When I was planning our trip to the South of France earlier this year, I knew I had to include plenty of coastal towns and skip the big cities like Montpellier and Marseille altogether. So I decided on a South of France itinerary from Frontignan, just south of Montpellier, all the way to Banyuls-sur-Mer near the Spanish border with plenty of stops along the way and a few diversions away from the coast to visit specific sites I'd come across on my research.
This was my third time road tripping the South of France, and this trip was a confirmation of how much the region has to offer.
- South of France itinerary: skipping the big cities
- 1. Frontignan Plage
- 2. Mont St. Clair in Sète
- 3. Cirque de Mourèze
- 4. Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert
- 5. Vendres and Valras-Plage
- 6. Gruissan
- 7. Peyriac-de-Mer
- 8. Leucate Plage
- 9. Le Barcarés
- 10. Carcasonne
- 11. Orgues d'Îlle-sur-Têt
- 13. Collioure
- 14. Banyuls-sur-Mer
- 15. La Couvertoirade
- 16. The Millau Viaduct
- 17. Peyre
- 18. The Gorges du Tarn
- Don't forget travel insurance
South of France itinerary: skipping the big cities
If you're wondering where to go in the South of France on your road trip, I hope the following list of things to do in South of France will help you plan it.
1. Frontignan Plage
Our first stop was Frontignan Plage. There isn't much to see and do here except go to the beach and that's exactly what we needed after having driven more than 1,000 km. It's located right by Montpellier, though, so if you want to stay in a quiet beach town close to the city, this might be a good choice.
2. Mont St. Clair in Sète
Right next to Frontignan, lies Sète. We initially wanted to visit the city center, the beach, and Mont St. Clair but ended up only visiting the latter. That's because the center was rather hectic and finding a parking space with our RV was as good as impossible.
Luckily, there were plenty of spots up at Mont St. Clair, the hill that lies in the center of Sète and that offers an amazing view.
Across the street from the large viewing platform is a house that you can climb to the top of (for free when the door is open) to be even higher and get a 360° view of the surroundings.
3. Cirque de Mourèze
The Cirque de Mourèze lies a bit more inland. It's a natural site characterized by massive limestone rocks with a loop trail of 7.5 km running through it. It's also possible to cut through the loop in the middle to make the hike a bit shorter.
The hike itself isn't too hard but does require a moderate level of fitness as it goes up and down over rocky terrain. The elevation does mean that you get some great views and there's even a little viewing platform from which you can spot the town.
At the end of the hike, you reach Mourèze with its little alleyways and old buildings. The town itself is fun to wander through but very small. The full hike is supposed to take three hours and you can easily see the town in less than half an hour.
There's a paid parking lot on the main road right before arriving at Mourèze if you're coming from the coast. I believe it cost €3 regardless of how long you stayed there. It was also possible to spend the night there if you came by motorhome and then it cost €6.5. Keep in mind that prices may have changed since then though.
The photo above is actually a stock photo because we never were able to enter Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. The reason? There are a few parking spaces along the road next to this cliffside village but all of them had barriers to keep motorhomes out.
Now, I understand that they want to keep parking spaces for day visitors, but there are a ton of other places where it's just prohibited to spend the night with the motorhome and where you can park during the day. As Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is located in a gorge and there weren't any other parking options around for big vehicles, we necessarily had to skip it – after having driven quite a bit to get there.
They say it's pretty, though, so let me know if you do make it there.
Nearby you can visit the Pont du Diable or Devil's Bridge. There's a staircase that takes you down to the bottom of the gorge right under the bridge. It's a popular bathing spot.
5. Vendres and Valras-Plage
During our road trip, we alternated between driving-and-visiting days and resting days. Vendres was one of those places where we just stayed put for two nights. Just like Frontignan Plage, it's mostly visited for its beach from which you can walk to Valras-Plage.
We stayed at a campsite that was right on the border of Vendres and Valras Plage and so on our resting day, we made that beach walk to the center of Valras. There are a bit more cafes and shops here than in Vendres but we just walked up and down the pier and went for mussels and fries. Yum!
If you want to rent a little boat or go jet skiing, this is also one of the many places along the coast of the South of France where you can do so.
Gruissan was a nice surprise. We'd stopped there as I'd seen some nice photos of it but it just turned out even better than expected. Go for a stroll through the streets of the old town, climb up the castle ruin (for free) to get 360° views of the surroundings, and try to spot the pink salt pans in the distance.
Afterward, you can check out the pleasure harbor and grab a bite before moving on as we did, or you could spend the afternoon at Gruissan Plage.
Peyriac-de-Mer originally wasn't in my planning. We were done in Gruissan and wanted to make another stop before finding a campground. A quick check on Google Maps showed a wooden path flowing over a lake in Peyriac-de-Mer, so we went to check it out.
Here as well, it was hard to find a parking spot for our RV. We were forced to park at an overnight parking lot which cost €5 at the time, while cars could park for free at several locations around the lake.
Luckily, the parking lot was close to the lake and after just a minute or two we found ourselves on that same wooden path I'd spotted on Google less than an hour before.
There are several trails here and while there are no signs indicating where to go, it's not hard to find your way as you can just walk around the lake towards the sea and then back.
The lake consists of two parts and you can cut through the middle again to make the walk shorter.
When you walk back toward the town, keep an eye out for the flamingos and turn onto the town square before driving back to grab a drink and a bite at one of the cafes there.
8. Leucate Plage
We'd already been to Leucate Plage several years ago. It's a windsurf haven because of the strong wind that often blows here. On our last trip there, we stayed for a week and went for a walk in the town center, up to the lighthouse, and the harbor. This time, we were just spending the night.
We didn't get good wind for windsurfing until we started our journey back home. We got lucky: on our way back home, we stopped at a roadside parking lot for lunch and it overlooked the lake of Leucate. We could see a lot of windsurfers and so we decided to delay our drive back by a day to make the most out of the good wind.
9. Le Barcarés
I need to mention Le Barcarés even though we visited it on another trip to the South of France, as it's located right next to Leucate Plage. In Leucate, everything is about surfing while Le Barcarés is much more a family vacation destination. There's a large sandy beach and a promenade on which you'll find evening markets during the summer.
Good to know:
It's lively here in the summer months but as soon as September hits, a lot of businesses close, and it becomes weirdly empty.
While a rather large city, we did visit Carcasonne a few years ago on that same trip we went to Barcarès as we just went to see the old part and I have to say it was rather disappointing.
It looks incredible from afar but once you're inside the walls it's very touristy. Touristy isn't always a bad thing but in this case, we found that all the cafes and souvenir shops really cluttered the alleyways and took away from the town’s historical atmosphere.
It's fun to stop and have a look when you're in the area but I wouldn't make a detour for it.
11. Orgues d'Îlle-sur-Têt
The same can be said of the Orgues d'Îlle-sur-Têt. You need about as much time to walk the path from the (free) parking lot to the entrance of this nature site as you do to visit it and while I appreciate the conservation efforts, when we visited we felt €5/person to enter was too high of a cost for such a small area.
So what are the Orgues d'Îlle-sur-Têt exactly? They're sandy rock columns along an 800-meter trail. They're beautiful and make for a great photoshoot background if that's what you're looking for.
While we both agreed the visit was a bit too short to make a big detour for, I do want to mention that you get a brochure with a lot of information when you buy your ticket and that the site is well-maintained. There are free toilets at the entrance and there are two parking lots – one for cars and one for motorhomes.
Villefranche-de-Conflent lies at the edge of the French Pyrenees and has made us want to come back to this region to fully explore it. Unlike the previous South of France cities, Villefranche-de-Conflent is a tiny town with just a few streets and a fantastic view of the Fort de Liberia located higher up the mountain.
You can hike up to it in about 20 minutes and the views alone are well worth that effort.
But it was the fortress itself that amazed us. We frequently visit castles when we travel and so our standards have become pretty high. This one had it all. A well-signaled and logical route, explanations at every room you entered, a proper ground plan, an accessible defense wall, and a tunnel of 1,000 steps leading back to the town.
The entry fee was €7 at the time of writing and we both felt that was a fair price.
By the way: you can also join a free tour of the castle grounds if you prefer getting your information from a guide and there are toilets and a café at the castle, so no need to worry about those things while hiking up.
From the Pyrenees, we headed back to the coast, to colorful Collioure. This was clearly a tourist hotspot and it was easy to see why: houses in every color of the rainbow, plenty of small galleries, lots of restaurants, a harbor, a castle, a pier stretching into the sea, and a small beach.
It's just one of those places where you feel like a kid again, wondering what's around every corner.
And then there's Fort Saint Elme, a fortress overlooking Collioure and the many vineyards of the region that you can reach by following the shore until you can follow it no more. Take the steps up next to the Relais des Trois Mas Hotel, cross the street and then just follow the signs.
You'll pass an old windmill on your way up. The hike itself takes only about 20 minutes but it is quite steep and goes over rocky terrain. For your effort, you get amazing views along the way.
When we'd almost reached the top, we crossed this older couple that needed a break at the same time we did and so we chatted for a while. They told us they'd been up there countless times already and simply made the hike for the views and the sake of hiking.
That's what I want to be like when I grow old.
The castle itself didn't look or sound that interesting so we decided to skip it and head back down for ice cream at one of the terraces overlooking the water.
Banyuls-sur-Mer lies next to Collioure and it's the closest we got to the Spanish border on this road trip. While it has an area of more than 40 km², the center itself is small and tourists mostly visit the wineries in the region as well as the small beach and the pleasure harbor.
At the south of Banuyls-sur-Mer lies a nature reserve and an underwater snorkeling trail (really!). We were meant to go there but were a bit short on time. If you want to check it out, it's called the Sentier Sous-Marin de Cerbère-Banyuls.
15. La Couvertoirade
After having visited Banyuls-sur-Mer, it was time for us to head back home. I'd planned for us to drive back another way than we'd come so that we could also see a bit of the inland of the South of France and our first stop on that new route was La Couvertoirade, a medieval walled city that looked over by a windmill that you can walk up to. To me, La Couvertoirade is what Carcasonne should be, but then smaller.
You'd think this town is just a tourist attraction but people do still live here.
As a visitor, you can't drive up to the gates, though. You need to park at the large parking lot, which cost €4/day back then and is also accessible to motorhomes. If you want to walk the ramparts, that cost €3 (at the time of my visit) which is a bit pricey given that you can only access a small part of them. It does give you a nice view of all the rooftops.
16. The Millau Viaduct
A whole article could be dedicated to the Millau Viaduct, the highest bridge in Europe. In fact, there's an interpretation center giving information about the construction and more right before you cross the bridge. Unfortunately, the bridge is a toll bridge so you do have to take that into account.
Doing my research, I'd read that it's actually better to drive under it than over it to get a good view of it and since we wanted to visit the town of Peyre anyway, we just made sure we took the right exit. If you're coming from La Couvertoirade and heading to Peyre, you should be fine.
Not only will you see the bridge driving there, but you'll also pass right under it and will get great views of it from Peyre as well.
Peyre is another one of those beautiful French towns built against the cliffs of a valley. It was afternoon when we visited and there wasn't a soul in sight although it was clear from the cars and other things that people are still living there.
Make sure to walk the street to the end of the town center to reach a bench that overlooks the valley and the Millau Bridge and pay attention to the many butterflies covering the plants and cliffs here.
18. The Gorges du Tarn
The Gorges du Tarn is a destination on its own, with plenty of outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and swimming. There are several small towns and bigger places like St. Enimie to visit but unfortunately, we could only spend a day there as our RV rental was coming to an end.
We mainly drove through and made notes of places we want to check out the next time but one thing I can already certainly recommend is the drive up to Point Sublime where you'll get the view shown in the photo above.
Don't forget travel insurance
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets canceled, you get sick or hurt abroad, and sometimes even when your electronics break or get stolen. I always make sure I'm covered on every trip I go on.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
PIN FOR LATER
This post is brought to you in collaboration with Trover. The above is my reflection on our trip. I've partnered with Trover to create the widget with photos from other people who've visited the places we have.