12 Beautiful Villages on the South Coast of France

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Colourful boats tied up in a small harbour
Sete on France’s southern coast

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.

It’s how we got to meander the villages of Provence for a French Christmas and why we love slow travel.

When you step away from the spectacular European City Walks such as Paris, Lyon and Montpellier, you see another side of France.

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.

Order your French village print today from Images by TravelKiwis.

Related Post: 20 Beautiful Places to Visit in Italy

Related Post: 10 Delightful Cotswold Villages

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.

Map showing 12 Beautiful Villages of South Coast France
A Map of locations showing 12 Beautiful Villages on the South Coast of France

 

  1. Menton
  2. Saint-Paul de Vence
  3. Grasse
  4. Saint-Raphael
  5. Hyeres
  6. Cassis
  7. Martigues
  8. Salon-de-Provence
  9. Arles
  10. Aigues-Morte
  11. Sete
  12. Collioure

Best Places in the south of France

1. Menton – The Pearl of France

View of boats in the harbour of Menton
View of Menton from the Quai Napoléon III

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.

Menton tourist website

View of the coast from The Promenade du Soleil in Menton
The Promenade du Soleil in Menton

2. Saint Paul de Vence – the Artists Paradise

An old stairway in St Paul de Vence, France
The old lanes of St Paul de Vence are a delight to wander

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.

St. Paul de Vence tourist website

An old stone wall with an art shop
There are many little shops to view and buy art.

 

3. Grasse – the Perfume Capital of the World

Grasse is on of the Beautiful Villages of the South Coast of France
Fragonard perfumery in the foreground and the Grasse Cathedral in the background

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.

Grasse tourist website

Inside a boutique perfumery in Grasse
Inside our favourite boutique perfumery, Guy Bouchard

4. Saint-Raphael – Stunning Seaside Promenade

A church viewed over the harbour of St Raphael
Notre Dame de la Victorie Basilica and view of the Saint-Raphael harbour

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.

Saint Raphael tourist website

A colourful carousel
The pretty carousel at Saint-Raphael

5. Hyeres – Climb a tower and a hill for great views

Porte Massillon is a gateway into the town of Hyeres
Porte Massillon entry into the old town of Hyeres

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.

Hyeres Old Town’s official website

Tour des Templiers in the colourful Place Massillon, Hyeres
Tour des Templiers in the colourful Place Massillon, Hyeres

6. Cassis – the prettiest harbour in France

colourful fishing boats in a harbour
Pretty coloured fishing boats in the harbour of Cassis

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.

Cassis tourist website

Hillside view of the sea
The view from Cap Canaille looking down to Cassis

7. Martigues – the Venice of Provence

View of a sea canal
The view down the main canal of Martigues

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.

Martigues tourism website

Boats in a sea harbour
Some of the pretty houses and boats in Martigues

8. Salon de Provence

Stone castle in France
Château de l’Empéri in 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.

Salon de Provence tourism website

Clock Gate down a narrow lane
Porte de l’Horloge, or Clock Gate, is one of two ancient entrances into the old city in Salon de Provence.

 

9. Arles – A City of Art and History

view of a roman arena
The Arles Arena is viewed from the 21m high tower at the north end

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.

Arles tourism website

A tunnel of the underground Cryptoporticus in Arles
One of the tunnels of the Cryptoporticus under the Roman Forum in Arles

10. Aigues-Morte

Castle walls of Aigues-Mortes
Walking the Castle walls of Aigues-Mortes

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.

Related Post: How to Experience the Best of Montpellier

Statue of a King in France seaside village
Saint Louis fountain, Aigues-Mortes

11. Sete – Venice of the Languedoc

Coloured boats in the canal of Sete
Coloured boats in the canal of Sete

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.

Sete tourist website

Indoor french market
Les Halles de Sete

12. Collioure – Jewel of Mountains and the Sea

Walkway along harbor
The beautiful harbour of Collioure

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.

Collioure tourism website

Beach with colourful houses
Sandy Beach of Collioure, France

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.