8 Off The Beaten Path Towns of South of France
The South of France beckons all those who love charming villages, gorgeous beaches, and fantastic local food. Its relaxed and sun-drenched shores and slopes come with many cities and towns that are truly hidden gems, mostly known only to locals. This makes it ideal for anyone who appreciates the simpler and better things of life. Let’s explore these eight off the beaten path towns of South of France that you must visit.
Lying in the heart of the Herault Valley, St Guilhem-le-Desert is a medieval town of South of France. The site on the Verdus stream is often referred to as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Walking through the ancient alleys between charming houses nestled close together induces feelings of awe and wonder. Their tiled rooftops boast 1,200 years of basking in the Languedoc sun. Visitors will enjoy the architecture from long ago in their windows and door posts. This town is centered around the Abbey of Gellone and manages to hold on to the incomparable medieval atmosphere today. The Abbey is well worth a visit for its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. It is a stop on the St. James’ Way to Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage of Western Spain. The surrounding area also offers a famous wine district and olive groves. There are 28 villages in the valley to visit, offering a wealth of local markets featuring olives, produce, wines, and more. Swimming and canoeing are activities here that will ensure children and adults alike are entertained.
L’ile Sainte Marguerite
If you are in the Cannes neighborhood, then you should not miss L’ile Sainte Marguerite (also called St. Marguerite’s Island). A 15 minute ferry from Port de Cannes – Service Trade Harbour will take you to this off the beaten path in the South of France. The island is the largest in the Lerinas Islands chain, half a mile from Cannes’ coast. L’ile Sainte Marguerite offers a striking contrast to the crowds of Cannes and is packed with rocky beaches, beautiful nature, a rich history, and legends to discover. The biggest attraction of the island is Fort Royal, a prison famous for once housing The Man in the Iron Mask. Within this prison is the Museum of the Sea, holding objects recovered from shipwrecks alongside the cell of the Man in the Iron Mask and various other prison and nautical exhibits. The scent of eucalyptus pervades the island and you can experience a wonderful nature walk under the tall trees at the Allée des Eucalyptus, which provides a nice contrast to the islands developed area which has several restaurants and vendors.
The beautifully preserved thirteenth century ramparts and walls of this medieval port city rise out of the quiet marshes of the Camargue coast to be seen from far away. It became a site of historical importance when King Louis IX purchased the town and surrounding land in 1240 and developed it into a major port city protected by towering walls and here launched the 7th and 8th Crusades. The French city also boasts the Tower of Constance, chapels from the 17th century, and cobbled streets while offering visitors wine tasting in a beautiful setting. It is well-named the medieval “town in the heart of history” that offers a little something for everyone. One of the best things to do is to walk along the ramparts to survey the hundreds of acres of picturesque pink salt marshes that are just south of the walls. Inside the walls you can visit many shops and restaurants and there are always events going on here during the summer. Outside the walls you can take tours of the salt marshes to learn about the production of salt, take nature tours to appreciate the wildlife, visit a Camargue ranch to encounter the famous horses and bulls of the region, or consider one of many other activities offered locally.
One of the best hidden town of South of France is the seaside resort city of Palavas-les-Flots. With beaches, ports, and the charming quays alongside the canal, the town provides a charming snapshot of what the Mediterranean coast should be. Visitors can take in the Méditerranée lighthouse, the promenade bridge and the old water tower to enjoy the fantastic coastal views, the Cévennes, and the lakes of the area. The Lez River bisects the beach of this resort town of South of France. For a place to visit with a twist, the Musée Albert Dubout housed in the 18th century fort shows off comic posters. Summer is the best time to visit as there are fair rides in Luna Park Palavas, festivals, ferias with bulls in the arena, and of course beaches with water sports and swimming and also restaurants and bars. Add to the mix pizzerias, al fresco restaurants serving seafood, and ice cream shops vying with souvenir stores and surf shops and the experience is one that you will not soon forget.
Also part of our off the beaten path towns of South of France to visit is Montpellier. An old, historic city found about six miles from the Mediterranean Sea coast. Even if Montpellier is more populous than the other places on this list, it is still a hidden gem that travelers often don’t know about! One of its greatest sites is the Gothic Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, famous for its conical towers and originally constructed in 1364. In contrast, the Antigone district provides a modern development that is trendy and boasting neoclassical motifs. Visitors who love the European and French Old Masters will want to take in the Musée Fabre. Montpellier is also the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The old university anchors this off the beaten path in the South of France city. You are sure to find inspiration from the place that offers incredibly preserved medieval streets with excellent shopping opportunities as well as newer neighborhoods which have been designed by the best of international architects such as Jean Nouvel, Ricardo Bofill, and Zaha Hadid. You can easily get around these neighborhoods on foot, bike, bus, or while riding on the modern tram cars designed by Christian Lacroix.
The charming spot not to miss on the Mediterranean coast of France’s south is Coillioure. This town boasts the medieval constructed Château Royal de Collioure with fabulous panoramic coastal views. A former historic lighthouse is now the beautiful bell tower for the 1600’s era Notre-Dame-des-Anges Church. You also have an interesting Modern Art Museum here featuring the paintings of Henri Matisse. Close to the city is a fourteenth century windmill the Moulin de Collioure. To the south lies the Fort St. Elme hilltop structure, complete with its museum of medieval weapons. You can visit the Fort by driving up the road or walking to the top of the hill from the village if you are in for some exercise. For a Catalan feeling place to visit in France, Coillioure checks all the boxes.
On the famed list of “most beautiful villages of France” is La Couvertoirade, an idyllic village in the heart of Caussee du Larzac and for sure an off the beaten path secret gem. This historic village in the South of France also boasts medieval walls and a castle built by the Templars at the end of the 12th century. Although the Templars no longer remain, the village is still protected by its towering walls and you can only enter through the fortified gateway. Inside lies a maze of streets, fifteenth century houses, and little covered passageways. You should climb up and enjoy the chemin de ronde walkway atop the walls to personally tower over the village. From here you can take in the beautifully preserved countryside that encompasses La Couvertoirade. Topping it all off are quaint shops and artisan boutiques. If you have the energy, you can climb the hill outside the walls to the windmillon the hill called Le Rédounel. It is the Averyon region’s only restored windmill. Another bonus of climbing the hill is a birds eye view of the town.
This Mediterranean fishing port is a beautiful little village on the water where people have inhabited the land since 600 BC. You can walk around the port and look at the boats, the clear blue water, and admire the old architecture. The region is famous for its cliffs “falaises” and inlets “calanques”. The port is also a great place to catch a boat ride tour to visit these natural formations. Nearby you can also rent kayaks and go swimming and see locals jumping from cliffs into the water. Don’t miss a stop at the Cap Canaille which is one of the highest maritime bluffs in Europe and a historic landmark for sailors navigating the waters. Located in Provence, this village is also known for its wine, especially rosé. After walking around the windy streets and exploring the artisan shops, settle down at a restaurant or café near the port for some delicious French cuisine, the seafood is a specialty. Cassis is definitely one of the most beautiful towns of South of France