aix-en-Provence, also known more simply as Aix, is a small provincial town that is best known as the home of French artist and post-impressionist painter Paul Cezanne. With the addition of a high-speed train station, the town has turned into a popular shopping town and features a variety of high-quality shops. The small city center is mostly walkable and there are plenty of narrow streets and interesting buildings to entertain you on strolls around the town. Attractions in Aix include several famous fountains, a city market with a weekend flower market, and the Granet Museum. More Cities to Visit in France
6. Avignon, South of France
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Avignon is one of the major cities in Southern France. It sits on the Rhone River and was made famous as the place where the popes sought a haven during the 14th century’s corruption of Rome. The fleeing popes constructed a palace known as the Palais de Papes, which is the largest Gothic building in the world. Other than visiting this famous palace, other attractions include Le Post Saint-Benezet, which is a ruined bridge, the Place de L’horloge, and the covered market in Place Pie. Cruising the Rhone or biking along its shores are also great ways to spend time in this area.
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Bayonne is a French Basque town in Aquitaine, and is divided into two neighborhoods divided by the Nine River. Walking along the riverfront is a delightful way to spend time and appreciate the beautiful buildings, which are a mix of French and Basque styles. Shopping for Basque specialties, such as traditional clothing and hiking staffs, is also a popular pastime. Other things to see and do in Bayonne include the Sainte Marie Cathedral, the Basque Museum, the Chateau-Vieux, which is a 12th century castle, the Town Hall of Bayonne, the botanical garden, and the covered market known as “Les Halles.”
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Beziers is a town in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France and is best known as the location of the annual Feria de Beziers, which is a festival centered around bullfighting. It is one of the oldest cities in France and is quite walkable, although it is built on a slope and some sections can be quite steep. One of the most famous sights is the 13th century Saint Nazaire Cathedral, which was a staging point for the crusades. The views from the cathedral are stunning, especially at sundown. Other sights include the Beziers Old Town and the Canal du Midi, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Bordeaux is the largest city in France by area and is located on the Garonne River in Southern France. The city is famous for its world-renowned wines, which are considered by many to be the best in the world. The city has a strong cultural, music, and artistic scene and is quite laid back. The charming city center features traditional stone houses and terraces, which have led to it being nicknamed Little Paris. Attractions in Bordeaux include the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Musee D’ Aquitaine, strolling along the Garonne River and, of course, sampling wine. The city is a great place to base yourself when exploring the wine country and going on road trips through the countryside.
10. Cagnes Mer
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Cagnes Mer is a picturesque town in the French Riviera known for its charming pebble beaches, forests, and more. One of the town’s most famous residents was the impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and his former home has been converted into a museum dedicated to his life. Other attractions include Chateau Grimaldi, the Casino Terrazur, the River Loup Park, and the Canyon Forest. Several beaches are also located nearby, including the Plage de Carras and the Plage du Ponteil. Cagnes Mer also has the French Riviera’s only horse hippodrome, called Hippodrome de la Cote d’Azur, which attracts visitors from near and far who come for the races.
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11. Cap d'Agde
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?Cap d’Agde is located at the very tip of the commune of Agde near the town of Montpellier. The town is primarily a fishing town but is most famous as the home to the world’s largest nudist village. The village is a self-enclosed section of the town and has a population numbering upwards of 40,000 nudists and naturists during the busiest times of year. Inside the village, you can do absolutely anything, including normal errands such as going to the post office and laundromat, all without donning a stitch of clothing. There is a 3-kilometer stretch of beach with nice camping and several hotels.
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Embrun is a town in the Hautes Alps on the banks of the Lac de Serre-Poncon, which is one of the biggest manmade lakes in Europe. The charming town has narrow streets in the downtown as well as beautiful old architecture, fountains, and more. The Notre-Dame-du-Real cathedral is a major attraction and is one of the most important religious buildings in the region. Other attractions include the Brune Tower and the archbishop’s palace. The town is a popular jumping-off point for adventure tourists who come to experience the surrounding mountains and the water-based activities on the lake.
13. Grau Roi
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Grau Roi is a commune on the Mediterranean Sea in southern France’s Gard department. It is a popular resort destination for those who come to enjoy the sea and the beach. There are a number of fun, family-friendly amusement parks and attractions near the seashore. These include Amigoland, Babyland, Parc gonflable Kangoo, and the Seaquarium. For those who prefer to experience nature, the Camargue is a nearby nature preserve that conserves the wetlands and the natural habitat of flamingos, which you can see many of during a visit there. You shouldn’t miss a visit to the Mediterranean House of Wines, Olives, and Regional Products to get an authentic taste of local delicacies. ?
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Grenoble is a city in between the Isere and Drac rivers at the foot of the Alps. The city is a popular winter sports destination and is also known for being home to a number of nice museums. Grenoble is home to France’s first urban cable car, which is still operational today. Visitors can take the cable car up to the Bastille fort, which looms above the city. If you visit during the summer, you will find plenty of mountain climbing in the natural parks surrounding the city as well as two major music festivals. The winter brings the crowds to Grenoble, but for good reason as some of the best skiing in France is right on its doorstep.
15. Le Puy-en-Velay
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Le Puy-en-Velay is a gorgeous historical city which has been well preserved throughout the centuries. It seems there are historical treasures at every turn, but some of the highlights include a chapel dedicated to Saint-Michael at Aiguilhe, a cathedral and its cloisters from the 12th century, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a statue of Notre Dame de France, and the religious art museum. The town is also a good base for exploring a number of natural attractions nearby. If you’d like to try gathering wild mushrooms and wild fruit, there are certainly plenty of opportunities to do so.
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Lourdes sits in the foothills of the beautiful Pyrenees mountains in southwestern France. Many religious pilgrims come here each year to see a prominent Catholic site, the Sanctuary Our Lady of Lourdes. There are several other significant religious sites around the city, including the Grotto of the Apparitions, which is known for having water with healing properties. Other attractions include the Chateau fort de Lourdes and the Funiculaire du Pic du Jer, which is a cable car that whisks visitors up the mountainside to take in panoramic views of the surroundings. Opportunities to get active abound in and around Lourdes, including hiking, water sports, and camping.
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Menton is the quintessential seaside resort town on the French Riviera. The town is tucked between Monaco and Italy, right where the Alps end and the Mediterranean Sea begins. The city is known for its particularly warm and humid climate, which lends itself particularly well to gardening. A number of beautiful gardens are open to tourists, including the Fontana Rosa Garden, the Maria Serena Villa Garden, the Serre de la Madone Garden, and the citrus trees surrounding the Palais Carnoles, among several others. Other attractions include the Jean Cocteau-Severin Wunderman Collection Museum, the Saint-Michel pedestrian street, and the Regional Prehistoric Museum.
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Montpellier is a favorite destination among the French. The city is located halfway between Italy and Spain and is near the Mediterranean Sea, which means it has a unique international culture as well as traditional French features. There are charming little squares, narrow streets for exploring, and several annual festivals that attract an international crowd. Popular attractions include Musée Fabre, Place de la Comedie, Botanical Gardens, a zoological park, and the world’s oldest medical school still in operation. Plan your visit during the International Montpellier Dance Festival or the Radio France and Montpellier Festival for an especially memorable time.
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Nimes is a historical treasure tucked between the Carmargue, Cevennes, Languedoc, and Provence. The city has historical sites that are more than 2,000 years old. Highlights include the massive Roman arena and a beautifully restored Roman temple called the Maison Carree. In addition to these treasures from Roman culture, there are fine French relics as well, many of which are concentrated in the city center and include examples of architecture from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. To truly experience the pulse of Nimes, visit the Les Halles, which is a covered market in the city center. Here, you can soak in the sights, sounds, and tastes of the city.
20. Orange, South of France
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Nicknamed the “City of Princes,” Orange is an historically and culturally interesting destination. There are two monuments in the town that are recognized by UNESCO. The Roman Theatre of Orange is the most well-preserved ancient theatre in the world and is the only one on the European continent to have a preserved stage wall. The other UNESCO monument is the triumphal arch. Other treasures from ancient history can be found throughout the town amongst its charming little streets, colorful squares, and delicious cafes offering traditional Provencal cuisine. Other things to do include touring the town on the mini tourist train, shopping at the Provencal market, or attending a classical music show.
21. Saint Raphael
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?Saint Raphael is a fashionable seaside resort town with six stunning beaches offering plenty of opportunities to relax and have fun on the seashore. The town is known for being a destination for watersports and offers virtually every type of watersport imaginable. The town is home to France’s first ever dive shop to offer diving trips in the Mediterranean. You shouldn’t miss the chance to take a boat trip to the Iles d’Hyeres islands; the experience is sure to be memorable. Nature lovers will find plenty of opportunities to explore the natural landscapes in the Esterel mountains nearby. After a long day exploring, relax and enjoy a meal at a charming cafe or take a stroll through one of the town’s Provencal markets.
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Saint-Etienne is a city in eastern central France along the road that connects Lyon with Toulouse. The city plays a significant role in the international design world, which led to it being nicknamed La Cite du design or the City of Design. The city frequently hosts design conventions and other events and is full of interesting modern buildings, with highlights being the Museum of Modern Art and the Zenith. Visitors can take a walking tour that highlights these significant works of modern and design architecture as well as several design shops. In addition to the Modern Art Museum, the Museum of Art and Industry and the Parc Couriot-Mine Museum both provide great experiences to learn about the history and culture of Saint-Etienne.
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Tania is a beautiful resort town located in the biggest ski area in the world. Along with its Three Valley’s neighbors, Courchevel and Meribel, the area offers plenty to explore. The resort was built for use in the 1992 Winter Olympics and is one of the most family-friendly ski bases in the French Alps. The village of La Tania sits 1,400 meters above sea level and offers access to more than 600 kilometers of ski runs in the Three Valleys. There are nice, long runs through the woods to the village, which has a car-free city center and scenic views at every turn.
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Toulon is a port city with a large naval base and military harbor. Many submarines and warships call the harbor home as do private fishing boats and public ferries. The Musee National de la Marine in the Port of Toulon pays homage to the city’s significant maritime history and the relationship between the city’s residents and the sea. Animal lovers will enjoy the Zoo Fauverie Du Mont Faron, a zoological park dedicated specially to large cats. Other attractions include the Musee Memorial du Debarquement, the Musee d’Art, and the Hotel des Arts. Le Brusc and Brutal Beaches offer opportunities to enjoy the sea and watersports during your visit.
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Toulouse is a vibrant resort city in the south of France. The ease of access to the rest of Europe makes it a popular weekend and holiday destination. The city has many sights and attractions with a wealth of shopping options, tasty restaurants, art exhibits, and cultural experiences. For those who like to get out into nature on their vacation, the surrounding Haute-Garonne area is perfect. The countryside is beautiful and is dotted with picture-perfect small villages. Cycling along the Canal du Midi is also a great way to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of the area around Toulouse.
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