France’s second-largest city is a great place to start your south of France road trip. Avis car rental is available at Marseilles-Provence airport, and you can begin by exploring the historic Old Port. Then you could hike up to Notre Dame de la Garde, which is a steep climb but offers some incredible views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea.Car hire Marseilles airport
Driving westwards from Marseilles, you’ll be at Montpellier within a couple of hours. This could also be an alternative starting point for your journey, with Avis car rental available at Montpellier Airport. On the way to Montpellier from Marseilles, you could pay a visit to Arles. A cultural and political hub of the Roman Empire, the city retains many ancient buildings from these times. More recently, it’s become known for its associations with Vincent Van Gogh. The legendary artist lived there for a year in the late 19th century, and was inspired to create over 300 drawings and paintings during this time.
The capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Montpellier has architecture dating back to medieval times, and a stately gothic cathedral. This would be a good time to appreciate France’s formidable cultural riches – the city’s popular Fabre Museum has over 800 works, including paintings by Rubens and Renoir.
Just half an hour from Montpellier (up the D986) is the 658-metre peak of Pic Saint-Loup. Hikers and wine-lovers alike will find that this spot is well worth the drive, with its challenging trails and impressive vineyards at its base. Treat yourself to a nice glass of syrah or grenache after you’ve conquered the six-kilometre walk to the top and back down again. There are countless other hidden gems and spectacular drives that you can check out all around the southwestern part of France – see our in-depth guide for more details.
Provence-Alpes-Cote d’ Azur is the other main area of the south of France, to the east of the Languedoc-Roussillon. A road trip to Provence is a great idea, and the surroundings are so impressive that you could spend your whole journey there, particularly if you’re heading out for less than a week. If you have enough time, it’s worth spending a night or two in the stunning city of Aix-En-Provence and checking out the dormant volcano Mont St-Michel (which was featured in a celebrated series of paintings by Paul Cezanne). This is just under two hours’ drive from Montpellier.
The Provençal countryside is dotted with gorgeous villages, rising up amongst its rolling hills. Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is one that you can’t miss. Located at the foot of steep limestone cliffs, it has all the cute narrow alleys and cobbled streets that you’d expect from one of the most beautiful settlements in all of France. You should also check out the historic Chapel Notre-Dame de Beauvoir, perched atop the cliffs, which is accessible via a 256-step pathway from the village.
Besides limestone, clay is another dominant feature of the rocky landscape around here, and you can appreciate its spectacular colour palette with a visit to the Colorado Provençal quarries, just a short drive away from Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Once mined for their precious ochre pigments, these huge natural recesses are now a protected monument, and they can be visited from February to December.
Finally, no trip to Provence would be complete without soaking up the radiant natural beauty of its lavender fields. Valensole is a hugelypopular spot for tourists driving the south of France, offering rows of glowing purple flowers as far as the eye can see. If you want to experience them in full bloom, you should stop off there between the end of June and the middle of August.
The glamour of Cannes is only another two hours away from Aix-en-Provence. On the way there, you could pay a visit to the impressive Monastery de la Verne. Sitting on a forested ridge, this restored Carthusian building dates back almost a thousand years. There are a number of great walking routes in the immediate vicinity, and the road leading up to it could itself be a memorable part of your south of France road trip, with a number of dramatic hairpin turns.
The town of Cannes is of course known primarily for the decadent, yacht-hopping parties of the annual film festival, but it’s a must-see all year round. While you’re there, we’d recommend browsing the boutiques and luxury shops, and maybe trying out some swimming or snorkelling by the gorgeous Bay of Cannes.
The bustling city of Nice is an essential destination when you’re driving the south of France, and it’s just a short drive along the Riviera from Cannes. On your way to and from the city, you could check out some of the Cote d’Azur region’s most dramatic drives, offering rocky coastal views and wide-open vistas further inland. This handy guide lists some of the most unmissable routes in the area.
Nice itself has an appealing blend of rugged natural terrain, wide avenues, and Italian-influenced architecture. When you first arrive, we’d recommend heading up to the Parc de la Colline du Château on the east side of the city, and checking out the amazing panoramic views. You can then descend towards Place Massena, the central square. Grab a coffee, and wander around the gardens, before heading to the seafront. Beaches are pebbled here, so it’s not the best for sunbathing, but the crystal-clear waters are always impressive. You could also take a boat cruise and check out the stunning coastline of Villefranche-Sur-Mer, a town just outside Nice.
If you’re going for a shorter journey, Nice could serve as a useful start or endpoint. You can pick up an Avis rental car at Nice-Cote d’Azur airport. There are dozens of wonderful villages to explore near the city, including Grimaldi and Eze. Take a look at our in-depth guide to find out more.
One of the most famous destinations on your south of France road trip is not in France at all. The city-state of Monaco can be regarded as a separate country, and it’s one of the wealthiest in the world, with millionaires making up over 30% of its population. There’s no border control between the two states though, and the main city of Monte Carlo is just half an hour’s drive away from Nice.
Monte Carlo is a very walkable city, and at some point you’ll want to head to the iconic Place du Casino. This gambling district is where the world’s wealthiest people like to flash their cash, and you’ll love the opulent architecture, even if you’re not going to join in the fun yourself. You should also check out the famous Rock of Monaco – a monolithic 62 feet-tall promontory that juts out into the sea.
After Monaco, it’s a good time to start retracing your route along France’s stunning Mediterranean coast. And if you have the time to spare, you could break it up by heading an hour inland towards Grasse. This town has been the century of the French perfume industry since the 16th century, and prestigious houses like Dior and Chanel continue to blend their fragrances here, making the most of the local flowers. Pay a visit to the Musée Fragonard if you want to learn more about the manufacturing process.
The iconic St.Tropez could be the next stop on your south of France road trip. Once a humble fishing village, it now attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every day, after having featured in countless movies since the late 1950s. Despite its popularity, it has retained all of its old-world charms. You’ll fall in love with the picturesque Old Town and the pastel-coloured houses of the seafront, and the extravagant yachts anchored along the harbour are something to behold. You can also spend a few hours lazing on one of the village’s many golden beaches, and soaking up some rays.
You can then make your way down the D98 road towards Hyeres. This beachside town is a favourite hangout of the rich and famous, and it features the remains of a medieval castle alongside other centuries-old buildings. Its food and drink offerings alone could make it a highlight of your trip. Besides the classic French bakeries, delis, and farmers’ markets of this rural gem, there are also 17 different wineries.
After you’ve made the most of Hyeres, you can return to Marseilles, and maybe spend another couple of days getting to know this huge, historic city, which has served as a gateway to North Africa and further afield. You can return your Avis rental car at Marseilles-Provence airport.
Now you have some great south of France road trip ideas, why not start planning your route? Check our tips for driving in the South of France and Avis rental car rates for the region you’re looking at and get ready for a trip to remember.