The South of France; do you immediately think of Provence? It is the quintessential French destination, but we also greatly enjoyed our time in and around Narbonne, Carcassonne, and Annecy.
We travelled to the South by car, leaving the Bordeaux Region in South West France and journeyed via Toulouse to our Airbnb accommodation in Narbonne. The first thing we noticed was that the further south we travelled, the crazier the drivers were, but we survived.
Narbonne and surrounds
Our accommodation in Narbonne was on the outskirts, but that was fine as we had really chosen the location as a kick off point for visiting Carcassonne. As a consequence, we didn’t really do Narbonne justice but we did enjoy a very pleasant meal at Restaurant Lou Castel. We also drove out the beach (Narbonne-Plage) about 15 kilometres out of Narbonne, where we enjoyed a pleasant lunch in one of the many cafes, accompanied by a Belgian Beer (as you do), and a wander along the beachfront. Don’t necessarily dismiss Narbonne the way we did, we have friends who really enjoyed their time there.
Our real focus for this part of the journey was the Cite de Carcassonne, a medieval fortress and world heritage listed site. An easy drive of less than an hour from Narbonne, and with excellent parking on site, we loved every minute of our time in this magnificent complex. We joined a walking tour run by the Office de Tourisme and we were very glad we did. The tour not only gave us a great introduction to the history of the Castle and its Ramparts, but also helped with our orientation to this vast site.
After the tour we very much enjoyed wandering around the site, poking into the various shops and eating a delicious local specialty, Cassoulet, in the lovely square. It is also possible to stay within the walls of the old City and if we were fortunate enough to return we would choose to do so. I wonder if there are many ghosts?
If you haven’t been to Carcassonne and visited the old City, I highly recommend you put this on your bucket list.
We have been able to make two visits to Provence and enjoyed them both, On one occasion we continued our journey from Narbonne to the village of Malemort du Comtat where we again stayed in an Airbnb. On the second occasion we arrived by train from Barcelona to Avignon and then picked up a car to return to visit our friends in Malemort du Comtat.
Whilst it has never been lavender season in Provence when we have visited, we have enjoyed every minute of our time there. Of course there is so much to see and do in Provence it can be delightfully overwhelming, and we feel we have still only scraped the surface.
Avignon is a destination in itself and the main rail centre for Provence; you know you are in Provence when you find a L’occitane shop in the railway station!
The old City of Avignon is absolutely lovely, whether you visit the Popes’ Palace or wander out on Saint Benezet Bridge (and of course sing Sur La Pont d’Avignon whilst you are out there). As well as wandering the streets of the old City, we enjoyed the 45 minute tour on The Petit Train d’Avignon. We lunched in one of the small squares tucked away from the main tourist throngs.
Most of our time in Provence has been spent in the regional area in and around Carpentras. Basing ourselves on both occasions in the small village of Malemort du Comtat, we have spent many a pleasant hour wending our way along the narrow road ways between villages and enjoying wandering the cobblestone streets.
In this area everything is very close together and there is much to see, including of course some vineyards. Being fortunate to have made friends there, we have been privileged to ‘get under the covers’ of this part of Provence and one of our loveliest experiences was visiting the beautiful village of Saint Didier on market day.
We also had a lovely wander through the streets of Bedoin, a village famous for its use by many film crews. There is a lovely perspective if you climb up the not too steep streets and look out over the valleys.
Perhaps our favourite village of all, and the one where we have spent most time, is Venasque. We have visited on several occasions and love this village with its outlook and charming shops. It has such a local feel despite being very popular with tourists and hikers. We enjoyed delicious food with a view at Restaurant Les Remparts and you can also stay in the attached accommodation. Also in Venasque, is the Atelier de Camille, a small but charming ceramic studio at which we have purchased beautiful pieces for our home. Well worth seeking out, but do check the hours of opening or make contact before visiting as hours may be seasonal.
Oh Annecy, you totally captured our hearts during our short stay; with your sparkling lake, surrounding alps, the charm of your streets and your elegant shops.
We arrived in Annecy in early October and stayed at the 2 star but very adequate Hotel du Nord. The location of this hotel is perfect, close to the lake and also in the very centre of town with its canals and beautiful cobblestoned streets. We arrived by car, and whilst parking is not available at the hotel we were directed to good parking close by.
Our time in Annecy was enhanced by the company of our German friends who had travelled from Switzerland to spend the weekend with us. They had discovered that on the Saturday we had the opportunity to witness The Return from the Alpine Pastures; a traditional annual festival to celebrate the return of the cows from the summer pastures. We enjoyed not only the parade of the flower bedecked cows but also demonstrations of local crafts and dancing, as well as tastings of traditional foods. We were so privileged to be in town at the time of the Festival, and it was enormous fun.
We ended our day with beers at the aptly named Beer O’Clock; a bar with craft beers on tap accessed by a RFID stored value card system for self service. As it was my birthday the same day, we had booked in advance for dinner at Une Autre Histoire. Whilst the food here was good, we found the service somewhat offhand, which was disappointing. Having said that, it seemed impossible to find bad food in Annecy, and we had several delicious lunches and dinners during our time there. Perhaps our favourite spots were the small cafes alongside the stunningly beautiful canal area.
Ah, so many wonderful memories, we would go back to Annecy in a heartbeat and it was a wonderful place to end our first visit to the South of France. Of course there are so many beautiful parts of France to visit, and you can read more of our travel adventures here.
Have you been to the South of France, or is it on your wishlist? If you have been what did you enjoy the most? Do you seek out history, views, food or a bit of both. Small village or larger City? What are your travel preferences?