My Top 5 Natural Landmarks to Explore in the South of France

A lavender field by the village of Sault near Mont Ventoux. (Vincent Formica)
A lavender field by the village of Sault near Mont Ventoux. (Vincent Formica)

I grew up in the south of France, and spent 15 years of my life there.

I recently reflected on my time in Provence, and how much I took for granted this gorgeous and historic part of France, yet I can recall all the wonderful childhood memories.

I spent a lot of time playing outdoors, practicing horse riding, archery, sailing, and so many different sports because this part of France is blessed with gorgeous weather all year round. But you’ve got to get used to the well known fall-winter wind called the Mistral.

I realized that the main reason for me not exploring the area as much as the frequent tourists would was because of its popularity, and I never was a fan of crowds. That was a silly reason though.

I prepared a list of must-see places to visit in Provence, the land where I left my heart. This is just for you!

Add them to your “places to visit” list next time you plan a trip to Europe.

1.  Lavender Valley of Sault

This Lavender field by the village of Sault by the Mont Ventoux. Photo: Vincent Formica

This Lavender field is near the village of Sault by Mont Ventoux. (Image: Vincent Formica)

Growing up in Provence, you’re constantly surrounded with lavender and this gorgeous purple color. Each home has some, you see it in the city markets, and so on… My all-time favorite lavender-based product is lavender honey.

I found the best lavender honey I ever had on a little road on our way to the Alpes de Haute Provence, while we crossed ‘le pays de Sault’.

Sault is a gorgeous village in a valley, well-known for its lavender fields. If you drive from Avignon towards the Alps you will be able to see the valley from atop, during the blooming season (June-August). It’s a must must must see!

2.  Les Carrières d’Ocre of Roussillon

Ochre Path. Photo: Nikater

Ocher Path. (Image: Nikater)

Considered one of the most beautiful villages in France, Roussillon lies within the borders of the beautiful national park of the Luberon.

Roussillon is famous for the rich deposits of ocher pigments found in the clay near the village.

It’s also well-known for its “Sentier des Ocres” (Ocher Path), a must for any avid or amateur hiker. The gorgeous ocher views will blow you away! (Just make sure to wear shoes and clothing that you won’t regret getting dirty).

3.  Les Calanques

Calanque de Port Pin, between Cassis and Marseille. Photo : cc by-nc-nd

Calanque de Port Pin, between Cassis and Marseille. (Image: cc by-nc-nd)

The Calanques coast between Marseille and Cassis is magical.

The limestone calanques of the Massif des Calanques lie within the recently created Parc National des Calanques, and include the Calanque de Sormiou, the Calanque de Morgiou, the Calanque d’En-Vau, the Calanque de Port-Pin, and the Calanque de Sugiton.This place is just amazing—again, it’s a must see and must hike!

I believe there is no-one I grew up with who didn’t hike in the Calanques or do a boat trip to one of the boat-only beaches.The best part about hiking in the Calanques is experiencing a few joyful moments of the “South of France lifestyle:” The little sea-breeze that comes, taking a rest under the pine trees, and listening to the cicadas.

There are two ways to do this: Either hike and look at the gorgeous views of the Mediterranean Sea, or take a whole day to discover this area by boat, and spend some time swimming at one of those beaches only accessible by sea. The scenery will take your breath away.

Keep in mind, most of the Calanques are closed from July to September due to the risk of forest fires. Book your trip during the spring or fall months! The winter months are also beautiful.

The Provençal Literature Nobel Prize winner Frederic Mistral once said:

He who has seen Paris and not Cassis has seen nothing.

In French: “Qui a vu Paris et pas Cassis, n’a rien vu.”

In Occitan: “Qu’a vist París e non Cassís a ren vist.”

4.  La Camargue

Camargue horses (Camarguais) roamin the marshlands. Photo: Merrie Asimow

Camargue horses (Camarguais) roaming in the marshlands. (Image: Merrie Asimow)

The magical beauty of the Natural Park of the Camargue is hard to express in words.

The Camargue was designated a Ramsar site, a Wetland of International Importance, in 1986.The fauna and flora in this wetland is incredible—400 species of birds have been identified. Here the greater flamingo live alongside black buffalos and the Camargue horses, considered the oldest breeds of horse in the world.

Sea lavender and glass-wort flourish, along with tamarisks, and reeds.

Beware—this territory is some of the most untouched and most protected in all of Europe, so it’s highly recommended to visit this region with a guide, or ride on horseback (that’s my choice), or by bike.

And come prepared because Camargue is well known for its wild mosquitoes.

A stop at the roadside museum will help you understand this region a bit more. The park is divided into different areas—cultivated land, marsh land, sand land, and salt land.

5.  Le Mont Sainte-Victoire

Mont Sainte Victoire. Photo: Islami

Mont Sainte Victoire. (Image: Islami)

La Sainte Victoire is to me a one-of-a-kind mystical mountain.

I remember hiking there on a school trip when I was a girl. We even lost one or two kids on that trip, but ended up finding them later on.

It’s a gorgeous place for hiking, something locals love to do on weekends or holidays. Actually it’s also very popular for climbing, paragliding, and to a lesser extent, caving. Around 700,000 walkers use its paths every year.

This is the mountain that has inspired many well-known painters—I tell you, it’s a mysterious mountain—throughout the day, the light changes give her a different glow.

I hope you enjoyed my Top 5; it wasn’t easy to choose. There are so many more places to see. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or are looking into preparing a trip to the South of France.

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