As another month flies by, our month was spent exploring the wonderful cities and towns of southern France. Having just finished a 5-week housesit in Montpellier we were driving inland to a small village of Fumel for a 7-day housesit.
How to Travel for Less in France
We have found housesitting to be one of the best ways to travel on a budget in Europe. With the reduced cost of accommodation, we can stay longer in one place to explore some of the lesser-known places in France. If you want to read our housesitting stories, just click here. And if you learn more about what is house sitting, click on Go House Sitting.
Trusted Housesitters is one of the main sites we use to find or be found for house sitting assignments. Click on the ad below for a 20% discount for membership.
Or you can always choose to look at Airbnb accommodation for your stay.
Use Travellerspoint to map your itinerary
Hire a Rental Car to See the Best of France
If you want to see the best places in France, hiring a car will give you more freedom to explore. The road trip from Montpellier to Albi would be 200kms and you have two options:
- motorway and pay expensive tolls (peage)
- a less direct route via small villages
Road Trip of 10 Must-See Places of Southern France
When we stopped in the village of Lodève for a coffee we made sure to check out the local tourist office for the must-see places nearby. And they were honest, saying there wasn’t much to see in Lodève, but we must visit Cirque de Navacelles. Despite it being 40 minutes in the wrong direction, we took their advice and off we went. What a bonus that was!
1. Cirque de Navacelles
The Cirque de Navacelles is a Grande Site de France formed by the River Vis carving away at the land over millions of years. It left an oxbow lake which later dried up, with deposits of silt and peat, creating the only patch of arable land for many miles around. It really is a magnificent sight looking down 300 meters from the top of the valley at the two villages at the far end of the mound.
Albi is a town perched on the River Tarn about an hour by car from the city of Toulouse. The main features of the town include the massive Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, the centuries-old Palais de la Berbie, the several bridges crossing the river, and the lovely pedestrian lanes of the medieval quarter.
Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, Albi
The imposing Albi Cathedral begun in 1282, was under construction for 200 years. It is one of the largest brick buildings in the world rising to a height of 78 meters, and 113m in length. Large cathedrals are everywhere in Europe, and after a while, well, they start to look the same. In fact, often we are in and out after a glance. But every now and then one stands out. The outside of Albi Cathedral of St. Cecilia was dazzling, but the inside just blew us away with the color and style. Particularly impressive was the altar and sanctuary. It looks like the designer was making sure there is no doubt about whose presence you are in.
Pont Vieux and the River Tarn, Albi
If you walk through the old medieval town you will find a bridge leading away from the Cathedral. Here you have great views looking back over the railway arched bridge towards the Albi Cathedral. The cathedral seems to dominate every part of the city, it really is a magnificent sight.
Pont Vieux of Albi
The old town of Albi has some great views from either side of the River Tarn. We took a walk along the river and crossed over to Rua Porta. Here we could look back to the Old Town with the near bridge of Pont Vieux built 1035, with the tall railway bridge in the distance and the massive Albi Cathedral dominating the photo. Would you like to live on a bridge? From the 14-18th century, 16 families had homes on the Pont Vieux until a flood ruined them in 1766.
While Castres is probably not on the ‘tourist’ circuit, there are some interesting sights to be seen. The highlight of a visit to Castres is undoubtedly the view of the houses along the River Agout. These very pretty row of houses were once home to leather tanneries and cloth dyeing industries as the houses that line the river L’Agout in Castres have access ways to the water. Can you see the openings in the wall at the waterline? This allowed traders and merchants to easily get to the water. The city has some very interesting medieval lanes to explore with the Bishop’s Palace well worth visiting. Particularly as the garden was designed by the same person who laid out the gardens at Versailles.
It was here in Fumel we enjoyed a week house-sitting looking after two lovely dogs called Snoop and Bailey. Their lovely owners Dan and Elaine run Gite Regrunel, a self-catered accommodation made up of two luxury barn conversions in a rural setting. An ideal for a stay in spring or summer. If you love stone cottages, then Fumel is a place to visit. The homes in this area are made out of beautiful stone dug from a local quarry. It made going for a walk with the dogs perfect to check out some of the lovely homes in the areas. A highlight was having the Château de Bonaguil at the end of the road. The castle was once owned by the Fumel family who fought for the English in the Hundred Years War. The castle itself dates to the 13th century with modifications undertaken until the early 16th century.
Bridges are our new buzzword of the month since Terry was approached by the American Society of Civil Engineers for his photo of the Millau Viaduct, France. Having seen the beautiful bridges of Albi and Castres, we heard Cahors had an amazing must-see bridge. Pont Valentré is in the South West French city of Cahors. A 14th-century six-span fortified stone arch bridge with three towers (2 shown in the photo below) reaching a height of 40 meters on the 138m long bridge which crosses the Lot River. Admiring the view of Pont Valentré, there is a walk around the riverfront offering views of the bridges and old town of Cahors.
Cathedral of Cahors (Saint-Etienne)
In the market square of Cahors if the 11th-century Cathedral of Cahors (Saint-Etienne). It is impressive with its double dome. But we were more interested in the market taking place in the plaza in front of the church. We love these local markets with fresh veggies, fruit, cakes, meat, cheese, and awesome nougat.
6. Aix en Provence
The city of Aix en Provence is an interesting city founded by the Romans in 123BC. You will love the medieval streets to enjoy shopping or tasting local French cuisine, but it is the Cours Mirabeau that is most impressive. This wide tree is lined with Plane Trees and early century buildings. One of our favorites places to visit in Aix en Provence was the Parc Jourdian for interesting fountains and pathways to old ruins for views of the city. The area is also famous for its hot mineral springs, so in summer months is popular as a place to retreat, unwind and relax.
7. St Paul de Vence
Only a short drive from Nice is the hillside small village of St Paul de Vence. Wandering through the narrow medieval cobbled streets is a great introduction to the beauty of a French village. If you are a lover of art, there is plenty on display here in St Paul de Vence to view and to buy. And if you are wanting to enjoy French cuisine for lunch, then the village has plenty of restaurants. Or maybe just watch a local game of Petanque.
The town of Grasse is known as the world capital of perfume since the 18th century. However, it was the Moors who first bought the key ingredient of Jasmine to the area in the 16th century. Large perfumeries such as Fragonard (the yellow building in the foreground), Molinard and Galimard are based here, as well as many small perfume manufacturers. After much spraying, dabbing and whiffing, we purchased some lovely scents. Our personal favorite was produced by the small Creator-Perfumers Guy Bouchara.
9. Saint Tropez
Saint Tropez is the place to be seen, or at least your boat. The town is a popular destination, especially in the summer months. Visiting in early Spring or Winter is ideal as you are often wandering the narrow streets by yourself. Walking along the waterfront dotted with restaurants and cafes on one side, and magnificent boats on the other are made more special with the old moored fishing boats. These brightly colored boats certainly make a picture-perfect photo. Make sure to take a walk along with the old port views across the harbor to Sainte Maxime.
Hyeres is more often a popular place to visit for the French in the south of France. Once again you find yourself falling in love with the old town. Walking through the old gate the narrow street was colorful with stalls of fruit, clothing, and merchandise. Our first stop was Place Massillon to climb to the top of the Tour des Templiers with views across the city to the coast. Luckily no charge for our effort. We then walked up to Eglise St Paul and along the narrow streets before returning for lunch in the Place Massillon. Time for lunch in the square filled with tables and chairs. The menu choice was Galettes, a very thin savory crepe folded with a selection of meats of cheese. So delicious and a must-try when in France.
Time to Say Goodbye
Once again we were back at the Nice airport to drop off the family. The week in France with our family had been great for sampling French Rose while trying to navigate the Game of Life board game with much laughter. Or was it the card game of Cheat that amused us all? We decided to return to Aix en Provence for Easter to experience the local French custom of the Easter Egg Hunt. Plus a day trip to the amazing seaside city of Marseille.