TOP ROUTES TO SOUTHERN FRANCE
Visit enchanting Avignon or head to Lyon to taste some gastronomic delights. Enjoy a city break in Bordeaux, the perfect place for wine lovers. Or if it’s a holiday destination you're after, relax on the sandy beaches of beautiful Biarritz.
Once the seat of popes and the capital of the medieval world, Avignon is a truly enchanting destination on the banks of the River Rhône. Inside the fortified city walls, its rich heritage can be seen in the awesome architecture – understandably declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And Avignon is still an important cultural centre, with an internationally renowned theatre festival each summer. If you have time, it’s worth making a trip out of town to explore the surrounding lavender fields and vineyards of Provence.
With museums, architecture, nightlife and great food – Lyon is a great choice for a short break. There’s a host of excellent museums and art galleries to check out. Like the Musée des Beaux-Arts – home to one of the finest collections of art in Europe. Plus, some fine buildings; including the grandiose Basilique de Notre Dame de Fourvière. But if it’s food and nightlife you want, Lyon boasts more restaurants per square yard than anywhere else in Europe.
The historic port city of Bordeaux is the capital of the world-famous wine-growing region and home to some stunning architecture like the Cathédrale St-André. Visit for a short break and spend your days admiring the ornate neo-classical buildings of the Quartier des Chartrons. Or why not use Bordeaux as a base for exploring the surrounding vineyards? There are more in this region than in the whole of South Africa!
To visit Nimes is to sample 2,000 years of culture. Check out Les Arenas – a huge Roman coliseum dating from 100AD. Go in September and you can join 10,000 other spectators for the annual bull fighting festival. Then there’s the Maison Carre – a perfectly preserved 1st-century Roman temple. Plus any number of exquisite Roman statues at the Jardin de la Fontaine. Looking to relax? Nimes boasts a fabulous climate. And there are heaps of delicious local dishes to try out. Like Guardiane de taureau – a rich stew made with bull meat.
Visit Carcassonne and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into the pages of a fairytale, populated by gallant knights and fire-breathing dragons. The town’s ancient fort and the imposing Château Comtal are breathtaking when lit up against the night sky. While the 11th-century St Nazaire Basilica is a national monument. But for a true taste of France, book a table at the Le Languedoc where Chef Didier Fageras serves the classic dishes of the region.
Religion is big business in Lourdes. Every year some 15 million pilgrims flock to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was here that the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to an illiterate peasant girl 150 years ago. Nearby flow the ‘healing’ spring waters of La Source. But Lourdes has so much more to offer. Check out medieval Lourdes Castle. Or head up into the Pyrenees where natural wonders like the spectacular Gavarnie Waterfall abound.
There’s something for everyone in buzzing Montpellier. While away the hours at the grand pedestrianised Place de la Comédie – the beating heart of the city. Shop till you drop in the markets of the Esplanade. Soak up the atmosphere in the quiet, shady streets of the old town. Step back in time at the 14th-century Cathedral of Saint Pierre. Or head out of town to the golden beaches along the coast of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea.
A rich past and a dynamic present – Toulouse’s medieval history rubs shoulders with its modern position at the centre of the European space industry. As France's 4th-biggest city this is the vibrant heart of the South-West. The pink buildings of the so-called Ville Rose straddle the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi – Toulouse’s two beloved waterways.
Long, sandy beaches, luxurious casinos, glorious sunshine and world-class surfing. Little wonder Biarritz has long been a favourite holiday destination for the rich and famous. There’s no shortage of things to see and do here. You can immerse yourself in the city’s rich Basque heritage at the Musée Historique, try your luck at the Biarritz Casino Barrière, or just spend lazy days sunbathing and watching the beautiful people pass by.
Close to the Spanish border in southern France, Perpignan seems more Catalan than French. You’ll hear the language in the streets and see the flags atop the 13th-century Palace of the Kings of Majorca. Blessed with 320 days of sunshine a year, it’s the perfect place to enjoy tapas and wine al fresco followed by a stroll around the palm-filled, cobbled city squares. Or head to the beach – the nearest is just a 10-minute bus ride away. Perpignan is also a great base to explore the eastern end of the Pyrenees and the Cathar castles of the Corbières.
Prices based on lowest available Standard Class return fare per person.
© Tony Craddock-Bridge, Lionel Lourdel, Luigi Vaccarella-Sime, Tibor Bognar, Pearson Douglas-Sime, David Bank-John Warburton Lee, Arthur Leroy-Iconotec, Fantuz Olimpio-Sime, Richard Taylo-Sime.