Six Places To Visit In The South Of France (That Aren’t St Tropez)

Sidestep St Tropez and Nice this summer with our pick of the best south of France destinations – sans the crowds

the south of France and likely a scene springs to mind:
the glittering coastline, magnums of blush-pink rosé and tanned
legs under a blazing sun in some of the country’s most glamorous
enclaves. Yet, while the likes of Nice and St Tropez have held a starry appeal since the French
Riviera was made popular by writers, artists and belle époque
socialites, there’s so much more to explore along the 500km of
palm-fringed Mediterranean coastline bordering France’s southern

Venture beyond the jet set-approved hangouts and an alternative
south of France is revealed. Less pristine than the world of
glaring superyacht keels and perfectly parallel sun loungers, these
quieter locales offer a spirit of summer that’s hard to match
elsewhere in Europe. From Marseille’s creative enclaves to the
wildlife-filled wetlands of the Camargue, here are six less-visited
corners to explore.

Six alternative south of France destinations

Marseille, France


When Parisians pack up and move somewhere, it’s worth
investigation. So it is with Marseille, where a creative
renaissance has enticed new inhabitants from as far afield as the
French capital. There’s a reason we picked this city as a destination to watch in 2023. Ever-rebellious,
Marseille’s glow-up rejects the glitzy peacocking of Cannes or St
Tropez; instead, expect a refresh more akin to Lisbon’s
regeneration. The sun-scorched city – France’s second largest – has
found its port roots reshaped by a flourishing art scene and a slew
of new restaurant openings. Top on your list to explore should be
the city’s diverse food scene, which prefers to lift up independent
hospitality and champion inclusivity and affordability over chasing
stars. For a taste, try the sunshine-filled vegetarian plates at
the Congolese street food at Libala or
creative seafood dishes at Caterine.

Where to stay:
Les Bords de Mer

Menton, France


With Italy’s picturesque offering on one side and Nice’s
beach-fringed beauty on the other, it’s easy to see why Menton gets overlooked, but Britain’s
Victorians were onto something when they flooded to this former
fishing town in the 19th century in search of health-boosting
continental air. With all those sea breeze-kissed, red-roofed
townhouses and tomato-filled local dishes, Menton feels a touch
Italian, as you would expect from a town that didn’t become part of
France until 1860. You’ll want to make the most of the old-world
health benefits on offer, so start with a gentle promenade through
one of the town’s many formal gardens – the centrally located
Val Rahmeh Garden or the just-out-of-town Serre
de la Madone are two of the best – then head down to the waterfront
to soak up the sea airs and and enjoy the town’s salubrious cuisine
of fresh fish and good wine.

Where to stay:
Le Pavillon Impérial

Cassis, France


South of Marseille lie some of France’s highest sea cliffs:
towering white walls of rock cut through by a series of fjord-like,
intensely blue inlets, the Calanques de Cassis. Stunning examples
of nature’s beauty, they rise from sparkling, turquoise seawater
and stretch for 16km, from vast Marseille to little Cassis, a
gorgeous port town that makes the perfect base from which to
explore the limestone landscapes. Here, overlooked by a
13th-century chateau and pretty-as-you-like little pastel houses,
Virginia Woolf once claimed to find “perfect happiness”. We’re
inclined to agree. After a day spent hiking breathtaking rocky
edifices and exploring the dramatic local topography, there are few
better pleasures than taking a seat on the waterfront for a Pastis
de Marseille.

Where to stay:
Le Coumé Vai


It’s a 10-minute boat ride from Hyères to this tiny,
crescent-shaped island off the French coast that measures just 7km
long. Don’t expect any glitz and glam on Porquerolles; the vibe is
much more fisherman’s jumpers than Bardot dresses. With 80 per cent
of the island declared a national park, visits here revolve around
hiking, biking and boating. Scramble over medieval ruins, dive into
the waves with a snorkel to spot painted groupers and cherry-red
starfish, and clamber aboard diminutive boats, binoculars in hand,
in search of whale sightings. Once you’ve run wild exploring
secluded creeks, high cliffs and hidden sandy stretches, make
tracks to the other Golden Isles nearby, such as Port-Cros or Île
du Levant, to continue the Cousteau-worthy adventure.

Where to stay: Le Mas du Langoustier

Flamingos, Camargue, France


The coast-hugging nature reserve of Camargue, west of historic
Aix-en-Provence, is as crowded as it is beautiful, but it’s not
holidaymakers thronging its expansive wilderness. Wild horses, pink
flamingos and thousands of migratory birds have all made the area’s
lush salt marshes and dramatic beaches their home. Ergo, you’ll
want to wind your way through this diverse landscape on foot or by
bike, or join the animal parade with a tour on horseback – try the
saddles-for-hire at Le Palomino Le Boumian. Make your base the
former fishing village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a seaside
retreat with an impressive artistic legacy that includes various
visits by Vincent van Gogh, who was enticed to the water-encircled
town to capture on canvas the fishing fleets at sea.

Where to stay:
Mas de la Fouque

Montpellier, France


Sun-drenched Montpellier is the Languedoc Roussillon’s sparkling
jewel – a laid-back hodgepodge of Haussmannian architecture and
leaning, honey-hued townhouses populated by a thriving student
crowd and a creative international set. This is a destination where
it pays to explore the flea markets and antique stores under the
golden summer sun – being a port city, the offering is often
eclectic, with curios sourced from far beyond French shores. For
guaranteed finds, head to the once-a-week Marché du Lez.
Elsewhere around the city, you’ll find medieval architecture,
expansive surfing beaches and, if you’re in the mood for exploring,
the miniscule, old-school village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, a
bike ride away. Don’t forget the locals’ preferred afternoon
activity, either. Montpellier enjoys 300 days of sunshine per year,
so sun-worship is de rigueur: the route back from St Guilhem passes
the best place in the city to cool off. Pack your swimmers for a
dip beneath the lofty Pont du Diable.

Where to stay:
Mas de Lafeuillade

Marin Montagut interiors, Paris

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