Do you enjoy gorgeous beaches, picturesque villages, and delicious food? Then the South of France should definitely be on your travel bucket list. Most people associate it with the French Riviera – the embodiment of style and sophistication. We think of Brigitte Bardot basking in the sun and A-listers strutting down the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. But there's more to le Midi than upscale shopping and celeb-filled resorts.

You shouldn't miss out on the sun-drenched countryside with its charming attractions: splendid scenery, vineyards, fields of lavender, medieval towns, and ancient Roman ruins.

Avignon

Three hours south of Paris, you'll find Avignon – the perfect example to show you that this region has much more to offer than beaches and film festivals. Avignon is a city packed with rich history and stunning architecture.

The 14th century Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes) is among the most historically relevant Gothic buildings in Europe and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural and religious significance. No fewer than nine popes resided here, and if you visit, you'll get to see their private apartments with exquisite murals.  

The Pont Saint-Bénézet, most commonly known as the Pont d'Avignon after the famous nursery rhyme (Sur le Pont d'Avignon), is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-see. Its real name comes from the shepherd boy, who was allegedly instructed by God to build a bridge. The story goes that although he was initially ridiculed, he was able to prove the divine origin of his project by miraculously lifting a massive block of stone. A Bridge Brotherhood was formed to oversee the construction and, after his death, the shepherd's body was laid to rest on the bridge itself. You will see a small chapel on the Avignon side, on one of the remaining piers of the bridge.  

Of course, no tourist should leave Avignon until they try a Papaline, which is a chocolate truffle shaped like a thistle and filled with Origan du Comtat – a famous French liquor made from oregano and sixty other plants from the Mont Ventoux. The recipe for the Papaline d'Avignon was created in 1960 and was so named to honor the popes.

Ardèche

Ardèche may not be on your radar when you think of Southern France, but once you visit, you'll be blown away by how beautiful it is. It's considered one of the most remote and scenic areas in the country, and you'll fall in love with its rugged character, winding roads and quaint villages.

One of France's most popular road cycling events, L'Ardéchoise, is held here every year, which makes it the ideal place for a wellness escape on your folding bike. You can do some sport climbing at the Cévennes National Park, which has many limestone and granite crags. Its rivers and streams have also made Ardèche a top destination for kayak and canoe enthusiasts from all corners of the world.

You'll find a mixture of natural and historical attractions. The villages and ancient landmarks are surrounded by forests, rolling hills, and breathtaking gorges.

One place you shouldn't pass up is the Caverne du Pont-d'Arc, a replica of the Chauvet Cave. After the ancient cave paintings of Lascaux were discovered in 1940, they attracted a large number of visitors. Over the decades, this led to the deterioration of the paintings, so the French government decided to create a replica – Lascaux II. The paintings of the Chauvet Cave, which were discovered in 1994, date back over 30,000 years. To avoid past mistakes and protect them from damage brought on by exposure to the general public, it was decided from the very beginning that access should be restricted.

Caverne du Pont-d'Arc contains replicas not only of the paintings but of the entire cave in all its glory. In the adjoining museum, you can learn more about the region, the cave's history and origins of civilization in Europe through full-sized recreations of prehistoric animals that appear in the paintings and explanations given by famous scientists. We recommend you stay for lunch because the food served at the café is absolutely delicious and if you'd like you can even have a picnic and enjoy the fantastic view. 

Arles

Arles is renowned for its well-preserved Roman monuments that offer tourists the chance to visit world-class archeological sites without having to struggle through the massive crowds you'd typically encounter in Italy.

The Arles Amphitheatre dates back to 90A.D. and was designed to seat more than 20,000 spectators. It was used to entertain the masses with chariot races and brutal hand-to-hand-battles. You'll be standing in the same place where gladiators used to fight 2000 years ago. The Amphitheater is still in great shape and regularly hosts plays and concerts. Both Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso were inspired by this landmark, and you can see it in their paintings.

Vincent Van Gogh moved to Arles in 1888, and the city appears in many of his paintings. There's even a theory that says he cut off his ear after he witnessed a matador at the Arles Amphitheater cut off the ear of the bull and then present it to the lady of his choice.

If you're interested in art, you can find lots of online resources that will highlight the locations depicted in Van Gogh's paintings. There are also walking tours that will guide tourists on the Van Gogh trail, including the scene from The Starry Night. In Arles, you find a picture-perfect scene at every corner, so it's not at all surprising that the acclaimed artist made this place his home for so many years.

To complement your tour of the ancient monuments, you should also visit the Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques, one of the most important archeological museums in Southern France that houses many of the artifacts recovered from the region. The museum itself looks quite modern, and it's absolutely massive. It includes the exhibition area (with its vast collection of ancient sculptures, sarcophagi, mosaics, and vases), a restoration center, cafeteria, and 64,000 square foot garden designed in Ancient Roman style. 

 

Author's Bio: 

Cynthia Madison