Let’s be honest, some regions just have an unfair advantage. With its dependably sunny climate tempered by the onshore breeze of the Mediterranean, its ravishingly beautiful beaches and its surprisingly elemental and gnarly interior the South of France is just such a place. Whatever type of summer you’re after, you’ll find it here. Stylish resorts, adrenalin-pumping pursuits and historic towns combine to create a backdrop where magical holidays are made. Come and take a closer look.
Arcachon and Arcachon Bay, Gironde
Arcachon Bassin is a beautiful blue bay fed both by the ocean and a number of rivers, making it an inland sea that looks like a blue lagoon. One side of the bay is bordered by an enormous white sand dune – the Dune du Pilat. At 114m high, it’s the highest sand dune in Europe (you can see across to the beautiful Landes forest from its summit, or enjoy great sunset views). The long finger of the Cap Ferret peninsula is beautiful, with remote beaches to enjoy for the day.
Try: Domaine d’oléron
The elegant town of Biarritz was one of the premier resorts for the rich and famous in the 19th century. Today, the town still retains a vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere with fantastic beaches, surfing and sporting facilities (main pic above). It’s these sporting facilities – particularly the surfing in the wild Atlantic – that gives the town its laid-back vibe. Visit the fabulous sea life centre and Go-Karting track for a great family day out. Its main beach, La Côte des Basques, is a real stunner too. There’s culture aplenty here – This is the place where Picasso chose to spend his honeymoon and which is now home to the wonderful Musee Asiatica gallery of eastern art.
Try: Camping Oyam
Sitting high up on a rocky spur overlooking the great Herault plain, Beziers is a picturesque town bordered by the River Orb and Canal du Midi. Wander along the narrow medieval streets that lead up to the 12th-century Nazaire Cathedral. When you’re done, spend time along the Canal du Midi, a tranquil waterway you can explore by hiring an electric boat for anything from half an hour to the entire day, stopping off at pretty villages for a bite to eat. Try hiring your boat from Roque-Haute, which is itself part of an ancient chain of volcanoes: but don’t panic, all is quiet now.
Try: Aloha Village
Parc National des Cévennes, Ardèche
Get closer to nature in this vast and beautiful wilderness, which offers you spectacular scenery at every turn, not to mention more than 2,300 species of flora and fauna. it’s France’s true ‘big country’ and is a wonderful way to get your family close to nature, whether by bike, kayak, hike or even a ranger tour. The parc is dotted with medieval villages too, so you’ll not be too far from somewhere magical to stop off for lunch.
Try: Les Ranchisses
Aix en Provence, Riviera and Provence
The ancient Provencal capital, and a regional hub of activity, Aix en Provence easily warrants a day trip. The old town (Vieille Ville), ringed by a circle of boulevards and squares, is where you’ll spend most of your time. This photogenic quarter is crammed with shops, markets, museums, religious and architectural sites and historical gems. The terrace cafés on the Place des Précheurs (by the flower market) offer welcome respite. Wander, also, along the main thoroughfare, the Cours Mirabeau – a beautiful tree-lined avenue, with cafés and bookshops galore.
Try: La Baume
Europark Vias Plage, Languedoc
Fancy some good old-fashioned summertime fun? Does it get any better than the largest fairground park in the south of France? Ask your kids if you’re not sure! This illuminated adventure park offers more than 80 attractions, including twisting, looping white-knuckle inducing roller coasters, traditional funfair stalls, cafes and bars. Feeling brave? Try the Dark Zone experience. If you dare. It’s the perfect way to end your day, with lots of places for food and drink, and plenty of rides for your very littlest thrill seekers too.
Try: Le Beach Garden
Gorges du Verdon, Provence
The Gorges du Verdon is an unbeatable place to go climbing, with 960 known climbing routes. But it makes for an equally exhilarating drive, hike or horse-riding adventure too. Or you can kayak along the rivers below the towering buttresses of rock. The French “Grand Canyon” offers spectacular views with the river Verdon running along the bottom of the gorge from Castellane to the Lac de Ste Croix. It’s a natural wonder that will stay with you forever. Hard to believe it’s so close to the vibrant resorts of the Med, but feels a million miles away from the everyday.
Try: Lacs du Verdon
Head to Grasse, a handsome town of ochre coloured villas clinging to a steep hillside, and home to many fine perfumeries (it’s the world’s perfume capital!). You can visit historic perfumiers in the old town, such as L’Usine Historique, 20 Boulevard Fragonard. Kids will love the bright yellow tourist train that huffs its way up the steep city streets from the Cours Honoré Cresp plaza (across from the Palais des Congrès and main tourist office).
Try: Saint Louis
The rocky, elemental lands of the Ardeche and Auvergne are honeycombed with deep and mysterious cave systems – many of which are yet to be fully explored. By far the most incredible is the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc system. This wonderous cave contains some of the best-preserved figurative cave paintings in the world, as well as other evidence of Upper Paleolithic life. You’ll actually visit a life-sized replica, but you’d never know – such is the painstaking attention to detail they’ve achieved here. And the visitor centre itself is a stunning example of modern architecture in its own right. It’s not often you get the chance to visit a 30,000 year old art gallery, so don’t miss it.
Try: Le Ranc Davaine