Sleeping Giants: Hiking the Auvergne Volcano Trail

The Massif de Sancy is one of the most incredible hiking trails in Auvergne, France.

Travel to the Auvergne region of France for stunning vistas, medieval villages, traditional gastronomy, and some of the country’s finest hiking trails. The Auvergne volcanoes have stood dormant in the heart of France for thousands of years, sleeping giants covered in luscious green vegetation. The rugged drama of this wild region makes for a walker’s paradise. Read on to find out about some of the best hikes in Auvergne.

Stepping Back in Time: The Puy de Dome

Hiking in Auvergne. Hiking the Auvergne volcanoes.

Almost 2000 years ago, a Roman temple dedicated to the god Mercury was constructed atop a volcanic mountain in the centre of the present-day Auvergne region of France. Roman travellers from far and wide flocked to this important site of pilgrimage, ascended the cone-shaped mountain, and pleaded with Mercury, the god of travel, for a safe journey. As they looked out from the temple, they gazed upon a region littered with green volcanic peaks and craters, an otherworldly landscape brimming with memories of a lost, prehistoric age.

This mountain, known today as the Puy de Dome, still attracts a steady stream of pilgrims, using the very same road that serviced Roman travellers all those centuries ago. I ascended the Auvergne’s most iconic peak via the ancient Chemin des Muletiers (path of the muleteers), accompanied by a wide range of fellow visitors: meandering families enjoying a leisurely day out in the sunshine, seasoned hikers attacking the slopes with vigour, and thrill-seeking mountain bikers taking on the vertiginous, narrow paths. Less energetic pilgrims opted to take the train: freshly installed in 2012, this state-of-the-art cog railway allows visitors of all ages to summit the 1465 metre-high peak. Regardless, whichever method of travel gets you there, the reward at the top of the Puy de Dome is the same: a spectacular panoramic view of the Auvergne volcanoes.

Stretching in an unbroken line 30km long, La Chaîne des Puys consists of approximately 80 small, perfectly formed volcanoes, covered in rich forests and home to an abundance of flora and fauna. The Puy de Dome sits at the centre of this dazzling natural display and has been adopted as the iconic symbol of the Auvergne region. The short, steep hike to the summit offers rich rewards and is a must on all Auvergne travel itineraries.

Find more information about the Puy de Dome hike here.

The Spa Town of Mont Dore

Mont Dome in Auvergne. Hiking Auvergnes volcanoes.

I had come to the Auvergne seeking fresh air and long walks, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. This lesser known-region in the centre of France is home to a vast national park, with mountains that allow for winter skiing and summer walking. Perhaps the most convenient base for Auvergne hiking is the resort of Mont Dore, a charming, vibrant spa town nestled in the shadow of the region’s highest peak: the Puy de Sancy, towering above the other Auvergne volcanoes at a height of 1886 metres. From Mont Dore multiple trails lead walkers through the Massif de Sancy, and it’s possible to spend several days here, heading out for hikes in a different direction each day.

Find more information about walking in Mont Dore here.

The Massif de Sancy

The Massif de Sancy is one of the best hiking trails in Auvergne, France.

In spring the valleys of the Auvergne volcanoes are covered in wildflowers, fortified by nutrient-rich volcanic soils. In search of these rich floral delights, I decided to explore the valleys and ridges around the town, where I had been told I would find the mountains in bloom. Heading out of Mont Dore on the path to the Grand Cascade, the trail rises sharply through a thick forest and the first part of the hike is hard on the legs. However, just when energy levels may be flagging, the path opens out on to rolling moorland covered in flowers and colourful moss and heathers. The sudden change in vegetation, the cool mountain air, and the expansive moorland makes it easy to feel transported to the Scottish highlands, although the shepherd herding his goats and Salers cattle across the mountain is a swift reminder that this is indeed still France.

Continuing along the path, after a short descent and another steep ascent, we arrive at the Grand Cascade de Mont Dore. This waterfall hurtles down the mountain to the town below, and a specially constructed viewing platform allows walkers to thoroughly enjoy the spectacle. For the best views of the Massif de Sancy, however, it’s best to continue walking up the ridge, which shows off the magnificent vista of Mont Dore and the summit of the Puy de Sancy itself.

The Chaudefour Valley and the Puy de Sancy

The Massif de Sancy is one of the most incredible hiking trails in Auvergne, France.

Seeking a more challenging hike, I opt the next day for a ten-mile trek taking in both the Chaudefour Valley and the Puy de Sancy. This is a reasonably challenging one-day hike, but can be easily shortened by taking the ski lift part of the way to the Puy de Sancy or breaking it up into two separate walks. Beginning at the Natural Reserve House near Chambon-Sur-Lac the trail passes by a number of waterfalls and picturesque valleys, before tackling more of the region’s characteristic volcanic hills: the Puy de Champgourdeix and the Puy de Perdrix. The path then follows the dramatic Col de la Cabanne before ascending steeply to the Puy de Sancy.

The gruelling climb is more than compensated by the remarkable views from the summit. On a clear day, the Chaîne des Puys stretches out from the Puy de Sancy, snaking through the landscape like the backbone of France. In the distance, the Puy de Dome is easily identified as a result of its distinctive silhouette, and even further away, it’s possible to see Mont Blanc. The breath-taking drama of these high ridges is a just reward for a hard morning’s hiking.

Having descended from the Puy de Sancy, the path then heads along a ridge to the Pas de l’Ane (the ‘Donkey’s Pass’), and down into the Chaudefour Valley. This protected natural reserve is truly a wonder of the Auvergne region and offers peace, tranquillity and intimacy after the wide expanse of the peaks and ridges of the Massif de Sancy. The glacial valley is home to a number of significant geological and natural features, including sharply eroded rock formations, and prolific biodiversity. At the end of the valley, at Saint Anne’s spring, there are ferruginous waters that produce naturally sparkling water. Observant hikers may also spot stoats, deer, or even the occasional peregrine falcon.

Find more information about hiking the Puy de Sancy here.

Auvergne hiking doesn’t get better than this. The Chaudefour Valley, particularly after the exhilarating ascent of the Puy de Sancy, is a pure delight, filled with natural wonders. All that remains is to return to Mont Dore for a hearty meal of Auvergne delicacies, including, of course, the local wine. A hiker’s paradise, the Auvergne region of France is surely the country’s best-kept secret.

Guest Post by Helen Flatley

Helen Flatley is a medieval historian with a passion for travel, nature and hills. She has lived, studied and worked in France for the past five years, where the diverse landscapes, culinary delights, and cultural treasures have offered her ample opportunity to slake her wanderlust. She now divides her time between Paris and Oxford.

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The Auvergne region of France is one of the country's best kept secrets. It's also home to some of France's best hiking trails. Read all about hiking Auvergne's volcanoes. #France #auvergne #volcano #hiking #vacation


30 Things to Know Before Travelling to France

30 thing to know before going to France.

France is a dream destination for many. Whether you’ve been lured in by the romantic whimsy of Paris, the sun-soaked coast of the South of France, or the fairytale-like villages of Provence, you won’t regret booking a holiday in la France.

But while the dream does indeed become a reality for many, some visitors are caught out if they arrive unprepared. I’ve put together some insider tips on the culture, etiquette, eating out and getting around in France, to make sure you make the most of your time in this enchanting country.

Here are my top 30 things to know before travelling to France.

General Tips for Travelling to France

Things to know before going to France.

France is not just Paris

France doesn’t begin and end in Paris! Too many visitors visit Paris and then declare that they’ve ‘done’ France. France is such a wonderfully diverse country, with a whole host of different micro-climates and cultures. It’s important to sample more than one if you want to experience France properly. Go to Paris by all means (I encourage you to!), but know that the rest of France has a lot to offer as well.

Geographically interesting

As I touched on above, France is one of the most geographically diverse countries I’ve ever visited. From the stunning Calanques bordering the Mediterranean to the mighty ochre canyons of Roussillon and Rustrel, to the pine-fringed plains of the Landes, the volcano-studded Auvergne, and the mountainous wilderness of the Pyrenees. Each landscape is unique, and each deserves to be explored – if you have the time.

Travel off-season for a better experience

Not surprisingly, July and August are the busiest months to travel to France. The entire country, and indeed most of Europe, are on school holidays, meaning lots and lots of people on holiday. If you want to avoid the crowds, come before June or after September.

Getting cash from the ATM is cheaper

Avoid unnecessary exchange fees by withdrawing cash from any bank ATM in France. Just make sure you clear it with your bank beforehand that your card will work in France. And always travel with two cards just in case one is swallowed up (I’ve been there!).

Cash is king

Not every shop will accept your card as a means of payment. It’s important to have cash on hand at all times, or you may find yourself in deep water. Some shops selling inexpensive goods, such as the baker, will require you to spend a minimum of €10 to use your card. That’s a lot of baguettes!

Always keep your ID on you

Did you know it’s the law in France to always carry ID on you? And technically, your driver’s licence won’t suffice. ID has to be in the form of a national identity card or passport.

Cultural Tips

Things to know before travelling to France.

Courtesy is key

Always, and I mean always, say Bonjour or Bonsoir (hello/good evening) before saying anything else. Not doing so is considered very rude, and you can expect to be met with gruffness if you launch into a conversation or request without uttering this word – possibly the most important word in the French vocabulary – first.

The French aren’t rude – Unless you are

Most ‘rudeness’ stems from cultural misunderstandings. From foreigners not taking the time to understand the French etiquette (see above and below) and then getting bristly when the service they receive is less than stellar. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, I’ve heard those same rumours that rudeness is like an art form in Paris. But for the most part, they are just rumours. If you’re met with indifference, don’t take it personally. The French just don’t do enthusiasm well!

Try to learn a few basic words or phrases before you go

For the most part, you can get around in France just fine without knowing any French at all. But you’re guaranteed a better time if you make a little effort to speak the language. It can be as simple as learning Bonjour (hello), S’il vous plait (please) Pardon (pardon/sorry – particularly useful in crowded places), Merci (Thanks) and Au Revoir (goodbye). But you’ll go even further if you can attempt to ask for what you want in French. It’s normally at this point the person on the other end will take pity on your awful French and revert to English to help you out. But your efforts are always appreciated. Pick up a French phrasebook here.

To kiss or not to kiss

Ah, the dreaded bises. I’m yet to get the hang of when to shake hands and when to kiss – and I’ve been living in France for 2 years! And don’t even get me started on how many kisses are appropriate. Too often have I pulled away too quick, or gone in for a third only to find myself met with an awkward look on the other person’s receding face. The safest bet here is to become a master of body language. It may make you look a bit stiff, but following the other person’s cues is always going to be a safer bet when in France. A nervous wave just won’t do it here.

Smoking is commonplace

Unlike many parts of the world, smoking hasn’t yet become unfashionable in France. You can expect to be met with a plume of smoke every time you leave a building, sit at an outdoor cafe, or simply walk behind someone in the street. Even queues aren’t immune. The best way to deal with it if you aren’t a smoker is simply to write it off as part of the culture and try not to let it bother you. Or eat indoors.

Keep your tone low

Speak loudly in France and you’ll bring unwanted attention to yourself. Perhaps unfairly (my 5-year-old hasn’t yet learned there is a volume between whispering and yelling) this rule of etiquette also applies to children.

Dress the part, or stand out

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone in France is a style icon. But, as clichéd as it sounds, the French do seem to have an effortless style that makes them seem much chicer than the average foreigner. There are a few subtle rules to observe if you don’t want to stand out too badly. Jandals (otherwise known as flip-flops or thongs) are reserved for the beach, bare feet just aren’t acceptable anywhere, and gym wear belongs in the gym.

Food & Drink

Essential things to know before travelling to France.

Know your meal times, or you may not eat at all

One thing the French won’t budge on is the importance of set meal times. Breakfast is simple, and it’s eaten early. Lunch is lingered over from 12-2pm. And don’t even think about eating dinner before 7.30/8 pm. This means if you find yourself peckish between meals, you might come up short when looking for somewhere to eat. This can be particularly tricky when travelling with kids – if yours also turn into demented monsters past 8pm!

Adapt to espresso

The coffee struggle is real in France. Don’t get me wrong, the French know their coffee – hell, the country is basically run on the stuff. But you can forget any ‘frills’. Basically, you can have it black, or black with a bit of milk and sugar. Try for anything else and you’ll undoubtedly end up disappointed. Take it from someone who used to live on soy lattes, your best bet is to learn to love it black.

Cheese is not an entree

In New Zealand, cheese is often served alongside an aperitif, or occasionally after dessert. In France, it’s strictly served after the main and before dessert.

Ask for the bill – or it won’t come

It’s not uncommon for locals to sit at a cafe table for hours after they’ve finished their meal. French waiters won’t impatiently hustle you out the door once you’re finished – quite the opposite. Unless you ask, they won’t bring you the bill either. Practise after me “L’addition s’il vous plait“.

Kids menus aren’t a given

Children’s menus aren’t commonplace in France, although they do exist – especially in more touristy areas where businesses have adapted to foreign ways. Instead, children are expected to eat what their parents eat – and to do so without fuss.

Cheap wine doesn’t equate to bad wine

In some countries, it’s commonly accepted that you get what you pay for when it comes to wine. In France however, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how affordable wine is. Don’t think you have to splash out at the restaurant to get something drinkable, sometimes the house wine – delivered by the barrel from the vineyard up the road – can be a very pleasant surprise!

Tipping is complicated

As a kiwi, tipping culture terrifies me! Why can’t there just be clear rules? Since arriving in France, I’ve heard both sides of the argument. Some say it’s not required. Others say it’s always expected. Nowadays I tend to tip if at a restaurant (5-10% is the quoted ‘norm’) but not if I’m sitting down for a quick coffee.

Make reservations

If you really want to try out a restaurant, make sure to call ahead for a reservation. Most French people wouldn’t think of just turning up somewhere for dinner, which means that many restaurants simply won’t have room for you if you turn up expecting a table.

Visit the markets for the best food

You can’t go past the French farmer’s markets for fresh and delicious produce. So skip the supermarket and hit up the farmer’s markets instead – you’ll save yourself some money too!

Getting Around France

Oleron Island House. Oleron Island itinerary.

Ride sharing is a good option for solo travellers

France’s answer to ride-sharing, BlaBlaCar, is becoming very popular. It’s a great way to get around – often cheaper than the trains. And if you’re travelling solo it can be a fun way to meet new people too! The only downside is that in rural, less popular areas, the ‘rides’ are going to be few and far between.

Trains are convenient – at a cost

France’s train network is widespread and runs frequently (strikes aside). But it can be a costly option for travelling. If you’re travelling on the TGV – Use the SNCF site to look out for cheaper fares marked iDTGV, or search over a month to find the cheapest days and times for travelling.

Striking Culture

The French love to strike, so much so, they’ve got a dedicated website to keep track of the strike action around the country! If you’ve got travel plans within the country be sure to check out C’est la grève (literally, “it’s the strikes”) for info that may affect your journey.

Toll Charges

Motorways in France have toll charges, so its best to work out how much you’re going to have to cough up at the toll gates before you start your journey. Check the cost of your journey on ViaMichelin. The alternative is to take the National roads – they may be slower, but it can be a great way to discover more of the country if you’ve got time up your sleeve.

Not all roads are created equal

Unfortunately, most GPS don’t know the difference between a paved double lane road and a narrow country alleyway that’s barely big enough for one car! When travelling off the beaten path (like around the villages of the Luberon Valley) use common sense and street signs as well as your GPS and you’ll avoid awkward situations.

Operating Hours (or Lack Thereof)

Shopping in France.

Sundays are for family

The country basically comes to a standstill on a Sunday. It’s still very much a family day – where everyone gets together over a long lingering lunch. But times are slowly changing. In some parts of the country, you’ll find supermarkets open for a few hours in the morning. And in touristic spots, shopkeepers do have the option to open on a Sunday during the holiday season.

Don’t expect to get anything done between 12-2

Likewise, many shops close their doors between 12-2 while the staff go to lunch. This goes for banks, post offices and some supermarkets too. But remember, you’re best to go with the flow and eat at this time too, otherwise you’ll be left without food until dinner!

And finally…

Holidays aren’t the same as real life

If you’ve fallen head over heels during your holiday in France, you, like many before you, may be tempted to make the holiday permanent and move here! Although living in France can be an incredible experience (I’m not sure I’ll ever want to leave!), just know that it’s not an easy journey by any stretch of the imagination. So before you start looking in the real estate agent’s window, do yourself a favour and think about the realities of life abroad (in a country with a notoriously horrendous administration) first!

France is the most visited country in the world. And with so much to see and do, it’s no wonder people from around the globe keep flocking back year after year. If you’re not sure where to start planning your holiday, check out my travel in France archives for loads of inspiration!

Travelling in France is an incredibly enriching experience. Just make sure it’s unforgettable for the right reasons!

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France is the most visited country in the world! And with so much to offer every visiter, it's not hard to see why. But travelling to a foreign country can bring its own set of challenges, and France is no different. Here are 30 things you should know before you travel to France! #france #travel #vacation #frenchtravel #travelinfrance

If you're planning a trip to France, be sure to read this first! Everything you need to know before travelling to France. #france #travel #french #vacation #holiday

40 Dreamy Photos That Will Make You Fall in Love With Mallorca

Mallorca is one of those places that’s so incredibly beautiful, words just don’t seem to do it justice. At least, I’m struggling to describe the pure magic that emanates from this underrated Mediterranean island.

Unfairly tarnished with a reputation for being a party island, the real Mallorca – away from the resorts and nightclubs – is incredibly diverse, naturally blessed, and lovingly cared for by the locals. This is the Majorca that will draw you in, and leave you longing to return, long after you’ve departed its glistening shores.

In the following collection of photos, I’ve tried to convey just what makes this island so special. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this journey through Mallorca with me…

Mallorca in Pictures

Soller Tram in Mallorca

The petite seaside town of Port de Sóller is bustling with activity largely thanks to the iconic Tren de Sóller that connects Palma to Sóller. The last leg of the route is via these brightly coloured trams that run alongside the beach.Man swimming in Mallorca

A serene swimming spot between the beaches of Cala s’Almunia and Caló des Moro. Both small, but perfectly formed beaches that will leave a lasting impression.

Sheep at Tuent Beach, Mallorca

A curious sheep near the rugged and wild beach of Cala Tuent. Situated next door to the famous Sa Calobra beach, Tuent was eerily quiet, save for an old man sitting peacefully on a log.

Top reasons to visit Mallorca.

Looking down towards Cala s’Almunia. The view literally took my breath away as I wondered how we’d scale down the hill to the beaches below. Conveniently, there are stairs to reach this little hideaway.

Dog in a Mallorcan village.

A dog stands guard on the raised windowsill of his house in the rural village of Maria de la Salut.

Cliffs in Mallorca, Spain

Can you see the cliffhanger? I’m not sure whether he was jumping or climbing back up! On this side of the headland that shelters Caló des Moro, there are some seriously daunting cliffs.

Village Streets of Mallorca

Away from the coastal areas, you can find the true Mallorca. Where time moves slowly and villages remain untouched by tourism.

Cala Tuent in Mallorca

The road to Cala Tuent cuts through lush forest on an ochre-coloured mountainside to reveal an endless sea of teal.

Village doors in Mallorca, Spain

If doors could talk… I’m sure this weathered turquoise village door would have a few tales to tell. The tiled step caught my attention as much as the door itself.

Girl swimming at S'Amarador beach in Mallorca

The beach of S’Amarador is a tranquil oasis within the Mondrago National Park. This young girl certainly looked very content as she floated around in the clear blue water.

Horse at Cala Tuent beach in Mallorca.

Behind Cala Tuent there are animals living between the ancient olive trees. This beautiful horse came over for a scratch behind the ears and a juicy pink apple.

Road to sa calobra beach in Mallorca

The road to Sa Calobra is infamous for its hairpin turns and dramatic scenery. It’s certainly not a drive for the faint-hearted (perhaps take the bus instead if you’re a nervous driver). But it’s a very popular route for keen cyclists.

beaches in Mallorca

Possibly my favourite Majorcan beach, Caló des Moro was a welcome sight after an uncertain walk. The sign on the gate says private, but the owners do allow you to walk through the reserve to the beach so long as you treat the area with the respect it deserves.

Cacti in Mallorca

The cacti of Mallorca. The beautiful, intricate patterns found on these plants are spellbinding.

Road to Sa Calobra beach in Mallorca

With a landscape of steep rocky ridges, the road to Sa Calobra sometimes has no choice but to go through the mountain instead of around it.

Dog on beach in Mallorca

The look of pure joy on the face of a German Shepherd puppy as he chases seagulls on the beach at Cala Torta.

Tuent beach in Mallorca.

Cala Tuent is the ideal place to sink your anchor and enjoy a swim surrounded by dramatic scenery.

Windows of Majorca, Spain

The earthy tones of Mallorca. Staying in a rural villa on this Balearic Island made the experience even more special.

Boat in Mallorca, Spain

If I had a boat, this is where I’d want to be. Sailing around Mallorca and finding hidden beaches in bucolic corners of the island.

Goat on a beach in Mallorca

This opportunistic goat knows that the best time to enjoy the beach is at sunrise.

Solving the world’s problems… In the village of Maria de la Salut, men sit around a table and chat over coffee.

Sunrise on the beach in Mallorca

Sunrise at Cala Barques on our first morning in Mallorca. A magical way to start the holiday.

Sa Calobra beach in Mallorca

The walk to Sa Calobra takes you through tunnels dripping with moisture from the mountains above you. On the other side, you’re greeted with some of the most spectacular scenery on the island.

Seagull on a beach in Mallorca

A seagull swoops down to scoop up his catch from the sand at Cala Torta in northern Mallorca.

Cala Vincenc in Mallorca, Spain

There’s nothing quite so satisfying as having the entire beach to yourself. The beach umbrellas on Cala Barques would soon be sheltering sunbathers, but at 7 am the beach was deserted.

Sunrise in Mallorca, Spain

As the sunsets over Maria de la Salut, the sky puts on a colourful show.

Clear blue water at beach in Mallorca, Spain.

The water looks so clear and inviting as it softly splashes against the barren rock beds.

Children on beach at Sa Calobra in Mallorca

The perfect picnic spot after a swim at Sa Calobra beach in western Mallorca.

Beautiful pictures of Mallorca

The boathouse of dreams in Mondrago National Park.

Beach in Mallorca, Spain

Mondrago National Park is an absolute pleasure to explore by foot. The paths are well maintained, well signposted, and lead to some of the best beaches in Mallorca.

Beach bar in Mallorca, Spain

If you get peckish or parched at Cala Varques, these guys have you covered.

Church in Soller, Majorca

In the shadow of the Sant Bartomeu church in Sóller, you’ll find a marble square where local kids play football and tourists sit at curbside cafes.

Mountain goats in Mallorca, Spain

A mountain goat shows no sign of fear as he climbs effortlessly up a steep wall of rock.

Chari by the beach in Mallorca, Spain

Who else would like to pull up a chair and bask in the Spanish sun beside a sparkling blue sea?

Kid friendly walks in Mallorca, Spain

What will we find around the next corner? The walking paths on Mallorca were delightfully easy to follow and easy for kids to navigate.

Beaches of Mallorca, Spain

The jewel-like colour of this sea still amazes me. Would you like to take a dip here?

Streets of Soller, Majorca, Spain

Picking out treats at the local pastelería in Sóller.

Cala Vincenc beach in Mallorca

Bathed in the warm glow of sunrise, Cala Barques appears to come straight out of a fairytale.

Street art in Palma, Mallorca

The street art in Palma depicts a baby playing with the iconic Sóller train.

Cala Varques

No road required. The best way to Cala Varques is by boat.

After visiting neighbouring islands Corsica and Sardinia, I was unprepared for how hard I’d fall for Mallorca. The island instantly climbed to the top as my favourite and I can’t wait to get to know it better. Until next time, Mallorca…

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40 Reasons to fall in love with Mallorca, Spain. From the picture-perfect beaches to the dramatic scenery, this collection of stunning photos will have you booking a holiday in Mallorca asap! #Majorca #Mallorca #Spain #Mediterranean #spanishisland #europe #Mediterraneanisland #summervacation

Mallorca is a dream destination. Explore the island through this collection of pictures that are sure to have you daydreaming of visiting Majorca. #Mallorca #majorca #spain #islandholidays #mediterranean #mediterraneanisland

The Ultimate Luberon Valley Guide – The Heart of Provence, France

Weekend Guide to the Luberon Valley in Provence, France

The Luberon valley is, in my experience, the most authentic and intriguing area of Provence. It’s a place where time has seemingly stood still for centuries and you can still sample the alluring Provençal charm that has captivated countless visitors throughout the years.

It’s an area of France that deserves to be savoured. But if you’re short on time, it’s absolutely possible to see many of the highlights in a weekend too. Here’s my guide on the best things to do in the Luberon Regional Natural Park in Provence.

What is the Luberon Regional Natural Park?

You may well be more familiar with this area of France than you think you are… The Luberon spans over 600 square kilometres and is home to several stunning villages – 5 of which have been officially classed as ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’ (The Most Beautiful Villages of France). Perhaps you’ve heard of Gordes, Roussillon and Ménerbes? Or indeed, if you’re a fan of author Peter Mayle’s books, or you’ve seen the movie A Good Year – then you’ve heard of the Luberon.

The Luberon valley is a massif made up of three mountain ranges. The Petit Luberon, the Grand Luberon and the Luberon Oriental. It’s a place bursting with history, and rich in agriculture.

Where is the Luberon Region?

The Luberon is located in central Provence. It borders the Durance River in the South and reaches out towards L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue in the West, and Manosque in the East.

Map of the Luberon, France

Luberon Map. Map of the Luberon, France

How to get to the Luberon

The Luberon is conveniently located near many of Provence’s main airports and train stations. Avignon train station is the closest port of call, followed by Aix-en-Provence station, the Nîmes/Arles airport and Marseille airport.

Where you start your tour of the Luberon will depend on which direction you are travelling from. From either Avignon or Aix, the entrance to the Luberon valley is a little over half an hour’s drive away.

Getting Around the Luberon

If you want to stay in the Luberon region and explore your surroundings, you’re going to be far better off if you hire a car. Alternatively, you could stay in either Avignon or Aix-en-Provence and enjoy the region through a series of pre-arranged day tours.

Driving in the Luberon is fairly straightforward. Directions are well signposted, and the roads are well paved. Just be aware that the village streets in this corner of France can be very narrow, so it’s advisable to hire a smaller vehicle to avoid mishaps!

Check rental car prices here.

Driving in Provence, France

Where to stay in the Luberon

The Luberon is large, so if you want to see as much as you can while minimizing long days in the car, staying central is the way to go. Goult is a lovely village that is slightly less busy than some of the more well-known villages, while still being very authentic and charming. Gordes is known as ‘the’ place to stay if you’re seeking luxury, and Ménerbes is home to some exquisite Luberon gites and villas. See my favourites below or read my guide on the best places to stay in Provence for a more in-depth guide to the region.

Luberon Accommodation

Things to do in the Luberon

The Luberon is best explored without a set plan of attack. There’s nothing more satisfying than coming across the perfect picnic spot, a bucolic village tucked away down a lane, or calling into a vineyard to sample the local wines spontaneously. So map out your main points of interest by all means, but allow time to get wonderfully sidetracked on the way!

Villages of the Luberon

The Luberon valley is home to some of the most beautiful villages in Provence, if not the country. You could easily spend a few days simply driving from village to village and noting both the similarities and stark differences between each one. Don’t miss Roussillon for it’s wonderfully bright pastel coloured houses, Gordes for the most breathtaking views (stop before you get to the village for the best vantage point), Lacoste to see the hilltop sculptures around Cardin’s castle, Ménerbes for its rich history and preserved heritage, Lourmarin for its laid-back vibe and well-preserved château, and L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue for its antiques and moss-covered waterwheels.

Walks in the Luberon

Pack your walking shoes when you travel to the Luberon as the diverse landscapes can be best appreciated on foot. The short but breathtaking walk through a former ochre mine in Roussillon is a must-do. The aptly named Ochre Trail will dash your preconceived ideas of what Provence should look like as you marvel at the rust red coloured earth and the towering natural pillars and canyons.

The Forêt des Cèdres is another fantastic location for a walk with a view. There are a number of trails to choose from – ranging from a quick and easy stroll to a multi-hour ramble through the forest.

If you want to discover more walks throughout the Luberon, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of a detailed Luberon Walking Map to help navigate you through the undulating landscape.

Walking the Ochre Trail, Roussillon, Provence, France

Luberon Cycling

The Luberon valley is an ideal location for cycling enthusiasts. The scenery is unmatched, the routes are interesting, and there are plenty of amazing places to catch your breath along the way. There are several marked cycling routes within the Luberon, you can make it up as you go, or you can follow any of the routes in this handy brochure.

Love the idea of cycling in the Luberon, but not sure if you have the fitness required? Rent an electric bike to make the journey more enjoyable!

Tasting Luberon Wine

Rosé is the wine of choice in Provence, but the Luberon also produces some fine reds and white wines. You’ll invariably come across many a wine-producing château as you tour the Luberon. Pop in to sample the vintages on offer. For a less random approach, you can book a wine tour and learn what makes the Luberon wine region so special.

Luberon Wine Tours

Luberon Markets

There are markets on every day of the week in the Luberon valley. On Monday you’ll find them in Cadenet, Cavaillon and Lauris. Tuesday is a busy day with markets in Lacoste, Cucuron, Gordes, La Tour d’Aigues, Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt and an evening market in Lourmarin. Wednesday is also popular with market days in Merindol, Sault, Gargas, Pertuis and Saint-Martin-de-Castillon. On Thursdays, you can fill up your basket at the farmer’s markets in Goult, Robion, Cereste, Caumont, Menerbes and Roussillon. Friday is a little quieter with just two markets in Lourmarin and Bonnieux.

In the weekend, you’ll find markets in Apt, Cheval Blanc, Pertuis, Oppède and Manosque on a Saturday. And on Sunday you can combine the weekly farmers market with the antique market in L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

Markets in the Luberon

The Luberon Region’s Hidden Gems

Away from the usual tourist trail lays a number of amazing treasures that many visitors simply don’t have the time, or the guidance to discover. After living on the doorstep of the Luberon for over a year now, I’ve discovered a few gems on my travels. Here are a few of my favourites spots:

Provençal Food

The French are undoubtedly proud of their food culture, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Luberon. Head straight to any boulangerie (bakery) to sample freshly baked delights including the regional specialities of fougasse and calissons. Browse one of the daily farmer’s markets to fill your basket with fresh and delicious local produce. Dine at a cosy bistro or try the fine food on offer at one of the many one and two-starred Michelin restaurants throughout the Luberon.

Luberon Lavender Fields

Provence is famed for its lavender fields and the Luberon is home to some of the most stunning examples. The Sénanque Abbey near Gordes is a must-see when the purple flower is in bloom. And you’ll find flowering fields popping up all over the Luberon landscape.

Even if you’re visiting outside of the prime lavender season (end June – beginning August), you can visit the Musee de la Lavande to get your fix! The museum has a small but interesting display of lavender stills and you’ll learn the importance lavender has had in this region throughout the years.

Luberon Lavender Fields.

Where to go from the Luberon

If you have time to continue your travels in Provence after visiting the Luberon, there are many towns, cities and attractions nearby that deserve your attention.

Aix-en-Provence is the historical centre of Provence and is affectionately known as the city of fountains. You could easily spend a day simply wandering the charming old town and counting how many fountains you can spot on the way. From the grandiose stature of the rotonde, to the downright weird looking ‘living’ fountains.

In Avignon, visiting the Pope’s palace is a must-do, and a trip to the covered market – Halles d’Avignon – should be at the top of any foodie’s bucket list when visiting Provence.

Other notable towns in the area include Arles, Nîmes and Marseille, which are all distinctively different and worth getting to know if you’ve got more time up your sleeve. To help you plan your onward journey, have a read of my southern France itinerary planner.

The Luberon valley in France is one of the most beautiful places you’ll visit in your lifetime. It excites the senses with its sights, smells and tastes. It invigorates the soul. And it will leave you with a wonderful collection of memories from your time spent in the region. When are you coming?

To find more information about the Luberon, visit the official website, here.

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The Luberon Valley in Provence, France is one of the most beautiful areas in the country. This guide to the Luberon covers everything you need to know about travelling to the Luberon Regional Natural Park. #provence #france #lavenderfields #provencewine #provencetravel #frenchtravel

Provence's Luberon Valley is one of the most magical places in France. Discover what makes it so special, and how to use your time in the Luberon, here. #luberon #france #provence #francetravel #provencefrance #luberonvalley

20 of the Most Beautiful Castles in France

The 20 best castles in France.

Think of France and it’s likely that sooner or later, in among thoughts of the Eiffel Tower, endless vineyards, and deliciously crunchy baguettes; a vision of a grand château will emerge. Perhaps a castle you’ve seen in a film, or in the pages of a travel brochure. The type of castle that inspires the imagination and evokes thoughts of how life might have been when knights and princesses weren’t confined to the pages of a storybook.

From steep hilltop châteaux to sprawling walled palaces, France’s castles are among the best in the world. I love visiting France’s castles on our travels around the country, but I’ve not yet visited enough castles to make a call about which are the most beautiful. So I asked other Francophile travel writers to share their thoughts! Below are our choices of the best castles in France to visit on your next holiday.

Map of the Best Castles in France

The map below shows the location of the best châteaux in France.

Castles near Paris France

The following castles are located near Paris and make great day trip destinations from the country’s capital city.

Château de Chantilly

Château de Chantilly is one of the most beautiful castles in France

Château de Chantilly makes an easy getaway from Paris, and yet relatively few make the trip. Those who do are rewarded with a magnificent scene as they enter the castle grounds. The gardens are a work of art comprising of lakes, canals, wooded areas and manicured lawns. Indeed, the gardens are worth the trip in their own right and should be appreciated at leisure. Take your time to discover the different areas, each with its own distinct theme. From the Anglo-Chinese garden with its rustic hamlet of houses to the romantic English garden, there’s plenty to keep you amused for hours.

Once you do approach the château, take care not to mistake it for the stables nearby. The Great Stables are a veritable palace for horses, and today house an entire museum dedicated to equestrian art and activities. The castle itself houses one of the finest art galleries in France. The castle’s former owner, the Duke of Aumale, was a keen collector and gifted the works to the Institut de France on the condition they were never removed from the property. There is a lot to see and do at the Château de Chantilly, so plan ahead to spend the entire day getting acquainted with what is unmistakably one of the finest castles in France.

Château de Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau is one of the most beautiful castles in France

By Elisa at World in Paris

Le Château de Fontainebleau is a beautiful castle located 55km south-east of the capital and it’s one of the best day trips from Paris. The first castle, surrounded by a huge and scenic forest, was built in the XII century as a hunting place for the king of France (Louis VII*). Since then, the king’s successors spent a lot of energy and money enlarging and embellishing this castle and today Fontainebleau is one of the largest (and most beautiful) royal castles in France.

The current Château de Fontainebleau has a mix of styles, being Renaissance and Classicism the most dominant ones. The castle is a succession of elegant rooms and grand halls with amazing decoration and sometimes a rustic touch (after all it was a hunting place..). The most impressive spaces are the Gallery of Francis, the Ballroom and the Chapel of the Trinity, all richly decorated. This castle is also famous for its impressive gardens, representing the major landscaping styles of their periods, and the Grand Parterre, the largest in Europe and King Louis XIV’s main intervention in Fontainebleau. If you still hesitate to visit this fantastic castle here is one more reason: Fontainebleau entrance is free the first Sunday of the month (except the months of July and August) and there are no waiting lines!

* It’s not 100% sure that King Louis VII built the first elements of Fontainebleau (perhaps it was his father or even his grandfather).

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles is one of the most beautiful castles in France.

By Brittney of My Cultural Curiosity

Perhaps the most famous palace in France, and one of the most visited in the world, is the Palace of Versailles. Situated 10 miles outside of Paris lies this extravagant château. Once the former seat of power for France, it’s now a museum showcasing French history.

Constructed in 1631 by King Louis XIII, the château was designed in the French Baroque style and comprises of 2,300 rooms, a luxurious park, decorative gardens and a Grand Canal. Be sure not to miss the most notable part of the palace – The Hall of Mirrors connects the King and Queen’s apartments and is decorated with more than 350 mirrors. It’s quite impressive!

The Palace sees more than 8 million visitors each year. It is a very popular tourist destination, and even during the offseason, the crowds are intense. In order to fully enjoy your experience at Versailles, you should purchase tickets online in advance, arrive as early as possible, and have already eaten. Pack water, snacks and sunscreen if you are visiting in the summer.

Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant

Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant in Disneyland Paris

By Nicole of Lost in This Whole World

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant or Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is located at the end of Main Street in Disneyland Paris. With soaring spires and gorgeous turrets, the iconic 167ft fairy-tale castle is definitely worth a visit when you need a bit of magic in your life. The castle itself is pink and blue, bringing to mind “Make it pink. Make it blue,” (from Sleeping Beauty, where two fairies fight over what colour Aurora’s dress should be).

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant is the only Disney castle with its own huge animatronic dragon in the dungeon below, which regularly wakes up and blows smoke. If you are looking at the castle from Main Street, you’ll find the entrance to La Tanière du Dragon by following the path on the left.

There are a couple of shops on the ground floor as you walk up the bridge and through the castle itself as well as a set of stone steps leading to La Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant. This is a walkthrough showing the story of Sleeping Beauty herself through colourfull stained glass windows and a tapestry flanked by two knights – if you take a photo with flash, one shows up pink and one blue. Whilst up there you can also walk out onto the balcony and look out over Disneyland Paris, perfect for those magical times you want to be a Princess surveying your kingdom. If you happen to be in Disneyland Paris in the evening, they also project the Illuminations Show onto the front of the castle with Disney movie scenes, fireworks, lasers and fountains.

Castles in Normandy, France

The Normandy region of Northern France is home to many castles, but there’s one iconic site that most visitors to France have on their bucket list…

Mont Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel - one of the best castles in France

By Meagan and Luke of Two Restless Homebodies

If you’re looking for a spectacular day trip from Paris, book a combined TGV/bus ticket to Mont Saint Michel. On a lovely day, skip the tram they offer to the front gates and walk instead over the grassy dunes until the spires come into view. Your camera will thank you!

Spoiler: while this coastal Normandy beauty may look like the most castle-ish castle you’ve ever seen, Mont Saint Michel isn’t actually a castle. This, despite the fact that its striking appearance inspired Rapunzel’s castle in Tangled! In reality, Mont Saint Michel is a walled city built up around an 8th-century abbey, which was built on even older structures. And built UP is right – if you climb to the top of the city (beware the narrow, steep streets!) and take the paid tour, you’ll find, among other things, that you can journey deep into the interior of the city and still see remnants of the original abbey. Everything else above and around the original structure has been added on over the centuries.

But perhaps the most unique thing about Mont Saint Michel is that, when the tide comes in, the city becomes an island that’s only accessible by boat! There are so many things to love about this beautiful place – quiet gardens, stunning views, artist studios, and history galore – that it’s a must-visit on your next trip to France.

Castles in the Loire Valley France

The Loire Valley is rich in many things, not least the beautiful castles that can be found there.

Château d’Amboise

Château d'Amboise is one of the most beautiful castles in France

By Ashley of My Wanderlusty Life

Château d’Amboise is located in France’s Loire Valley in the charming half-timbered town of Amboise, and has been since Roman times. Unlike most Loire Valley châteaux, Amboise Castle is located in the centre of town rather than the secluded countryside. The castle you can visit today was built upon the foundations of an old fortress—a fact that explains its strategic hilltop location overlooking the Loire River.

Château d’Amboise offers guided tours of much of the castle including its elaborately decorated and furnished rooms, its beautifully manicured gardens, and its passageways and towers. From atop the castle – displaying Gothic, Renaissance, and 19th-century styles – you’ll find fabulous views of the surrounding town and its wild river. While inside you’ll find suits of armour, tapestries, colourful stained glass, and everything else you could want in a castle.

Later renovations of the château were partially designed by none other than Leonardo da Vinci, on behalf of King Charles VIII. On the property of Château d’Amboise is the Chapel of Saint Hubert where you can find the grave of the Renaissance master himself who lived and worked in the town of Amboise in his last three years.

Château de Chenonceau

Chenonceau is one of the most beautiful castles in France By Katy of Untold Morsels

In the heart of the Loire Valley is Chenonceau – one of the prettiest castles in France, if not Europe. Built over the river Cher, the Renaissance château was built in the 16th century on the site of an old mill and was once a royal residence.

Today you can visit the castle that seems straight out of fairy tale with its pointed towers and turrets, moat and elegant courtyards. Inside there are many beautifully restored rooms to admire as well as stunning views of the Cher River from the first-floor balcony and a magnificent collection of art. There are masterpieces by Rubens and Tintoretto on display beside finely crafted Renaissance era furniture and tapestries.

The château has a fascinating history. Queen Catherine de Medici, wife to King Henry II, seized Chenonceau from his mistress Diane de Poitiers after the king died in 1559. The styles of the two former owners are reflected in two of the magnificent formal gardens on the estate.

Chenonceau is one of the most popular sites to visit in France and a must do when you are in the Loire Valley.

Château de Chambord

Château de Chambord id one of the best castles in France

By Elaine & David of Show Them The Globe

One of the most recognisable châteaux in the world, Château de Chambord in Loir-et-Cher is the largest château in the Loire Valley and one of our favourite buildings in France. As you arrive at the estate the striking white limestone and intricate roof of the Renaissance style château reflects across the water which surrounds the rear of the palace. Originally built as a hunting lodge for King Francis 1, this stunning castle is now inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Loire Valley and is open to the public to visit.

We loved strolling around the grounds and taking in the views of the beautiful château from the landscaped gardens. A self-guided or guide-led a tour of the inside of the château takes around an hour and we highly recommend you do it as the castle is even more beautiful on the inside! Make sure to save some time to explore the visitor village close to the car park where you can sample some of the local wines and enjoy a snack as you take in the view of this stunning site.

Châteaux in France near the Eastern Border

The castles near the eastern border take on influences of their German and Swiss neighbours, making them unique to the other French castles.

Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg

Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg is one of the best castles in France

By Carolyn of Holidays to Europe

Perched on a rocky promontory 750-metres above the Alsace plain, Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg is an impressive site. The original château dates back to the 12th century but has had many reincarnations since then. The fairytale-like version we see today is thanks to a restoration project by German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm in the early 20th century.

At the time, France’s Alsace region was a part of Germany and the emperor, realising the importance of the castle, wanted to have it restored to create a museum of the Middle Ages. The castle was again restored in 1993 and today attracts over 500,000 visitors each year.

Inside the castle, many rooms have been furnished and there is a large collection of weapons and armour, mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries. The castle also features turrets, fortifications and a watchtower which provides spectacular views as far as the Vosges mountains and the Black Forest.

If you’re visiting the Alsace region of France, Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg is well worth a visit. Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg is located at Orschwiller, 26 kilometres from Colmar and 55 kilometres from Strasbourg.

Château d’Annecy

Annecy Castle is one of the best castles in France

By Rashmi & Chalukya of GO Beyond Bounds

Annecy is a small town in southern France that attracts visitors for its beautiful medieval old town adorned with flower-bedecked canals. The old town has numerous medieval buildings and churches. And one of the prominent landmarks of the old town is the Annecy Castle or the Château d’Annecy.

The castle complex was expanded over time, with the oldest part dating back to 13th century and the most recent to the 16th century. The castle has served as the residence of the Counts of Geneva and the Dukes of Genevois-Nemours. The castle was bought by the city of Annecy in 1953 who converted it into a museum.

Today the castle houses a collection of regional sculptures and paintings. There are also several temporary exhibitions. The terrace of the castle offers incredible views of the town rooftops, the shimmering blue lake of Annecy and the mountains in the backdrop.

The castle sits on a hill and is connected to the old town centre through several cobblestone alleys. Wandering down the alleys is a great way to explore more of the town with remarkable views on your way.

Castles in Poitou-Charentes

Poitou-Charentes may not be the first region of France that comes to mind when you think of castles. But this western region of France is home to many beautiful châteaux including the two detailed below.

Château de Verteuil

Château de Verteuil is one of the best castles in France

By Hannah of Hannah Henderson Travel

Nestled in the rolling sunflower fields of the Charente, the Château de Verteuil sits overlooking the Charente river in the small village of Verteuil. This château has been privately owned by the La Rochefoucauld family since it was first built in 1080.

The castle has been partially destroyed many times over the centuries during many different wars, and always rebuilt, with new styles being added with each new iteration. Due to the archaeology known to be within the grounds, including some of the remaining features of the original castle, and the 12thcentury castle walls, Château de Verteuil was listed as a historic monument in 2010.

Given that it is a private estate, you can only visit the château for a guided tour on weekend days between April and September. With its five conical towers, huge library, and watchtower (restored mostly in the Bourbon style around 1815), Château de Verteuil is a snapshot of family life of the French elite and a fascinating castle to visit.

Head over to Le Moulin de Verteuil (the old flour mill, now a restaurant) for lunch, to get one of the best views of Château de Verteuil from their terrace.

Château de la Roche Courbon

Château de la Roche Courbon is one of the most beautiful castles in France

Located near our previous home of Saintes, Château de la Roche Courbon makes for a fascinating day out. Not only do you have the château that has been painstakingly restored from its previously ruined state, but the grounds hold secrets of their own. A short walk from the castle you’ll find stone age cave dwellings that hint at the importance of this site throughout history. And the gardens surrounding the castle are an exquisite work of art in themselves.

The château holds many family-friendly events throughout the year, including the fête médiévale – which, you guessed it, is a festival including games and demonstrations from the medieval period. The castle can be visited with a guided tour year-round, at set times. It is still inhabited by the family of Paul Chénereau – the man who saved the château from its inevitable demise. The gardens, grottes and prehistory museum are free to visit.

Castles in Central France

It’s in the centre of France that you’ll find some of the country’s best-kept secrets, including the following three castles.

Château des Milandes

Château des Milandes is one of the most beautiful castles in France

By Kylie of Our Overseas Adventures

Château des Milandes is a beautiful gothic style castle located in the Dordogne area of South West France. Constructed from the signature honeycomb stone of the area, it’s an imposing site. The castle dates back to the 1400’s but is most known for its owner in the 1940’s – the celebrated dancer and singer Josephine Baker. Josephine lived in the château with her 12 adopted children from around the world and you can see glimpses into their life during a visit to the castle. The château is a wonderful celebration of her life including her role in the resistance movement during World War II.

The castle itself is set in beautiful grounds and the gardens are listed as a historic monument. It was redesigned into its current grand format in the early 1900’s by Jules Vacherot, who was the head gardener for the City of Paris. In the grounds, you’ll find many beautiful birds of prey that take part in a daily demonstration during the summer months which is quite breathtaking.

Château de Val

Chateau de Val is among the best castles in France

Located in the Haute-Auvergne region of central France, Château de Val seemingly rises up out of the man-made lake that surrounds it. Although petite in stature compared to many on this list, it deserves its spot not least because of its unique surroundings. Instead of ornate gardens and carefully curated flower pots, you’re more likely to find beach umbrellas and sailing boats! The castle itself dates back to the 15th century and stands out as one of the best-preserved castles of the region.

It’s a popular spot for families in the region (as my husband who grew up not far away tells me), and a great family-friendly castle if you’re visiting France with kids. There are several events held throughout the year and free entertainment is offered for children at any time.


Rocamadour in the Dordogne Valley is one of the most beautiful castles in France

By Allan of Live Less Ordinary

Rocamadour is a magnificent medieval château and village found towering over the Dore River (a tributary of the River Dordogne) with views over surrounding cliffs and gorges below. But the scenes when arriving are just as spectacular, from the surrounding midi-Pyrenees (as pictured), where winding streets and tight tunnels reach across through the gorges to the main car park which sits just below the village.

To reach the village from the car park there is a shuttle option, although the walk is not too strenuous up to the start of the cobbled streets of the village. The scenes are sincerely beautiful, albeit slightly touristy for the remote Dordogne Valley region, although it otherwise escapes the major tourist trails of France. Unfortunately, you cannot enter the interiors of the private castle/château itself, but there is a paid option to access the rooftop where there are fantastic views over surrounding cliffs and valleys. Rocamadour also belongs to the “Les plus beaux villages de France” (the most beautiful villages in France) association.

Castles in the South of France

The South of France is home to hundreds of hilltop châteaux, although many are now left in ruins. Here are five that are well worth visiting on your tour of the South of France.

Château de Quéribus

Châteaux de Quéribus is one of the most beautiful castles in France

By Silke of Happiness and Things

Château de Quéribus is a medieval border castle in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It was built to defend the borders to Aragón in the south, but it’s best known as the last stronghold of the Cathars. The Cathars were a small Christian sect who fled from persecution in the 13th century after hundreds of men, children and women were brutally murdered in the cities of Southern France. Not surprisingly, at Quéribus they were able to fend off attackers for a total of 11 years.

Château de Quéribus is a remote hilltop castle, not easily accessible, and exposed to the elements. The ruined walls, towers and battlements cascade down the steep crest of a mountain like a rotten tooth. Access is via a hiking path but you need good footwear to navigate the crumbling stone steps to the very top.

A visit will reward you with breathtaking views of the mountains. Some of the defensive structures of the ruined castle are also easy to recognise. You can visit Château de Quéribus on a day trip from Carcassonne or Spain, but if you really want to immerse yourself in the region, stay at the historic village of Cucugnan nearby.

Château des Baux de Provence

Southern France Itinerary - One Week in Provence.

Although only a shadow of its former self, the ruins of Château des Baux are still by far one of my favourite sites to visit in Provence. Walking through the maze of crooked stairways and crumbling walls, you get a feel for what was once a grand palace sitting high above the rugged landscape of the Alpilles. Pictures are placed at strategic points throughout the site to give you a glimpse into what the château – and life inside the château – was once like.

Situated atop the bucolic village of Les Baux de Provence, this 10th-century castle offers multiple opportunities to sample its rich history. Peek inside the rabbit burrow (a deep passageway that enemies would have been ill-fated to enter), climb up to the Paravelle tower, and imagine the lavish decorations that would have once adorned the walls of the stone-carved former chapel. Nowadays you can still witness the weapons of siege in action, and watch demonstrations of medieval craftsmanship.

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes is one of the best castles in France.

By J Harvey of My Normal Gay Life

Located in the beautiful Provençal city of Avignon, Palais des Papes is an enormous palace complex built by the Catholic Church in the 14th Century. It served as the seat of Catholicism for approximately 400 years during the reign of the French Popes. This well-known and beloved French UNESCO World Heritage site spans an area of 15,000 square meters making it the largest Gothic Medieval palace in Europe and the world.

Visitors can explore approximately 25 rooms within the palace complex including papal bedrooms, the cloisters, chapels, and the towers. There is also a nice collection of medieval art to gaze upon as well as an interactive virtual tour to guide you. Don’t forget to visit the nearby Benezet Bridge (also a UNESCO site) which you can access if you purchase a combined ticket.

Château Comtal de Carcassonne

Château Comtal de Carcassonne is one of the most impressive castles in France

By Maura of TravelKiwis

Château Comtal de Carcassonne is in southern France and makes a great day trip from Toulouse or Montpellier. If you love history and romance, then a visit to the UNESCO site of Château Comtal should be on your itinerary of France. This beautiful medieval castle sits atop of a hillside within the fortified city of Carcassonne. And they say the Chateau was an inspiration for the castle in the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty.

Passing through the fortified walls via one of the gates, you will enter the small city inside the walls. As you stroll along the cobblestone streets, you will find plenty of boutique shops to keep you interested. Then the big decision is which restaurant to enjoy the famous dish Cassoulet!

Taking a look down an ancient well or climbing an old rampart will have you daydreaming of days of old. Then climb one of the 53 towers to admire spectacular vineyards and the views out across the valley created by Aude River. Château Comtal de Carcassonne is a perfect castle for a romantic short stay.

Château de Flaugergues

Chateau de Flaugergues is one of the most beautiful castles in France.

By Michael of MSCGerber

The Château de Flaugergues is a beautiful castle near Montpellier in the south of France. It preserves antique furniture and also Flemish tapestries. Actually, the special thing about this place is that it is not as grandiose as other castles you might know. It’s more like a calm place with interesting architecture and something you wouldn’t usually see while travelling. Fun fact: Even the architect of the building is not known.

However, the most striking part of the castle is the interior, which can definitely be called spectacular and is extremely beautiful. Besides that, the garden, which is in an English style, is also a perfect place to spend some calm hours.

In my opinion, the Château de Flaugergues is for sure not one of the biggest or most spectacular castles in France, yet, it has its own charm and is absolutely worth visiting when you travel in the area. And if you love wine, this is your place – including a lovely local wine store.

If you love the romance and intrigue of visiting the castles of the world, there’s no mistaking that France is an ideal place to sample some of the finest. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know 20 of the best castles in France with me!

If you’re looking for more inspiration about travelling in France, be sure to check out my previous articles here.

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The Perfect Southern France Itinerary – 7 Days in Provence

Southern France Itinerary - One Week in Provence.

Creating a 7-day itinerary for the South of France is no easy task. With so much to see and do, you really do have to narrow your focus a little or you could end up spending all of your time in the car! With this in mind, I’ve created the perfect Southern France itinerary that will allow you to see many of the highlights of the region while minimising driving time and allowing you to chop and change some aspects to suit your holiday style.

This one week in France itinerary focuses on what I consider to be the most beautiful and authentic area of Southern France – Provence. I’m lucky enough to call Provence home, and I love sharing my knowledge of what makes this region of France so special.

So let’s jump in and start planning your holiday to Provence!

Itinerary for a Week in Provence, France

Ideally, you’ll arrive on a Friday and leave on a Friday to take full advantage of the following Provence itinerary. It’s been designed to make the most of opening times, market days and other seasonal events. But if that’s not possible, don’t despair! You’ll still have a brilliant time, and you can mix the days up as you choose.

The following itinerary also assumes you’ll have a car available to use during your visit. Although some people are nervous about driving in France, there really isn’t too much to be concerned about. I really believe the best way to explore Provence is by car, so you can go at your own pace, discover hidden gems and stop at breathtaking roadside scenes as you go.

Lavender tour from Aix-en-Provence

Tips for Getting Around Provence

  • The roads are narrow, so it’s best to hire a smaller car (book your car rental here).
  • Directions are well signposted, or you can get around with the help of a map, GPS, or map on your phone.
  • Stick to smaller road networks instead of the motorway to drive alongside vineyards and olive groves, and you’ll get to see some beautiful hamlets or smaller villages that you’d otherwise miss.

Best Time to Visit Provence

It’s hard to pinpoint the best time to travel to Provence, as it depends on what you want to do while you’re here! With that said, there are definitely pros and cons for each season, so I’ll go over these briefly below.

Visiting Provence in Winter

Winter is not a popular time to visit Provence unless you’re headed for the Alps! It’s therefore much quieter around the region, but as a consequence, you’ll find a lot of the attractions are closed during this period.


  • Good deals on accommodation
  • Experience the ‘real Provence’
  • Visit beautiful Christmas markets and experience Provençal Xmas traditions


  •  Some tourist attractions closed
  • Colder weather

Visiting Provence in Spring

I know I said it’s hard to pick the best time to visit Provence, but if I absolutely had to, I’d say Spring. The landscape is filled with wonderfully bright flowers, the sleepier villages start to come to life again and the weather is much more pleasant.


  • The sun is out, and the weather is generally lovely by mid-late Spring
  • Tourist attractions open their doors again
  • Experience Easter celebrations around the region


  • Spring is prime time for the Mistral to be blowing – a strong, cool wind that makes it almost impossible to enjoy outdoor activities in exposed areas. The good news is that it usually only lasts a day or so before dying off again.

Visiting Provence, France in the Spring.

Visiting Provence in Summer

Summer is, without a doubt, the most popular time to visit Provence. The days are hot and long, the lavender fields are in full bloom, and the beaches are perfect for sunning yourself. But there are also downsides to visiting in the busy period of June to September.


  • Consistently hot, dry weather.
  • Perfect time to enjoy swimming in the Mediterranean, or in your own pool
  • Many festivals and events take place throughout July & August


  • Crowds, especially on the beaches
  • Some walking tracks (such as the Calanques walk) are closed due to the risk of wildfires

Visiting Provence in Autumn

Autumn is another good time to visit Provence. The weather remains hot throughout September and the crowds begin to thin. School is back, which means mid-week trips to the beach and attractions are much quieter.


  • Weather at the beginning of Autumn is hot, and it remains fairly warm throughout the season
  • School is back, meaning fewer holidaymakers are around


  • You can expect more rain in Autumn than in Spring.

Where to Stay in Provence

I’ve written an entire post about the best places to stay in Provence, but for the purposes of this itinerary, I’ve tried to reduce the number of accommodation changes throughout the week. No one likes to have to pack up and check in/out of hotels every day!

I’m going to start the itinerary in the popular base of Avignon, but you could just as easily pick a base in many a place nearby. L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a good choice if you’d like a slower pace, and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a popular spot too. Alternatively, you could do this Provence itinerary backwards and start in Aix-en-Provence!

Best of the South of France in 7 Days Itinerary

Day 1 (1/2 Day) Pont du Gard & Avignon

Stay: Avignon

Arrival day in Provence!

Whether you’re driving, taking the train, or flying into Provence, it’s going to eat up a few hours of your first day, so I’ve started this itinerary with a half day, and it’s ending with a half day on day eight.

Once you’ve arrived and are ready to explore – set the tone of your tour with a visit to one of the finest sites in the South of France! The Pont du Gard is just a half-hour drive from Avignon and the perfect place to spend your first afternoon.

Before leaving Avignon, pop into Les Halles to pick up some picnic supplies. Les Halles is Avignon’s centrally located covered farmers market that’s open every day except Monday and offers an authentic way to get acquainted with the fresh flavours of the region.

Tip – If you happen to be visiting Avignon on a Saturday, don’t miss the live cooking demonstration at Les Halles at 11 am! 

Once you arrive at the Pont du Gard you can settle down for lunch with a view of the highest Roman aqueduct in the world. Depending on the weather, you may like to take a dip in the Gardon River before drying off and strolling across the bridge into the heavenly scented bush on the other side.

When you head back into Avignon, you can enjoy dinner in the old town, where you’ll find plenty of dining options – from Michelin Star restaurants, to cheap and cheerful family run bistros.

The Pont du Gard is an easy day trip from Avignon.

Day 2 – Avignon

Stay: Avignon

Leave the car parked today and explore the sights of Avignon by foot. Start with a visit to the most famous attraction in Avignon, Palais des Papes. Once home to the Popes (hence its name), the well-preserved palace is an intriguing place to visit throughout the morning. Take a virtual tour of the palace and papal apartments before pausing for lunch.

For a fun lunch experience, you could try the open kitchen in Les Halles – Cuisine Centr’Halles. Or simply fill up on delicious treats from the boulangerie before heading to your next stop – the Pont d’Avignon.

If you’ve seen a photo of Avignon, you’ve most likely seen a picture of its most famous bridge. Once spanning the length of the Rhône, nowadays only 4 of its original 22 stone arches remain. Take a stroll to the end, pop inside the petite chapel, and visit the exhibition that includes a couple of short films about the history of the bridge.

Tip – A combined ticket to the Pope’s Palace and the Pont d’Avignon will save you money. Buy your tickets here.

In the afternoon, head to Avignon’s elevated garden, Rocher des Doms, for stunning views of the city. The shaded garden is a good place to seek respite from the afternoon heat, have a cool drink at the café, or relax by the pond as you watch the peacocks strutting by.

Where to stay in Provence. Which town to stay in Provence.

Day 3 – L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Fontaine de Vaucluse (plus Grottes Option)

Stay: Avignon

Head to the charming canalside town of L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Known as the antique capital of Provence, you’ll be spoiled for choice if you’re looking for a unique souvenir or memento of your time in France. Even if you don’t visit on market day (Sunday), there are many brocantes and antique stores dotted throughout the town where you’ll find both expensive and inexpensive gems.

Enjoy lunch at one of the cafés positioned to make the most of the town’s unique situation. L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue translates to “the island on the (river) Sorgue” and you certainly feel as though you’re on an island as you explore the water framed streets. Wander past the moss-covered waterwheels that serve as a reminder of the town’s textile industry before heading to the nearby village of Fontaine de Vaucluse.

It’s in Fontaine de Vaucluse that you’ll find the source of the river Sorgue. A deep spring emerges from the craggy mountainside and flows down into the village of the same name. As you enter the village you’ll find a small smattering of boutiques selling locally made wares, and restaurants strategically positioned to make the most of the stunning views. A short gently sloping walk will take you along a riverside path to the fountain. It always looks different – sometimes spilling over the rocks and through any stubborn trees that dare grow in its path, and at other times resting silently at the bottom of an orange-hued cave.

As an optional extra, if you have the time, the Grottes de Thouzon make for a fascinating side trip before heading back to Avignon for the night. A short walk through a grotto full of pencil thin stalactites, cave pearls, and underground lakes will delight you, and the informative guides will make the experience a memorable one.

The best day trips from Avignon, France.

Day 4 – Les Baux de Provence and Glanum

Stay: Avignon

History buffs will be in their element today with not one but two ancient sites to discover. But even if history isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty of variety to keep everyone happy on day 4 of our 7-day Provence itinerary.

First up you’ll be heading to Les Baux de Provence, officially one of the most beautiful villages in Provence, and home to the magnificent Château des Baux. Although the castle is now in ruins, it remains one of the most impressive châteaux in Provence, and there’s plenty left to explore within the old walls and wider grounds.

Once you’ve taken the time to wander the charming village and explore the château, head 5 mins down the road to Carrières de Lumières. Unlike anything you’ve likely experienced before, Carrières de Lumières is an art-based multimedia show set within an abandoned underground stone quarry in the Alpilles. The exhibit changes yearly and showcases some of the greatest artists in history. The 2018-2019 show brings works from Spanish artists Picasso, Goya, Rusiñol, Zuloaga, and Sorolla to life. It’s truly one of the most unforgettable things to do in Provence.

Tip – Buy a combined ticket to Château des Baux and Carrières de Lumières to save money.

A short drive back in the direction of Avignon will bring you to the fortified town of Glanum. A remarkable site not far from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Glanum is over 2,000 years old. It was destroyed by Germanic tribes in 260 AD and has remained abandoned ever since. First rediscovered in the 16th century, it wasn’t until more recent times that serious excavation and preservation efforts have been carried out. Today you can walk among the ruins while imaging the grand structures that once stood in their place. Peek into the sacred well, rest your eyes on the remnants of the twin temples, and hear the water that flows beneath a deserted street.

Glanum near Saint-Remy-de-Provence is a great place to visit on your southern France itinerary.

Day 5 – The Villages of the Luberon

Stay: Avignon

An absolute must-do on your South of France itinerary is a tour of the Luberon Villages. It’s easy to spend an entire day (or several) exploring the hillside villages and incredible scenery of this unique part of France.

Start at the Sénanque Abbey and you’ll find a wonderful scene framed by fragrant lavender fields in the summer months. From here it’s a short drive to the most famous Luberon village, Gordes. Tuesday is market day in Gordes, so sample the freshest flavours of the region as you wander around the ancient streets. Think about visiting the Village des Bories nearby before continuing on to the pastel coloured town of Roussillon. Built next to an ochre mine, the village lends itself as a haven for artists and the streets are awash with galleries and generous splashes of colour. The ochre mine next door is an attraction unlike any other. Take a short but stunning walk through the dusty red canyons and pine-fringed valleys of the ochre trail before continuing your Luberon tour.

Bonnieux and Lacoste are up next. Both lovely villages with a slower pace of life and enough differences to make them both worthy of a visit. Bonnieux is lovingly restored and has sweeping views over the fertile landscape of the Luberon. Walk the stone staircase to the church at the top of the village for the best views. Next door, Lacoste is home to a semi-restored château that you can visit during the summer months. At other times, walk around the back of the castle to view the contemporary sculptures and views of surrounding hilltop villages.

A trip to Goult and Ménerbes will round the day off nicely. In Goult, follow the signs through rustic streets to take in all the best bits. Don’t miss the restored windmill and the terraced gardens showcasing the area’s agricultural history. Ménerbes is best explored at leisure. Stroll the bucolic village before heading to the quirky corkscrew museum nearby and end the day with a wine tasting session at Domaine de la Citadelle.

Tip – full details of your Luberon driving tour and options to extend can be found here.

Gordes village in the Luberon Valley is one of the must visit places on your Provence Itinerary.

Day 6 – Camargue and Arles or Nîmes

Stay: Avignon, Cassis, or Aix-en-Provence

The sixth day of your Provence itinerary will see you heading south to one of the most intriguing places in Provence. The Camargue is Western Europe’s largest river delta with around 930 sq km of marshes and wetlands to explore. Unsurprisingly this fertile land attracts a vast array of wildlife and it’s here you’ll find over 400 species of birds including the impressive pink greater flamingos. The infamous black Camargue bulls also roam freely among the reeds and herds of snow-white horses – one of the oldest horse breeds in the world – live in harmony with nature.

The best way to discover this area when you’re short on time is to take a tour. Tours depart Arles and Avignon daily and will allow you to see the best of the Camargue while providing you with an interesting and informative commentary. Alternatively, you can head directly to Parc Ornithologique du Pont de Gau where you’re almost guaranteed to see flamingos in the wild.

Book Your Camargue Tour Here.

In the afternoon, you can choose to visit Arles nearby, or Nîmes a little further afield. Arles has a small but perfectly formed old town with plenty to see and do in an afternoon. Take a free Van Gogh walking tour to see the exact spots depicted in the late artist’s work, visit the grand amphitheatre, or take a walk through the underground Cryptoportiques.

Nîmes is a larger town but is still very walkable. It’s notable for its many Roman monuments – many of which are among the most well-preserved in the world. Be sure to take a walk through the magnificent public gardens – the Jardins de la Fontaine. One of the first ever public gardens in Europe, they are a fascinating mix of open green spaces, large water features, intricate sculptures, and ancient ruins. Climb to the top of the gardens for unmatched views of the city!

Nimes is a must-do if you're spending one week in Provence.

Day 7 – Cassis and the Calanques

Stay: Aix-en-Provence

Cassis is a charming portside town tucked in between towering cliffs near Marseille on the Mediterranean coast. It’s by far one of the more popular places to visit in the South of France due to its recent reputation as the new St Tropez. But while Cassis benefits from its stunning geographical location, beautiful beaches, and historically interesting sites, personally I think it’s better suited as a day trip destination than a long-term holiday base.

If you arrive early enough, you can stroll through the old town, browse the colourful boutiques, take in the historical buildings, and walk the pier – all in a morning. You then have the option of dining quayside, or grabbing lunch to-go and heading to the calanques.

The Calanques of Cassis are one of the most impressive natural attractions in Provence. The first time I laid eyes on these high-rise limestone cliffs I was absolutely blown away by their incredible size and stature as they jut out into the azure blue sea. Hiking the calanques is an ideal way to appreciate the natural beauty of this national park, but if you’re short on time, or the track is closed (as it often is during the summer months when the risk of wildfires is higher), then taking a boat tour or hiring a kayak to explore the calanques from below is the way to go.

Whichever way you decide to explore the calanques, it’s sure to be one of the most memorable moments of your trip.

The Calanques of Cassis deserve to be included in your Southern France Itinerary

Day 8 – Aix-en-Provence

The last half day of your one week in Provence itinerary is spent enjoying Aix-en-Provence. The cultural capital of Provence really deserves a longer stay, but perhaps after being immersed in the city for a morning, you’ll be convinced to come back!

Colourful produce and flower markets are held throughout the week filling the streets with the lively atmosphere synonymous with the South of France. After you’ve browsed the wares on offer, stop for a coffee at a corner café or head to one of the famed museums to witness the true heart of this historical city.

The old town is best explored without a plan of attack. You’ll thoroughly enjoy wandering around the curved streets and hidden alleyways, coming across an elaborate – or downright eccentric – fountain at every turn. The Pavillon Vendôme is perfect for a mid-morning repose, and the iconic Hôtel de Caumont arts centre shouldn’t be sidestepped!

Tip – If you’ve forgotten to pick up souvenirs or gifts for those back home, pop into the gift shop in the centrally located tourist office. They stock a small but curated selection of the region’s finest products.

Aix-en-Provence is a great place to stay on your holiday in the South of France

It’s impossible to see everything Provence has to offer in just one week, but this 7-day itinerary is sure to give you an in-depth taster of this delectable part of France! If you’re looking to extend your trip by a few extra days, I’d suggest checking out my posts on day trips from Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence to find inspiration for a few extra days touring.

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Heading to the South of France and not sure how to best use your time? This one week itinerary takes in the best of southern France and introduces you to some of the best sights in Provence! #Provence #france #itinerary #southoffrance

Looking for the perfect 1-week itinerary for the South of France? This 7 day Provence itinerary ticks off all the best best of the region. Enjoy your trip to Southern France with insider knowledge from a local. #france #southoffrance #provence #itinerary
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