There are so many beautiful villages in South of France that are worth visiting because of their privileged positions on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, or tucked deep inside the mountains, with charming alleys and delicious local cuisine. There is something special about driving along the coastal roads, discovering the South of France villages that will take your breath away.
I have asked a few travel bloggers to tell me their stories about the best villages in South of France they have visited, and here is what they had to say:
Les Baux de Provence
By David from Delve Into Europe
Les Baux de Provence has officially been one of ‘les plus beaux villages de France’ for many a year. It’s a stunning fortified village in the small but dramatic Alpilles mountain range just to the south of the town of St Rémy de Provence. It’s also 19 km (12 miles) from the fine city of Arles, capital of the Bouches-du-Rhône département and inspiration to van Gogh.
It’s one of the most beautiful villages in the south of France because of its dramatic setting. The village and its early medieval chateau are built on a towering outcrop of rock, high above the olive groves of the plain below. Parts of the chateau and some of the houses in the village are built into the rock.
The most obvious place to start exploring the village is the castle and taking in the superb views from the ramparts. It also has a small collection of medieval siege engines, some of which were being used the first time I visited.
The rest of the village is full of beautiful old cobbled streets with restaurants and art studios and galleries. There are also two churches in the village, and St Vincent is especially worth a look.
Les Baux gave its name to a mineral discovered nearby, bauxite, which has long since been mined to exhaustion there. The area to the north of the village is known as the Val d’Enfer, the Valley of Hell, and an amazing art exhibition space, Carrières de Lumières, has been open there for over 40 years. Formerly known as La Cathédrale des Images, images are projected onto vast rocks in the caverns. In 2020 major Dali and Gaudi exhibitions will run from March onwards.
Continuing the underground theme, you can also stay in a troglodyte cave room, or dine in a similar restaurant. The Mas d’Aigret has both, and superb views to the Castle and the plain below.
By Nadine from Le Long Weekend
The village of Gordes may well be the most photographed village in Provence! It has that quintessential South of France charm to it – the hilltop position, the iconic château at the top, and the absolutely picturesque setting. Situated in the heart of the Luberon Valley in Provence, it’s surrounded by olive groves, cypress trees, lavender fields and vineyards as far as the eye can see, not to mention the other hilltop villages you can spot in the distance… Within the village, the charm excudes once again. Here you’ll walk on ancient cobbled lanes, under passageways and through antique doors that have stood the test of time.
Be sure to pop into the Château de Gordes, which features various exhibitions throughout the year. And even if churches aren’t your thing, the Italian inspired artwork inside the Eglise Saint-Firmin is well worth taking the time to pop inside. Tuesday mornings bring the local farmers, craftspeople and artisans selling their wares. Nearby, you’ll find an ancient village of bories, which is worth a walk through (a small charge applies), and in summer, when the lavender is blooming, the Abbey de Senanque is an even more specatuclar sight!
Gordes can be reached by either Aix-en-Provence, or Avignon easily. And if you want to treat yourself, book a night at the exclusive Bastide de Gordes.
By Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan
As you can probably guess from the village’s name, Vaison-la-Romaine has ancient roots dating back to the Roman Empire. The village today is an eclectic mix of Roman ruins, medieval houses and more modern structures. The ancient Roman ruins sit in the valley below, scattered among the modern buildings. The medieval section, on the other hand, is perched up on a hill high above. This is because, while the area was relatively peaceful during Roman times, the medieval period was characterized by war and conflict. During that time, the inhabitants retreated to the natural fortification of the hills in search of safety.
Vaison was one of the wealthiest towns in this part of the Roman Empire, and a number of richly decorated villas owned by patrician families have been excavated here. While the local museum holds some impressive artifacts, including mosaic pavements from the patrician villas, many more ancient treasures from Vaison are now on display in the British Museum and other museums and private collections around the world.
The single-arch Roman bridge crosses the Ouvèze river to the medieval part of town on the other side. This is a maze of narrow cobblestone alleyways that are a delight to explore, although they can be quite steep. If you can make it all the way to the top of the hill, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views from the Castle of the Counts of Toulouse. This castle is now partially ruined, making it all the more atmospheric.
Located in the Vaucluse department, Vaison-la-Romain sits about 30 kilometers away from Orange and about 45 kilometers away from Avignon. The latter is where you’ll find the nearest TGV train station, and from there you can reach Vaison by bus.
By Elisa from Travel France Bucket List
The fortified village of Minerve, in Southern France, is a must-see in the region of Occitanie. This tiny village has the label “most beautiful villages in France” and it is really charming. Minerve is located 50 km northeast of Carcassonne so it makes an excellent day trip from Carcassonne by car. The drive is only 40 minutes (one way).
Minerve is a beautiful ensemble of medieval stone houses and winding streets. What drives most of the tourists visiting the area, however, is Minerve’s intriguing history related to the Cathars being Minerve one of the must-stops of any Cathar Country road trip. Minerve was the object of one of the most ferocious sieges in the Middle Ages against the Cathars, a Christian sect established in the south of the country between the 12th and 14th centuries and declared heretic by the Catholic Pope. In 1210 a group of Cathars escaped Béziers and found refuge in Minerve. It took the brutal Simon of Montfort six weeks of siege after which the town surrendered and 140 Cathars were captured and burned at the stake.
Today most of Minerve’s sights are related to that terrible siege, like the reconstruction of a catapult used to flung rocks to the walls of Minerve during the siege, or a Cathar cross commemorating the village’s martyrs. Minerve is also known for its wine, le Minervois, an AOC wine in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region.
Minerve has a couple of restaurants and a café but we recommend spending the night in Carcassonne.
By Jenny from Tales From The Lens
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a small medieval village in the French Basque Country. Internationally notorious for being the main starting point of the Pilgrim walk to Santiago de Compostella, it is, however, nationally recognized as one of the most beautiful villages of France.
Found in a charming fertile valley at the feet of the western pyrenes, the village is ideally located between Biarritz and Pamplona. Here, the Basque identity is strong and can be found at every corner, from the local culinary products such as Veal Axoa, Irouléguy wine, cherry basque cake… to the basque language largely spoken amongst the habitants.
Like many of France’s medieval towns, the main things to see are found within the remaining fortifications that once protected the historical centre. Other than the narrow cobblestone streets lined by pink shist houses, old door lintels wrote in Basque and the beautiful red or green half-timbered balconies and shutters, you’ll find an incredibly well-preserved fort, few middle-age gates and bridges as well as ramparts, a little church and a Bishop’s Prison…
But what brings most tourism in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is the pilgrimage walk to Santiago de Compostella – 900km away – that passes right through the town. The movie “The Way” which follows Martin Sheen along the French Way has actually brought the village into the spotlights and since, thousands of new pilgrims start their journey in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port!
Although, if you don’t plan to do the Camino, head to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the spring or summertime anyway to see the pilgrims getting ready but also to enjoy the surrounding nature and taste the Basque cuisine, local ciders and wines.
St Paul de Vence
By Jessica from One Girl, Whole World
St. Paul de Vence is one of the oldest perfectly-preserved medieval towns on the French Riviera, offering sweeping views of the surrounding countryside from 15th-century walls. But interestingly, the town is also known for its contemporary art community and galleries. This blend of old and new is part of its charm, and why it’s become a big draw for tourists. I worried the town would be too touristy and overcrowded, and planned to skip it. However, my friends nagged me into going and I’m so glad! Yes, it can be quite crowded with day-trippers during peak season, but it’s delightful if you explore it in early morning, late afternoon, or during the “shoulder season”.
Spending time in St. Paul de Vence isn’t really about things to *do*, but rather meandering through charming little alleys, popping in and out of shops, and soaking in all the small but beautiful details—decorative fountains, sprays of colorful flowers, and lovely pastries in the window. There is really only one main street inside the town, with twisty little paths and alleys on either side, so it’s impossible to get lost. If you’re into art at all, spend plenty of time wandering the galleries, because there is a style of sculpture or painting for everyone here! If you’re not into art, you’ll find lots of high-quality local items that make wonderful souvenirs, from jams to olive oil, lotions to ceramics.
The closest main city is Nice, and it’s about 30-35 minutes’ drive. I strongly feel that renting a car and driving is the way to go. Personally I’d do St. Paul de Vence as a day trip rather than staying there (and base yourself in a different town), but if you stay here then consider renting a hilltop villa with a view!
By Veronica from Travel Geekery
Villefranche is a cute little village on the French Riviera just on the outskirts of Nice. It wonderfully combines the medieval village feel with a bustling little seaside promenade and a nice small pebble beach.
Villefranche can be easily visited on a half- or a full day trip from Nice. It takes only about 10 minutes to reach it, whether you’ve rented a scooter or a car. Trains also go there frequently and the ride is just 7 minutes long. If you choose to walk, count with about an hour.
Strolling around the winding alleys of Villefranche’s Old Town is one of the easiest and most rewarding things to do. The turquoise sea will occasionally peak at you through. A few charming restaurants located in the Old Town offer fresh seafood delicacies and most use Villefranche-made olive oil.
For more history & culture, explore the 16th-century Citadel, the Fort du Mont Alban, overlooking both the town and the Villefranche Bay. Sometimes large cruise ships park in the deep bay, which adds another angle to the view.
The beach is small but pretty and serves as a popular after-work or weekend getaway for Nice dwellers.
Hotel de la Darse is a good place to spend the night and wake up to some amazing views.
By Sarah from Cosmopoliclan
At a safe distance from Nice, St Tropez and other French Mediterranean tourist magnets is picture-perfect Cassis. This charming seaside gem is tucked away between the ochre cliffs of Cap Canaille to the east and the limestone cliffs of Calanques National Park to the west. Bustling Marseille is located right behind the park’s rocky inlets, known as calanques. A picturesque port, framed by lively quays and pastel-colored houses, forms the heart of Cassis. It’s where, to this day, traditional pointu fishing boats moor and supply the restaurants along the Quai des Baux with the catch of the day.
The Carolingian Château de Cassis proudly looks out over this postcard-worthy scene. Several charming alleys and winding streets lead away from the port, offering a shaded escape to some of the town’s <hole-in-the-wall cafés. Most of the streets meet at the enchanting Place Barangnon, which forms the location for an enchanting Provencal market. But Cassis has more to offer than its classic Mediterranean cover would lead you to believe. Its privileged location makes it a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts with kayak tours to the aquamarine calanques and hiking as well as mountain-biking trails meandering the towering cliffs. Cassis’ chic authenticity and impressive natural setting make it the most beautiful village in the South of France.
By Danilea from Ipanema Travels
Located in the heart of the Gorges du Tarn, Sainte-Enimie is one of those postcard-perfect villages, that make you long for France. Just about some 35 km downstream the Tarn River from Florac, Sainte-Enimie is an unmissable stop on any road trip in Southern France. Narrow cobbled streets, medieval houses and the dramatic setting in the gorges have won this quaint village a place on the official List of the Most Beautiful Villages in France.
Sainte-Enimie can be used also as a base to discover the beautiful region of the Causses and the Cévennes (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) or to do some canoeing or kayaking on the Tarn River.
In the village you can visit the source of the Burle River and learn the legend about the Merovingian Princess Énimie who was cured from leprosy by the waters of Burle. You can visit also the Hermitage Chapel on the Rock, just outside of the village. The chapel was built in the 14th next to the cave where Énimie spent her days in isolation.
For the most beautiful view of the village, cross the arched bridge to the other side of Tarn, and walk a bit up the road.
If you decide to stay in the village, there are numerous guesthouses (gîtes) that you can rent, or if you prefer to stay in a hotel, the Hôtel Bleu Nuit, located on the other side of Tarn, offers some amazing views of the river and the surroundings. Other lovely places to stay are the old inn Auberge du Moulin and the Hôtel Burlatis in the heart of the village.
By Priya from Outside Suburbia
The village of Roussillon sits on top of cliffs of red and yellow clay in Luberon. We stopped in this little French village for an afternoon while looking for lavender fields in the area. The clay hills have been an important source of ochre pigment since the 18th century. In the 1780s French scientist, Jean-Étienne Astier who was from Roussillon, fascinated by the colors of the clay invented a process to make the pigment on a large scale. The best quality of pigments was reserved for the artists. These mines are closed now but the brilliance of the ochre hills and the village with its houses in vibrant shades of rust and ochre are still around and worth exploring on a day trip. We stayed in Aix-en-Provence and drove to both Gordes and Roussillon on our day trip.
Roussillon has lovely cafes, art studios, galleries and a small museum you can visit. The best activity to do here though is to go an Ochre Trail. The well marked and developed pathway takes you through the ochre-colored hills of the former ochre mine. There are two trails that you can take around the Ochre hills. The trail we went on took us about an hour, you can also take the shorter one which takes about half the time.
By Patricia from Ze Wandering Frogs
Located in the Luberon region in Provence, the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is known to be one of the most beautiful in France. The word “moustiers” would come from the “monastery” built by the monks from the Lerins Abbey in the 5th century. With two cliffs on each side, Moustiers is primarily known for its beautiful ceramics, a local handicraft dating back from the 17th century.
Three old churches compose the main sights, though the chapel of Notre Dame de Beauvoir standing high above the village is probably the most iconic of them. The 262 steps leading to the 12th-century chapel will only let you enjoy the inside of the religious building but also appreciate the wide-ranging views far beyond the village. The 12th-century Parish church is hard to miss thanks to its central location and its tall square tower. Last but not least, the smaller 16th-century Sainte-Anne chapel contrasts against the rocky surrounding. Make sure to walk the narrow streets of Moustiers, when you admire the ceramic statues and objects of different colors and patterns. Pause a moment at a café from where you can watch the village’s daily life.
Moustiers can be accessed from the most cities of Nice, Cannes, or Marseille. Once you are in Moustiers, you can visit the nearby Valensole lavender fields, the Lake of Sainte-Croix, and enjoy the great outdoors around the Grand Canyon of the Verdon Gorge. If you wish to spend the night in the village, consider the la Bastide de Moustiers, a highly-rated country house owned by French chef Alain Ducasse, and treat yourself with a meal at the 1-Michelin-starred restaurant!
By Julie from Wandering Sunsets
Lourmarin is an adorable medieval village located in the heart of Provence, in the Luberon region. Lourmarin is located about an hour from Avignon and Aix en Provence: it is a perfect stop on a day trip around the Luberon villages. This charming village is a true hidden gem in Provence and one of the most beautiful villages in Southern France. Much less touristy than some of the other villages in the Luberon, Lourmarin feels authentic and peaceful. You can get a good feel of the village in a few hours but for it is worth staying overnight for a true Provençale experience. If you are not taking an organized tour, you will need your own car to visit Lourmarin but here is easy parking right outside the center of town.
There are many interesting and fun things to do in Lourmarin. The main attraction is the Château of Lourmarin, which was the very first Renaissance castle built in Provence. Open year round, the Château hosts many events during the summertime including concerts and art exhibits. Surrounded by vineyards and orchards, the castle is a must see even if you only have time to explore the grounds.
After a visit to the Château, take a stroll in the cobbled streets and explore the cute boutiques and art galleries. Lourmarin is also the final resting place of French author Albert Camus. If you are lucky to visit on a Friday, don’t miss the lively local market! Popular with locals and tourists alike, the market is the perfect spot to grab a souvenir of Provence, or sample some delicious wines, cheese or honey.
How about you? Have you traveled to the South of France? Have you visited any of the beautiful villages in South of France? I would like to read your opinions in the comment section below.
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