Mention the villages on the south coast of France, and images of blue skies, sparkling water and beautiful beaches spring to mind.
You can imagine yourself sipping wine and absorbing the sun’s rays while contemplating your next French cuisine.
These are just some of the reasons you’ll love spending a lot of time exploring the beautiful villages on the south coast of France.
And if you would love a house-sitting lifestyle, you may even get to stay in some of these amazing French villages and towns.
We adore the atmosphere of smaller places that are off the radar of most tourists.
What is the most beautiful place in the south of France?
For us, Cassis was the place we fell in love with.
Cassis is a beautiful French beach town with cafes and restaurants along the waterfront. In the off-season, Cassis is one of the best villages in the south of France to visit.
Here you can escape enjoying the sea breeze, local market and a French way of life.
So grab your notebook to plan which French stay will be next on your travel itinerary.
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Beautiful Villages on the South Coast of France
This map has each location to help with your travel plans.
Although three of these 12 French towns and villages are not on the south coast of France. They are all stunning locations worth visiting— with populations ranging from 2,000 to less than 60,000.
Unsurprisingly, these quaint French villages are the best beach towns in the south of France.
- Saint-Paul de Vence
Best Places in the south of France
1. Menton – The Pearl of France
Menton is close to the Italian border at the far eastern end of the French Riviera.
Nicknamed Perle de la France (The Pearl of France), it is a beautiful town with a picturesque seafront promenade, which is a delight to walk in the early morning as the sun rises.
Town highlights include several beautiful gardens, six beaches, the Basilica of St Michel (built-in 1619), and the covered market built in 1898.
Walking through the old town is a highlight, with narrow cobblestone streets winding up and down the hill with the basilica at its peak.
The Jardins Biovès is a long strip on the Avenue de Verdun and is where festivals are held, including Christmas and the Fete du Citron (Lemon Festival) at the end of winter.
2. Saint Paul de Vence – the Artists Paradise
St. Paul de Vence is one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera and one of the prettiest. It is easy to spend a day wandering through the narrow cobbled streets as they climb the rocky outcrop on which the town is built.
St. Paul de Vence has a long history of attracting famous artists, painters, writers and poets, including Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso.
If you are a lover of art, there is plenty on display here in St. Paul de Vence to view and buy.
Also of note are the town’s fortifications, which date back to the latter part of the 14th century. The ramparts were reinforced in the 16th century and are still in place today.
3. Grasse – the Perfume Capital of the World
Grasse has been known as the world capital of perfume since the 16th century.
Large perfumeries such as Fragonard, Molinard, and Galimard are based here, and many small perfume manufacturers are.
You can visit the International Perfume Museum as well as several of the manufacturers who have their museums.
Not only can you see how perfumes are made and where the ingredients are sourced from, but you can test perfumes to find out what suits you the best.
As well as perfumes, the town of Grasse also produces a wide range of colourful scented soaps. The historical part of Grasse includes the 13th-century Grasse Cathedral.
4. Saint-Raphael – Stunning Seaside Promenade
Saint-Raphael is a chic seaside town with a stunning church, gorgeous marinas, and a beautiful seaside promenade.
Notre Dame de la Victoire (Our Lady of Victory) basilica was built in 1883. Its name refers to the Battle of Lepanto (1571), where the allied fleet of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Venice, Genoa, and the Knights of Malta defeated the Ottoman fleet.
The nearby town of Frejus has significant sites from Roman times, including an amphitheatre, old walls, gates, and an aqueduct.
There is also a memorial to the more than 400 people of Frejus who died in the 1959 Malpasset Dam collapse.
Saint-Raphaël also has a beachfront double-decker merry-go-round for both children and adults young at heart. It’s a fun way to spend some time on the south coast of France.
5. Hyeres – Climb a tower and a hill for great views
Hyeres is a historic hillside town less than half an hour from the port city of Toulon. The old town is built on a hillside and has the remains of a medieval castle and centuries-old walls.
When they occupied Marseilles, the Greeks founded a fortified trading post here in 4BC. But the Lords of Fos in the 11th century built the medieval hillside castle.
Entry into the old town is via the old city gate into a narrow street full of colourful fruit, clothing, and merchandise stalls.
Place Massillon has several bars and restaurants surrounding the Tour des Templiers, a commandery built by the Templars in the 12th century.
Climb to the top of the tower for views of the town. Entry is free, and you can admire modern artwork inside the building.
Next, walk up to the Eglise St Paul along the narrow streets to obtain great views over the town to the coast beyond.
6. Cassis – the prettiest harbour in France
Just a short drive from Marseille is the small coastal fishing village of Cassis.
The little boats in the harbour are delightfully painted and look beautiful against the backdrop of colourful cafes, bars, and restaurants.
We’re told the French people head to the town while the tourists go to St Tropez.
There is a vibrant market on Wednesday and Friday where you’ll find wonderful French specialities such as bread, cheese, and meat.
And between Cassis and the coastal town of Le Ciotat is Cap Canaille.
The Cap forms an immense stone rampart and is the highest maritime cliff in Europe. The summit is a 394 m sheer cliff with stunning views towards Cassis and the south coast of France.
7. Martigues – the Venice of Provence
Martigues is a town near Marseilles known as the “Venice of Provence”.
The locality comprises three neighbourhoods and several villages crossing the Channel of Caronte that links the Etang de Berre and the Mediterranean.
Wandering the lanes of the old town provides views of coloured fishing vessels against the backdrop of equally pretty houses.
Bars and cafes are open early for you to enjoy the scenery of this picturesque and pretty village.
8. Salon de Provence
Salon de Provence, located around 44km from Marseille, has been inhabited since ancient times. Stories of the town were first written in 871 AD under Roman rule.
One of Salon’s most famous residents was Nostradamus, the famous Physician and Seer who spent his last 20 years in the city and is buried here.
The House of Nostradamus has all his completed works and is now a museum.
Likewise, the impressive Chateau de l’Empéri was once the largest castle in Provence, first mentioned in the 10th century. It still dominates the town and was restored after an earthquake in 1909. It now contains a military museum.
In contrast, Porte de l’Horloge or Clock Gate, marks the passage from modern to ancient cities. It was built in the 17 century and is one of two gates; the other is the Port Bourg Neuf.
If you are in Salon on a Wednesday, Place Morgan hosts a Provençal market.
9. Arles – A City of Art and History
Arles is an ancient town well known for having inspired the paintings of Van Gogh, who completed some of his most acclaimed paintings:
- The Night Café
- Café Terrace at Night
- Van Gogh’s Chair
But he also mutilated his left ear as his mental health deteriorated.
Arles was the provincial capital of ancient Rome and has many ruins dating back to that era, including the 20,000-seat amphitheatre, now hosting plays, concerts, and bullfights.
How fabulous would it be to attend a concert in a 2000-year-old arena?
The arena was based on the Colosseum of Rome, built 10-15 years earlier to host chariot races and bloody gladiator battles. But from the 5th until the late 18th century, the arena was transformed into a fortress encircling 200 houses.
In Arles, under the old Roman Forum, you will also find the UNESCO heritage site Cryptoporticus. It is a network of tunnels probably used for storage and housing slaves.
Aigues-Mortes was founded by King Louis IX in 1240, later to become Saint Louis, who used Aigues-Mortes as his departure point for the Crusades.
Its impressive and well-preserved medieval walls of 1.6 km surround the town. A walk along the wall gives you fabulous views of the pink salt marshes and views of the old town.
And of the 16 towers, the impressive 6-meter thick walls of Constance Tower have more great views after you climb the 137 steps.
For cafes and restaurants, Place Saint Louis Square is ideal for enjoying a refreshing glass of Rose wine with locally caught seafood.
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11. Sete – Venice of the Languedoc
Known as the Venice of Languedoc, with its network of canals, Sete is a port and a seaside resort on the Mediterranean with its strong cultural identity, traditions, cuisine, and dialect.
Sete is built around Mont Saint-Clair, which offers a view of the city and the saltwater lagoon.
There are plenty of seaside cafes, restaurants, and a fabulous indoor market.
12. Collioure – Jewel of Mountains and the Sea
One of the nicest places we have enjoyed is Collioure on the south coast of France, not far from Perpignan. A recommendation from our wonderful Airbnb Host.
Because of its strategic location, it has two defensive fortifications, both improved by the great military engineer Vauban (even if the Spanish took the town in 1793, the French took it back a year later.)
You can walk out to a lighthouse or up to the Moulin de la Cortina, a 14th-century mill restored for making olive oil. And La Courtine Hill has great views over the bay.
But it is the extraordinary building of Église Notre-Dame-des-Anges (Our Lady of the Angels) whose foundations were built in the sea between 1684 and 1691. A uniqueness of Collioure.
Discover 12 Villages on the South Coast of France
Visiting places in the south of France, like the seaside town of Collioure or Aigues-Mortes (towns we had never heard of), makes exploring away from the big cities a real bonus.
And discovering the best beach towns in the south of France is always a travel bonus.
Staying in quaint hotels, sipping coffee at small cafes and dining at amazing restaurants. Your recommendations for friends visiting France’s south coast will be full.
Without the hustle and bustle of the big cities, it will give you time and space to wander through the narrow streets and lanes. Take advantage of the viewpoints overlooking the town or the south coast.
Discovering you enjoy local food and drinks produced in the area is another reason your visit will be memorable.
Rent a car, let yourself set your own pace, and choose an idyllic village or town in which to spend your vacation time.
It’s one of the reasons we Slow Travel.