towns in southern france cover image featuring several of the towns in the article.

18 Southern French Towns with Timeless Appeal

We’ve curated a list of the crème de la crème in this land of plenty: 18 must-see towns in the South of France (with a bonus two in Corsica).

If there was one French trip outside of Paris that anyone must take in their lifetime, it’s to the South. Vincent Van Gogh considered this the place to find “the whole future of art,” while the Hollywood Golden Age has etched the Riviera into our hearts and minds.

But, there are more than glitzy beaches, imposing yachts, and breathtaking coastal scenery in the south. From hilltop fortified villages to chic haute-cuisine hotspots, spas nestled in lavender fields, and vertigo-inducing hikes, this region offers something for everyone. Here, we share our choice of the most charming, timeless, and romantic towns in the South of France for your next visit to Provence, the French Riviera, Corsica, Occitanie, and Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Daydreams of the quintessential French landscape are sure to include vibrant purple fields of lavender in bloom, with the occasional hillside village awash in sunshine. However, there’s more to the iconic views of the Provences-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region, which also includes the southern end of the French Alps and the glamorous French Riviera (more on that below).

The PACA includes several stunning national parks for hikers and runners (the Parc National des Écrins, Parc National du Mercantour, the Luberon, and Verdon Gorges are among some of our favorites). And, whether you’re a keen cyclist who wants to test their uphill legs or an amateur artist looking to imitate Paul Cézanne, the appeal of Mont Ventoux close to the border between the Vaucluse and the Drôme areas is unbeatable.

For stunning architecture and bustling city life, pick bourgeois-bohemian chic Aix-en-Provence, eclectic Marseille, or papal Avignon. Then, check out some of our favorite unique towns that make this part of the south of France worth an extra few days’ stay.

gordes france hilltop village at sunset
Fyle | Adobe Stock

Gordes

Perched on top of the white rock face of the Vaucluse plateau, Gordes is a tiered village that forms an amphitheater above the rivers Sorgue and Calavon. Its proximity to the Luberon Regional Park makes it an excellent access point for outdoorsy tourism.

For lavender-lovers and food afficionados, this medieval town is an essential stop. Combine a tradition & heritage tour of the region’s lavender at Musée de la Lavande (don’t forget to stock up on sustainable cosmetics from their family’s estate, Le Château du Bois) and finish the day immersed in Provençal gastronomy. Booking a table at Le Mas Tourteron is highly recommended: Chef Elisabeth Bourgeois creates hearty local dishes with a twist, aided by Japanese virtuoso Kuniyuki Nishino.

On the way south towards Aix-en-Provence, stay at the Château de Fonscolombe for a night of fairy-tale living. 

benkrut

Èze

Possibly one of the most popular day trips from Nice and easily reachable by bus or a short drive, Èze is the definition of a southern French romantic hideaway. Walk on the charmingly narrow cobblestoned streets lined with a multitude of boutiques, where gifts for loved ones await. At the top of the village, delve into local plant paradise in the Jardin Exotique. It’s also the perfect spot for immaculate coastline views. 

Be prepared to fall in love with this town and consider staying beyond a day trip. The 5-star boutique hotel Château Eza is regarded as one of the most romantic hotels on the Azure Coast, with luxurious elegance perfectly complemented by dinner at its on-site Michelin-starred restaurant. 

Saint-Remy-de-Provence Maussole de St. Paul
Trabantos

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Few towns attract tourists because of their mental asylum. Yet, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence forever holds its place in art history for housing Vincent Van Gogh at St. Paul de Mausole during the period when he created Starry Night

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence also boasts an unexpected number of gourmet shops and restaurants. Its Wednesday market is renowned for a fantastic selection of olive oils, local wines, and truffles. Did we mention this was also the birthplace of Nostradamus?

Just a few miles south, you can’t miss Les Baux de Provence, named after the ancient limestone baou—Provençal for “rocky spur.” This is an extremely popular spot – among the most visited in France – and a charming example of fortified hilltop settlements, complete with quaint car-free cobblestone streets and its own beautiful castle. 

Village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Rolf | Adobe Stock

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

A perfect base for heading into the spectacular and vertigo-inducing Gorges du Verdon, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie’s small-town charm has earned it the nickname of “Étoile de Provence” (Star of Provence). 

On a day of exploring in this peaceful town, admire the 14th-century Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir, built on a temple site dating back to 470 AD. Additionally, 15 pottery ateliers offer beautifully detailed, local pieces from this area called “faïence.” From eclectic styles at the Faiences Mufraggi to traditional designs by Michèle Blanc, it will be difficult to decide where to buy your souvenir.  

Simiane la Rotonde France with Lavendar fields in bloom in the foreground
StevanZZ

Simiane la Rotonde

This beautiful hilltop village sits between the Luberon, the Lure, and Mont Ventoux. Its name is based on its Rotonde, the circular citadel at its center, which also houses a beautifully preserved 12th-century grand hall. At 650m altitude, Simiane la Rotonde is at the right altitude for lavender cultivation, while being low enough to cultivate Mediterranean olive trees.

The largest lavender cooperative in France is located here, making it the ideal stop for perfume enthusiasts. Visit on a Thursday to browse endless stalls of aromatic plants and local produce at the weekly market. For a culinary delight, book a table at the restaurant of the Valsaintes Abbey Gardens, ending your day with a walk in their rose garden. 

Roussillon Provence from above
Encrier | iStock

Roussillon

Since Roman times, the area around Roussillon has been famous for its ochreous earth and inimitable red stone pottery. These days, the esthetic is the defining element of the village. Take an immersive trip to the EcoMuseum of Ochre to learn more about the area’s history and learn to use the natural pigments for your own decorating (workshops must be booked in advance, with some offered in English). 


French Riviera

Although a part of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the Riviera deserves a section of its own. After capturing our intrigue for decades, it successfully transitioned from the backdrop of old movies to the modern appeal of fast cars, delicious displays of fashion and jewelry, and indulgence of the highest caliber. 

Start your stay in Marseille at the stylish Coquillade, an oasis of luxury and pampering. Voted no.1 best resort in France in 2022, the property’s cypress tree garden opens up to views of the hill ranges to the north, with Provençal appeal showcasing the delights awaiting further along the coast. 

Place Massena Square Nice France
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Nice

To make the most of magical Nice, you need several days. From the soft light embellishing the Old Town to the unique historical heritage, it’s full of eclectic restaurants, fantastic art museums, and beautiful beaches. Nice is a great base for exploring the villages and small towns on the Riviera thanks to its train connections. Hop on to easily reach Cannes or Villefranche-sur-Mer or stay on to Monaco for a complete French coastline trip. 

While in town, pay your respects to Henri Matisse, one of the defining figures of revolutionary 20th century art that brought us fauvism and post-impressionism. The Musée Matisse has a huge display of the artist’s work. Take a walk in his shoes as you head to the Boulevard de Cimiez, where he lived at number 71 in the Régina building (worth admiring in its own right). Matisse is buried in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez just a few steps away.

Another must-see museum in Nice is the Musée National Marc Chagall, dedicated to the Belarusian painter. His 12 interpretations of Biblical stories must be seen in person to fully experience the enthralling nature of their size. 

While in the Old Town, there are numerous local dishes to pick up while strolling through. Taste the socca – a chickpea flour pancake – or the pissaladière – a salty anchovy tart. But, for a unique taste excursion, book a table at the sumptuous 18th-century Le Negresco’s Michelin-starred Le Chantecler. 

Cannes beach with palm tree and lounge chairs
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Cannes

This hub of glamorous film stars and expensive yachts needs no introduction. Glitzy Cannes has miles of beautiful beaches, high-couture shops on the Boulevard de la Croisette, and fabulous restaurants and cocktail bars. Head into the old port and the Suquet historic quarters to discover a quieter, small-town atmosphere to play a round on one of the many pétanque courts (the extremely popular French pastime involving metal ball throwing on a dirt surface to reach the small wooden jack). 

Stay at the achingly chic Five Seas Hotel, hidden just behind La Croisette and offering stunning views of the Mediterranean from its rooftop restaurant. 

Antibes France
Aleh Varanishcha

Antibes

Antibes is the quintessential southern French town, with cobblestone streets, a port full of boats, and 16th-century ramparts. Picasso loved it here, and for good reason: the old quarters are full of charm, the beach is stunning, and the coastline is peppered with luxurious mansions owned by the rich and famous. 

Stay at the fabulous Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc just off the seaside. For hillside relaxation, sister property, Château Saint-Martin & Spa, awaits near Vence (less than an hour’s drive away). 

Villegranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera
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Villefranche-sur-Mer

Tucked nearby the busy hubs of Cannes and Nice, the quiet upmarket fishing village of Villefranche-sur-Mer is an enchanting getaway for two on the “Blue Coast.” It features pastel-colored houses and some unique sights like the rue Obscure, a vaulted passageway built in 1295. 

Stay at Villa Olivia to indulge in the perfect blend of modern, exquisite facilities and hopelessly romantic views spanning the Mediterranean from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat to Cannes and the mountains behind. This one-of-a-kind accommodation is suitable for parties of up to 10 guests. And it’s not just a fantastic rental location: enjoy Michelin-starred chef Alain Llorca’s unique menus created for Amavia Collection villas, taste an eclectic collection of wines from the private cellar, and book in-house pampering services for an unforgettable Provençale vacation. 

Looking to host more than 10 people? There’s also nearby sister Villa Gaïa, ready to welcome 10-12 more guests at the same amazing standards.

saint-tropez-southern-france (1)
Xbrchx | Adobe Stock

Saint-Tropez

One of the best beaches on the Riviera is the Plage de Pampelonne, regularly full of celebrities perfecting their tan. This famous spot in Saint-Tropez is also where you’ll find some of the best-known bars and restaurants.

The coastal town itself owes its name to a Roman officer who met his gruesome death at sea, with his corpse washing up on these shores. But that’s as dark as it gets. In the 1950s, Saint-Tropez became the “go-to” southern French town after Brigitte Bardot starred in Et Dieu Créa la Femme was filmed here. Take a boat tour around the Baie des Cannebiers and spot celebrity villas and the Calanques de l’Estérel (beautiful rock formations). 

menton-south-of-france
Freesurf | Adobe Stock

Menton

Driving along the coast towards Italy, Menton is worth a stop for its sun-drenched gardens filled with lemon trees. Thanks to its subtropical, mild microclimate, this is a hub for growing citrus fruit. Visit in February for the Menton Lemon Festival, and indulge in lemon sweets and ice cream all year round. 

We also have a soft spot for the Cemetery of the Old Château—great hilltop views while you take a romantic stroll through the final resting places of aristocratic families from Europe’s past.


Occitanie

The Occitanie is one of the largest regions in the south of France. It’s home to a wide variety of landscapes and cultures. From the rocky outcrops of the Cévennes National Park to Northern Catalonian hot sunny towns, it offers more understated tourist attractions than the Riviera. The Côte Merveille charms travelers with its quiet seaside towns, while the rugged, wild land of the Cathars produces fantastic (if underrated) red and sweet wines. 

carcassonne castle side
Horia | Adobe Stock

Carcassonne

Unlike it appears at first glance, the medieval-looking Cité de Carcassonne is actually a historical hoax. The distinctive roofs that resemble witches’ hats were added by architect Viollet-le-Duc during a 19th-century remodeling, giving the Cité look its iconic.

This doesn’t dampen the appeal of this picture-perfect southern town, however. A stroll down the inner-city streets unravels quaint souvenir shops and boutique delis, as well as some excellent local restaurants. The castle tour is well worth a couple of hours, with fantastic views from the ramparts. No Carcassonne visit is complete without tasting the local speciality dish, a white bean stew with pork sausage cubes and duck meat (cassoulet). 

colliour france from the water
Boris Stroujko

Collioure

When it comes to well-kept secrets, Collioure is one of the most charming little-known coastal towns in the South of France. On hot sunny days, its red brick buildings contrast with the Mediterranean blue, famously inspiring fauvist painters like Henri Matisse. Explore this artistic hub at a leisurely pace, stopping at the town’s Modern Art Museum, or take a guided walk through Vitrine sur le Fauvisme Information Center.

Carry on down the coast to admire the ever wilder beaches, stop at Banyuls-sur-Mer for a glass of its AOC sweet apéritif wine, then watch the sunset at the secluded Cap Béar. 

lagrasse france bridge with circle reflection
Stéphane Bidouze

Lagrasse

From this little town, you’re a stone’s throw away from one of the biggest culinary delights in all of southern France: chef Gilles Goujon’s three-Michelin starred Auberge du Vieux Puits in Fontjoncouse. 

Lagrasse is also part of the most beautiful villages in France and one of the best places to stop to explore the Corbières vineyards and the region’s cuisine. The quaint village by the Orbieu River is in perfect contrast with the rugged, rocky, and sun-drenched hills beyond it. Its cobblestoned streets house medieval buildings and unique local shops, like Vinaigres Codina, offering various flavored vinegars. 


Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Further inland, the Nouvelle-Aquitaine is home to medieval towns and excellent vineyards. The actual administrative region is huge, including the French Basque Country and Bordeaux. Here are a few small towns that are worth a stop in the region.

albi-france
Starcevic

Albi 

Home to painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi also boasts a beautiful old town and an imposing cathedral. The Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile dominates the center. It’s one of the world’s largest brick buildings, designed to inspire awe.

For a more amusing activity, observe Toulouse-Lautrec’s Parisian brothel scenes in the museum dedicated to the legendary artist. 

saint-cirq-lapopie-france
Boris Stroujko

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

Voted one of France’s most beautiful villages in an annual countrywide competition, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a medieval jewel perched on top of a rock cliff overlooking the river Lot. There are no less than 13 medieval monuments within the fortified walls, including the church and the château. 

Local shops specialize in something for everyone, from leatherworks to essential oils to pottery. For an afternoon of relaxation and spectacular village views, book a spa appointment at Hotel Le Saint Cirq.

saint-emilion-dusk-bordeaux
Pvince73 | Adobe Stock

Saint-Émilion

This is our northernmost pick of southern France, and it’s all due to the excellent wine. This small town lies at the crossroads of Bordeaux, Saintonge and the Périgord, producing some of the most famous French bottles of red. The medieval old town shows signs of its prosperity through the ages, maintaining a suite of historic buildings on the UNESCO cultural heritage list. 

Wine trips are de rigueur. Start at La Maison du Vin, where visitors can taste the rich variety of red wines in the region. Stay and dine at the Château Grand Barrail, a castle hotel set amongst the vineyards. 


Corsica

This small island off the southeast coast of the mainland has been part of France for over 200 years, yet it feels quite a different world altogether. The language and cuisine are distinct, while the scenery concentrates the best of France in just over 3,350 square miles: from beaches with glamorous coastal towns to rugged mountains and unique hilltop villages, it’s a culture of its own with unique cheese, charcuterie, olive oil, and nine AOC-labeled wines. 

ajaccio-corisca-towns-in-southern-france
Olezzo | Adobe Stock

Ajaccio

Classy Ajaccio is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte and a town worthy of joining its sisters on the Côte d’Azur. There are trendy shops on the route des Sanguinaires, glitzy yachts in the bay, and gorgeous hotels like the Palazzu u Domu / Pozzo di Borgo. A stay here makes a perfect base in the old town while enjoying the nightlife on your doorstep. 

From Ajaccio, we recommend a day trip north to the Calanques de Piana, towering above the Gulf of Porto. These cliffs are flaming red in the sunlight and they’re by far one of Corsica’s most unique and awe-inspiring natural sights. Several trails allow visitors to hike around the dramatic rock formations to get the best views. There are also fantastic beaches at Ficajola and Arone for more R&R.

view-of-propriano-corisca-beach
Jeanluc | Adobe Stock

Propriano

Small-town Propriano is one of the best places to stay if you enjoy prehistoric artifacts. Southern Corsica has fantastic standing stones and menhirs from around 4000 BC, with the best archaeological site at Filitosa just half an hour away.

Back on the coast, explore the Gulf of Valinco by boat and head to lesser-known Cala d’Agulia, a hidden-away beach spot where you can truly enjoy the crystal-clear Mediterranean in peace. 

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