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The South of France – Where Old Meets New

The South of France makes most people immediately think of the Côte d’Azur. Let us guess, you too? It’s no wonder why, given that Nice, Cannes, and Marseille enjoy a popular reputation – and rightly so. Nevertheless, the diversity of southern France does not end with these cities.

On the contrary, the South of France is very diverse and the region of Occitania stretches all the way to the Spanish border. The cities and landscapes here are characterized by their historical past. But what makes cities in Occitania truly unique, is how they intertwine modern elements and achievements with their historical pasts. With that, we will show you four cities that you should definitely explore on your trip through southern France.

Toulouse

Of course, we’ll start with Toulouse. Toulouse is the fourth-largest city in France and is the capital of the southern French region of Occitania. But this is not the only reason why you should visit Toulouse. In this fascinating city, one sight follows the next: creating a unique cityscape!

The city’s image is characterized above all by its picturesque buildings made of light-colored terracotta bricks. In fact, Toulouse owes its nickname, La Ville Rose, to these buildings. Particularly in the old town, you will quickly realize this city lives up to this nickname.

The winding alleys between the pink facades are perfect as a photo backdrop. In the city center, you will find one of the most important landmarks and the starting point of many city trips through Toulouse. This landmark, known as the Place du Capitole, is home to the impressive city hall. The magnificent facade here perfectly fits into the overall picture of the city.

The houses are particularly impressive when contrasted to the Garonne River. Flowing through the city, you can take a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Garonne and let your gaze wander over the wonderful architecture of the city. But that’s not all there is to do.

Most important is the Pont Neuf. This is the oldest surviving bridge over the Garonne and  was built between 1543 and 1642. You can still cross the Garonne today with this stone bridge. Incredible, right?

But that’s not the end of the landmarks in Toulouse. We promise that the more you explore, the more this city will amaze you.

By the way, don’t miss the surroundings of Toulouse. Just an hour away by train or car is Carcassonne. With just under 50,000 people, the city is not particularly large.  Nevertheless, Carcassonne has one particular feature that sets it apart from the rest. That is, the perfectly preserved medieval fortress of La Cité. There are even guided tours of the castle within this fortress. Here, you will paint a completely different picture of southern France.

Montpellier: Third-Largest City in the South of France

If you’re in the South of France, you definitely can’t miss Montpellier. The city is one of the largest on the Mediterranean coast, with just under 300,000 residents. With almost half of the population under 30 years old, Montpellier is the most youthful city in all of France. Though, this is probably because Montpellier is a stronghold for students. One in four people here is enrolled in a university or college, so Montpellier is thus one of the most important hubs for students in France.

For people living in Montpellier, the Place de la Comédie is the center of life. Given this plaza is on your way to the train station, it’s no wonder! During the day, people stroll around here for shopping or exploration tours and relax in cafés. Even when just passing through, the many street musicians are sure to entrance you.

The square is even livelier in the evening. Then, the Place de la Comédie is a popular meeting place, especially for young people. You can either sit down right there in a bar or wander around the clubs with your friends. Either way, you are sure to meet a lot of people in this vibrant place.

Even though the Place de la Comédie is fascinating, you need to explore the rest of the city as well. Montpellier consists of gorgeous streets adorned with colorful flags. While exploring, you’ll come across small stores and bistros hidden in the narrow streets away from the hustle and bustle. Though, you will hardly find a direct route to such shops. We have to admit that the winding streets can sometimes lead you astray.

On the other hand, you have a clear, grand view over the entire city of Montpellier from the roof of the Corum. From up there, you can see the streetcars – many of which boast different designs depending on the line. Sometimes they are decorated with flowers, sometimes with abstract patterns, but always colorful.

Speaking of public transportation, you can also easily reach Montpellier Plages with it. This beach is only about 10 kilometers from the city and therefore is perfect for relaxing before returning to the busy city life.

Nîmes: History in the South of France

Nîmes is one of the most historic cities in the South of France. Even today, Nîmes’ past can be seen throughout the cityscape. Founded in the 6th century BC and then taken by the Romans then in 120 BC, Nîmes served as an important outpost of the Roman Empire. As such,  you can see the influence the Romans left behind just through the appearance of the city itself.

A particularly impressive relic of the Roman past is the Arènes de Nîmes. Once upon a time, gladiators fought each other in the amphitheater. It is considered one of the best-preserved monuments from the Roman era in the world. The Arènes de Nîmes is still used today, for example, for history plays, concerts, and controversial bullfights.

Another impressive relic of the Roman era is the Maison Carrée. This Roman temple is the last completely preserved temple of antiquity in the entire world. From the outside, the Maison Carrée exudes elegance and purity. You can even go inside as the former temple houses a museum!

If you’ve had enough history lessons for now, then we recommend heading to the Jardins de la Fontain. The gardens offer everything you need. While you have to climb a bit, the wide meadows for sunbathing, shady spots and winding paths between among the plants are worth it. The further up you go, the better the view of the entire park. Only then will you see the impressive fountains in all their splendor – hence the name of the gardens.

There is even more nature in the immediate vicinity of Nîmes. The city is not far from the Camargue Nature Park, so you should not miss this sight if you are already in the vicinity. The Camargue is an alluvial plain next to the sea. Here, live flamingos and the Camargue horses, the symbolic animals of the region, live here. You can even explore the Camargue by horseback and enjoy the wild landscape. As you can see, the possibilities in Nîmes and the surrounding area are endless.

Perpignan

Between the Mediterranean bricks houses, red-and-yellow striped flags wave in the wind with the saying “Sang et or”, meaning blood and gold. The sign at the entrance to the city reads “Perpinyá la catalana”. But why all this?

Simply said, Perpignan is proud to show its Catalan soul. Between 1276 and 1349, Perpignan was the continental capital of the former Kingdom of Mallorca. Therefore, menus or signs on buses are usually not only in French, but also in Spanish and Catalan.

Today, the various buildings in Perpignan serve as a reminder of this previous island kingdom. Particularly by the Castillet and the center city’s gothic Palace of the Kings of Mallorca. The city will captivate you with its incomparable flair that arises from its Catalan pride.

Perpignan is also not far from the Mediterranean coast. As such, we definitely recommend a little side trip there! The Catalan heritage continues here with the Catalan barques, a type of fishing boat. Until the 1960s, a coastal landscape without them was unimaginable. Today, various associations ensure they remain intact and accessible to both travelers and locals.

Conclusion

On your trip through the South of France, you should not miss Toulouse and Montpellier. Both cities are especially popular with young people and adapted to their needs for partying and exploring. You’ll always find new, exciting stores and people in the cities’ winding and beautiful alleyways.

Although neither Nîmes nor Perpignan are remarkably large, you won’t get bored here! The various historical sites make sure of that. Whether impressive Roman buildings or Catalan ambience – you can see how history has shaped the cities here. You can see this for yourself on your trip.

It’s unbelievable how diverse the South of France is! Even away from the Côte d’Azur, the South of France continues to be exciting with its ancient remnants and modern elements. This combination makes a trip through the Occitania region unforgettable. Of course, there are more places to discover in the South of France. You can be sure that they all have their very own charm and style! So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to explore!

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