Travel Guide: Southern France

My time through Southern France was one of my fondest travel memories. We travelled for two weeks in early May, just before the summer tourists filled the streets. It was still a little bit chilly near the beginning of our trip, but near the end we managed to have a few solid beach days.

I’ve given suggested timelines and alternative destinations, so you can modify this trip to fit your schedule (and personal travel preferences), but hopefully this itinerary gives you a good idea of what you can see & do.

If you want to make it even longer, join it seamlessly with my Spain travel itinerary.

We took the train between most of these places, but it would also be lovely to rent a small car and experience the countryside.

Paris

Recommended time: 3 days

This is not meant to be a leisurely stroll through the streets of Paris. It’s a jam packed couple of days, giving you a taste of what my favourite city has to offer. In the coming weeks, I’ll post a thorough itinerary of what to do if you’ve got a longer stay in Paris, in case you’re really looking to immerse yourself in Parisian culture.

Although it isn’t in southern France, Paris is an easy spot to fly into and set your bearings, before heading down south.

Stay: Paris is divided into arrondissements (a fancy word for districts). The best place to stay for a quick trip is in any of the districts surrounding the water. I would recommend 3e/4e (Le Marais – trendy and lots of coffee shops), 2e (St. Honore – more upscale, but close to main sights) or 5e/6e (St. Germain – expensive and high-end). There are a ton of hotels to fit your budget or you can try booking an AirBnB.

Do: This itinerary focuses on maximizing every moment that you’ve got, ensuring you see the major sights and get a bit of that Paris flare.

Day 1: First, walk down to Les Invalides. It’s one of the most instagram worthy spots and will likely be your first view of the Eiffel Tower. Walk in and around the massive boulevards surrounding this square, and then through Esplanade des Invalides, before heading up and across the Seine, over my favourite bridge, Pont Alexandre III. These few blocks encompass everything that is grandiose and glamourous about Paris. You can then stroll down Champs-Elysees, making your way to Arc de Triomphe. Spend the couple euros that it costs to go up top, getting one of the best views of the city. After this, you’ll likely be jet-lagged, so leave yourself time to head back to the hotel for a break before dinner.

Day 2: Wake up early and head to Notre Dame. When we were there, they had a charity bakery set up out front, so we grabbed a couple pastries and ate breakfast as we waited in line (don’t worry, it moves quickly). Afterwards, walk to the Jardin de Tuileries and hang out under the trees before spotting the Louvre at the other end. Rather than spending the remainder of your morning waiting in the multiple hour line into the Louvre, hop back across the river and check out the Musee d’Orsay. It’s equally as interesting, and it’s got a pretty wicked old clock face inside.

In the afternoon, and a couple hours before sunset, head to the Eiffel Tower. But first, make sure to stop at Trocadero for that classic Eiffel Tower picture. It’s one of the only spots where you can fit the whole Tower in the frame. (This can also be done early in the morning if you’re hoping for a daytime view). There are advance ticket lines for the elevators, but if you need to work off some of those pastries, take the stairs instead. The line for stairs access is much shorter, and its actually a pretty secure walk up. Once you get to the second floor, however, expect to wait in a somewhat lengthy line to take the elevator to the top. Afterwards, grab a bite to eat somewhere nearby, and wait until nightfall. Every hour past nightfall, the Tower lights up and spends ten minutes sparkling and shimmering in the moonlight.

Day 3: Wake up early and hop on the RER C train to Versailles. The earlier you go, the less time you’ll have to wait in the entrance line upon arrival. Once you get to the ticket stand, buy a ticket into the palace itself, which also comes with access to explore the grounds. I would give yourself a couple hours to explore the grounds, perhaps packing a picnic lunch or renting a row boat around the pond. It’s a beautiful space and perfect for a few photo-ops. Afterwards, take a stroll around the town surrounding the palace, as it’s got some cute shops and bistros.

Eat: Le Marais has a ton of great affordable & trendy restaurants. You can walk around almost any corner and find a bistro spot to grab a table. Some of my favourites, however, include Breizh Cafe, Allard, Auberge Nicolas Flamel. I also remember eating at an excellent low-key bistro located in the 5e along the river across from Notre Dame, but I can’t seem to find the name.

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paris

paris

paris

Nice

Recommended time: 2-3 days

I wasn’t entirely thrilled by Nice, so if you’re looking for somewhere to cut out in favour of the options below, it might be worth considering.

Stay: I would recommend staying in (or nearby) the old town.

Do: There isn’t a ton to do in Nice, but it’s worth exploring the old town and losing yourself within the narrow winding streets. You can also walk up the hill to the old castle ruins (Colline du Chateau) and then down the other side to the harbour. If the weather is nice, walk along the water and relax on the beach. It’s important to note, however, that the beach is not that lovely sandy type beach – it’s actually full of rocks. When you reach the end of the old town, walk through Place Massena and admire the red buildings that surround you. If you’re looking to do some shopping, head upwards from here along Avenue Jean-Medecin.

Eat: The best place to find food is in the big outdoor market behind Cite du Parc (located along the pedestrian Cours Saleya). My absolute favourite restaurant was La Favola. It not only had the biggest, most comforting dishes of pasta, but really reasonable prices. I actually loved the four cheese tagliette so much that we went twice.

nice, france

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Corsica

Recommended time: 2-3 days

I cannot emphasize to you how much Corsica really surpassed my expectations. If I had to rank each of these towns, I would easily rank it #1 and a must-see. You can spend way more than 3 days here, travelling down to Ajaccio (the capital city), doing some wicked hikes in the mountains, or just relaxing on the beach. It’s definitely underrated and lesser-known, which also makes it a great place to avoid swarms of tourists.

Stay: The easiest (and most time-effective) way to get to Corsica is to take the overnight ferry from Nice. It can be a bit of a bumpy ride, however, so make sure you’ve got some Gravol in your bag. I cannot emphasize how much you will want to purchase a sleeping room. Not only are they pretty cheap, but it allows you to get a good nights rest so you can wake up and maximize your time. The best part about the ferry is that you get on the boat late at night, and by the time you wake up bright & early, you’re docking into the Corsican coast.

We decided to make the closest stop, choosing Calvi as our destination. The ferry actually stopped in Ile Rousse, but there is a train that goes between the two daily. Il Rousse was a quaint little town with a glorious sandy beach and some of the freshest restaurants. So, if your ferry decides to dock there, don’t be disappointed. One of the best meals I had was at Via Mare, on a table overlooking the sea.

In Calvi, we stayed in the Hotel Le Rocher and it was pretty good.

Do: Relax on the beaches during the day and wander the streets in the evenings. Island life is pretty chill that way.

Eat: Fresh fish – which luckily, Corsica is full of.

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Cannes

Recommended time: 2-3 days

Other options to consider: Antibes, Eze, and Monaco. Unfortunately when we visited, both the Festival de Cannes & the Monaco Grand Prix were happening, so hotels were slammed. But, just look up these towns and you’ll see why they’re worth heavy consideration. Unless you’ve got tons of cash to spend, I wouldn’t recommend staying in Monaco, and would instead suggest Eze, perched upon a cliff overlooking the water.

Stay: No real recommendations here. When we were in Cannes, there wasn’t a ton of selection within our budget so we stayed at a hotel about 15 minutes from the beach. If you have the funds, I would recommend splurging to stay somewhere closer to the town centre, if only because many hotels have private beach access with chairs & towels for your use.

Do: If you can swing your visit during the film festival, I recommend it. The whole town is dolled up and it’s prime time for spotting celebrities and watching red carpet debuts. If not, it is still a beautiful place to plant yourself on the public beach and take a dip in the sea. Walk up and down the old streets, lined with glamorous white stone buildings, and take in the luxury atmosphere. You may also want to walk down to the habor and admire the luxury yachts, and then up the hill to the old castle ruins. From here, you can look down on the turquoise waters and admire the colourful city below.

One thing we didn’t do, but I really wish we had, is take a trip out to Ile Sainte-Marguerite. It’s apparently an incredible beach spot, where the sand stretches for miles.

Eat: No real recommendations, but keep in mind that food is a little more pricey here.

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Aix-En-Provence

Recommended time: 3 days

Day trip options: Lyon (visit the lavender fields)

Otherwise known as the city of a thousand fountains, Aix-En-Provence is another destination that really blew my expectations out of the water. I couldn’t recommend this little town more highly, as to me, it’s the epitome of French culture. Lush tree-filled streets, ornate fountains at every corner, French architecture, good food, and cobblestone roads are just some of the things that you can look forward to.

Stay: When we visited, we stayed in a great little Airbnb spot on a pedestrian road in the old part of town. It was really close to the main roads as well as lots of great restaurants. I would recommend staying in a suite with a kitchenette, because you might find yourself wanting to do some cooking once you see all the fresh produce at the markets.

If I had to narrow it down to an area, I would suggest using Cours Mirabeau, Rue de la Couronne, Rue du Bon Pasteur, and Cours Saint-Louis as your borders.

Do: Spend your time wandering through the old streets and admiring the beauty that is Aix en Provence. There’s so much to see and do that I really can’t recommend this enough. If you need tips on things to do, see, or perhaps where to go for a day trip, visit the Office de Tourisme. Other than that, you can spend days just wandering up and down the cobblestones.

For main streets, Cours Mirabeau leads to a massive fountain, and it’s the main shopping street. Other main boulevards worth walking down are Avenue Victor Hugo, Boulevard Carnot, and Cours Saint-Louis.

Eat: One of the best places to buy food is at Aix’s fresh market. Here, you can get the freshest & largest farm-grown produce, handmade pastas, pies, sauces, etc. I believe the most popular market is on Thursdays & Saturdays in front of the Place de l’Hotel de Ville, and it’s worth planning your stay around it. It was here that I got some of the best ravioli I’ve ever had (which is precisely why you’ll want a kitchen in your suite). When the market isn’t running, this is a great spot to grab a meal and sit outside.

For treats, visit La Cure Gourmande, a cookie & chocolate shop, where you can grab a selection of fresh cookies and the traditional Aix treat – Calissons. They’re yellow almond-shaped candies and taste sort of like melon. Another excellent spot if you’ve got a sweet tooth is Real Chocolat. They’ve got chocolate bark piled high, and a variety of chocolate coated balls (almonds, raisons, malted milk). It’s seriously addicting, but reasonably priced. I definitely found myself heading in there more than once.

And for the nights you’re not gorging yourself on fresh food from the market, take a seat at La Maison des Fondues and settle in for the long haul. It’s a tiny little spot, in the heart of Aix’s trendy restaurant district, and is sure to fill you up.

aix en provence

aix en provence

Nimes

Recommended time: 1 day

Stay: No real recommendations here. We stayed near the train station, but Nimes is probably perfect for a day trip if you’ve got a home base set up.

Do: The most important thing to see in Nimes is the Roman Amphitheatre. Grab an audio guide and let it take you through the battle rooms, around the stadium, and through the hallways. Imagine yourself taking a seat before a great battle, hearing the crowd roar all around you. Because Nimes was previously under Roman control, there are a ton of well preserved Roman sights around town including the Maison Carree and the watchtower. The train station itself is also pretty cool, and there is a beautiful park and fountain-lined walkway leading up to it.

nimes

Carcassone

Recommended time: 1 day

Stay: If you’re looking to spend the night, splurge and stay at the Hotel de la Cite. It’s absolutely stunning. The town itself is a little bit grimy, so you aren’t missing much by staying outside the city centre.

Do: I don’t have much to say about Carcasonne because it was a little underwhelming. The point of visiting, however, is to visit the UNESCO historic fortified city. The castle and its grounds are incredibly well looked after, super cool, and quite frankly, just massive. For this reason, a day trip to Carcassonne is highly recommended.

Eat: It’s best to find somewhere to eat within the castle walls, because we didn’t find much outside of it. Prices aren’t too bad and the food is pretty good quality. I remember there being a particularly neat spot in a wine cellar, tucked away in one of the castle corners. For sweets, you’ll find a bunch of shops dotted within the castle walls and along the main tourist paths. Here, you can find excellent (and super cheap) gelato, or grab a couple slices of chocolate bark from Real Chocolat.

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Hopefully this can be of aid for all of you planning summer adventures! Has anyone else visited Southern France? Comment below with your favourite spots.

2 thoughts on “Travel Guide: Southern France

  1. Aix en Provence is my absolute Fave! and oh don’t even get me started on how much fun we’ve had in Nice and the entire south of France. Nothing beats the fig trees everywhere like in small towns such as Fayence. Like every-where! on the the side of the streets – I’m always like a child there with the nature.

    Thank you for this detailed article! 🙂

    1. So glad you liked it! It seems like Aix en Provence is a hidden gem, but I really think it’s one of the stars of southern France. I can’t wait to come back and travel through there again.

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