Lisa Owen

Castles, lavender fields, mountains, vineyards, beaches and sunshine.

The Provence and Vaucluse regions of southern France offer many of the great things in life, making it the perfect year-round destination for any traveller.

Here’s how I recommend spending seven days in the south (I promise there will be French wine and cheese involved!).

marseille

Day 1: Marseille

Your south of France explorations will most likely start in Marseille. The city is served by a busy airport connecting with flights from across Europe and even some parts of Africa.

The best way to explore Marseille is on foot, but it also offers an efficient metro system.

Start your explorations at Vieux Port. This is a busy area of Marseille with lots of beautiful buildings and also a modern shopping precinct.

From the port, you can catch a boat to visit nearby calanques (small inlets off the ocean framed by high cliffs), or to see the Château d'If, on the island of If. The complex has been utilised as both a fortress and prison over the years.

The 19th century Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde is the city’s most popular attraction owing to its prominent position on the hill above Marseille.

Sunsets in Marseille can be epic and the best place to catch it is by the port, the basilica or from the steps of the central train station.

Calanques of Cassis

Day 2: Calanques of Cassis

From Marseille, it’s easy to catch a train or bus to the seaside town of Cassis. You can catch a train from Marseille St Charles station to Cassis Train Station. Trains run every hour. The train station is 2km out of town but it’s an easy walk to the centre or it’s possible to catch a taxi.

Buses also run direct from Marseille into Cassis. Buses only run a couple of times of day in the winter months, but more regularly in summer.

Cassis is most famous for its calanque beaches. You can hike to three of these calanques or take a boat tour with the option to see 3, 7 or 9 calanques.

To hike to the first three calanques, you’ll need a moderate level of fitness and be confident with tackling steep, rocky terrain.

The first calanque (Port Miou) is easily accessible but is used as a port rather than for swimming. About 30 minutes further on you’ll come to Calanque de Port Pin, which offers a perfect sheltered spot for swimming.

The third calanque requires a bit of effort to reach. From Calanque de Port Pin you need to head uphill, then it’s back down again. You’ll need some rock scrambling skills. Hiking shoes are essential as the terrain is very steep, loose and can be slippery if it’s rained recently.

Once you get down the hill, it’s a pleasant 15 minute walk to reach the beach of Calanque En Vau. You’ll be greeted by impressive limestone cliffs and beautiful blue water.  

Aix En Provence

Day 3: Aix En Provence

Aix En Provence is one of the south’s most beautiful cities and it is also rich with history.

You can spend hours exploring the beautiful streets, visiting the markets, going fountain hunting and sampling the delicious foods and wines of southern France.

Aix En Provence is a market lover’s dream. The food market is held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday until around 1pm in Place Jeanne D’Arc near the Tourism Office. You can get everything from saucisson, cheese, bread and jams and there’s even a stall selling paella and rabbit.

The fruit and flower markets are also held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in Place Richelme near the Hotel d’Ville; while a handicraft, flea market and fabric market is held on the same days on the Cours Mirabeau (the main boulevard of Aix En Provence).

Aix En Provence is also known as the city of 100 fountains – and you’ll find beautiful fountains in every square. The most famous fountain is the one fronting the Cours Mirabeau – Fontaine de la Rotonde. It was built in 1860 and features three statues representing Law, Agriculture and Art.

Cours Mirabeau – Fontaine de la Rotonde

Some of the cities fountains date back to the 17th century and their water was used by nuns - while others have water stemming from hot springs.

Other highlights include the old town belfry with the astronomical clock dating back from 1661.

For travellers with an interest in art, you might be keen to visit the places where the famous painter Paul Cezanne lived and painted. Follow the gold plaques stamped with a ‘C’ on the footpaths around Aix En Provence to explore the city in Cezanne’s footsteps. Musee Granet features 10 of Cezanne’s oil paintings.

Aix En Provence is easily accessible from Marseille. Buses run every 10 minutes to Aix En Provence from the Marseille St Charles station.

Aix En Provence

Day 4: Hike Mt Sainte-Victoire

The Mt Sainte-Victoire trailhead is best accessed from Aix En Provence. If you’re going there by car, park at the Plan de l’Anchois carpark.

It’s also possible to reach by public transport. Bus L110 (towards Legion) makes the trip from the Aix En Provence Gare Routiere (main bus station) to the base of the mountain. Get off at the Le Bouquet stop and then walk to the Plan de l’Anchois carpark to the trailhead. You’ll find the bus stop and carpark marked on the Maps.me mobile app. Buses leave Aix En Provence nearly every hour starting from 7.45am.

The return hike will take about 4 hours.

You’ll need to wear good hiking shoes as the terrain is rocky, loose and steep.

The hike is very exposed so make sure you bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water in the warmer months. It’s also possible to do in the winter months but be prepared for cold temperatures and even snow.

The day I hiked the mountain it snowed which made for a beautiful climb – but it was freezing at the top.

The route is well marked. Follow the red stripes on the rocks from the carpark until you reach a large cairn of rocks located the top of a steep ascent which has a fence on your left. From there, follow the blue markers up to the cross at the top of the mountain.

Mt Sainte-Victoire

Day 5: Avignon

Avignon is an hour’s bus ride from Aix En Provence. The beautiful town is rich in history and was once the seat of the Roman pope.

The Palace of the Popes (Palais de Papes) dominates the city centre. It has served as both a papal residence as well as a military fortress and prison throughout its life. The palace became the residence of the popes in 1309 when the current Pope had to flee Rome due to unrest. It was the papal residence until 1377 when the Popes returned to Rome, but remained under papal control for centuries after.

Avignon can be reached from Aix En Provence or Marseille on the TGV (high speed train), by frequent buses from Aix En Provence, or even carpooling through BlaBlaCar.

Les Baux des Provence

Day 6-7: Visit the small villages of the south

There’s dozens of beautiful towns and villages spread across France’s south and you’ll need at least two days to see the highlights.

Les Baux des Provence, Nimes, Arles and Gordes are among the best in the region.

Les Baux des Provence has a dramatic setting on a cliff top and offers the chance to explore the ruins of a castle.

The highlight of Nimes is its Roman amphitheatre; Arles will be fascinating for Van Gogh fans; and go to Gordes for a beautiful view of the hillside town. Aqueduct Pont du Gard, located near Nimes, is also a must do on any southern France itinerary.

If you’re visiting the area in July, make sure you check out the lavender fields around Gordes and the Abbaye de Senanque.

While Nimes is accessible by public transport from Aix En Provence, you’ll need a car to visit the rest of the villages. Cars can be hired from the Aix En Provence or Avignon TGV (high speed train) stations.

You’re sure to enjoy roaming the streets of these historical cities with their narrow cobblestoned lanes – and of course there’s always lots of local cafes and restaurants to try as well as local stores selling typical French saucisson, cheese and wine.

Armed with this itinerary, you’re sure to enjoy many beautiful landscapes and eat your weight in French wine and cheese!

south france

Things You Should Know

  • Accommodation in the south of France is not cheap and some areas do not have hostels. Budget backpackers will be limited to B&Bs, guesthouses or AirBnB in some areas if choosing to stay outside of Marseille. However, it is possible to use Marseille as a base for this itinerary.
  • It’s a good idea to hire a car for a day or two to explore the south of France region thoroughly. While the main centres of Avignon, Aix En Provence and Marseille are well served by public transport, smaller localities are not.
  • While English is widely spoken in the south, a little French will go a long way in being warmly received by locals.
  • You can’t visit France without trying the local cheese, wine and bread. The good news is these items are readily available from the local markets and specialist stores. For fresh bread and pastries, head to Jacob’s Boulangerie in Aix En Provence. A range of local cheeses can be found in local supermarkets such as Carrefour if you’re on a tight budget. If your budget stretches a little further, visit specialist Fromageries.

 

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 70 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.

We use cookies to provide you with a better service. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or find out how to manage cookies.