Since the 19th century rich Europeans have sought the winter warmth of the French Riviera but by the 1920s high society was in residence all year round. Now the Cote d’Azur and neighbouring Provence welcome all manner of travellers and many return year after year for its many splendours.
The Rhône Delta
The Carmague is home to a port which is popular with sailors and is an area of outstanding natural beauty with lagoons, salty plains and seasonal marshes inhabited by white Camargue horses and flocks of migrating birds. A 300-square-mile river delta formed over millennia, much of the region is a nature conservation area in which many business activities are strictly regulated, making it an ideal destination for those committed to responsible travel.
The Mediterranean resort of Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a perfect base from which to access the magnificent wetlands, pastures, dunes and Europe’s longest beach on the Mediterranean. It is also a superb destination for horseback riding, cycling, hiking and windsurfing. The close proximity to the ancient city of Arles, with its incredible Roman remains and Provencal charm, is also a benefit.
Ancient Gateway to the West
Along the coast is Marseille, which was founded by the Greeks in the 7th century BC. It is France’s largest sea port and second-largest city and has strong links to the Middle East and North Africa. The old harbour handles only small boats now and its daily fish market is renowned for providing some of the most authentic bouillabaisse anywhere. On display in the Musee d’Histoire de Marseille is the wreck of a Roman ship and at the Musee de Vieux Marseille there is an opportunity to view old Marseille in some atmospheric artworks.
Further east you will find the millionaires’ playground of St Tropez, where a stroll along the harbour front is a celebrity spotter’s dream. In the fifteenth century St Tropez was a military stronghold and even at the beginning of the twentieth century it was just a quiet fishing village. It played a major role in the liberation of southern France during World War II and became an internationally known holiday destination after the war as a result of its popularity with the French New Wave.
From one millionaire’s playground to another – Monaco is the second-smallest and most densely populated country in the world. It is famed for its Grand Prix and Rally as well as the Grand Casino and the Palais du Prince. The approach to it on the Moyenne Corniche is worth the trip alone as it offers incomparable views of the Mediterranean coastline.
The French Grand Canyon
Away from the coast is an experience not to missed for anyone holidaying in the South of France. The stunning Gorges du Verdon in the Alpes de Haute Provence north of Draguignan is one of the most dramatic natural sights in the whole of Europe. The idyllic Lac de Ste-Croix meets the dark green river Verdon as it flows through a deeply cut valley with the most splendid array of carved rocks, waterfalls and twists and turns along which kayaks, peddle boats, rowing boats and small pleasure boats meander. This is perhaps one of the most staggeringly beautiful boat journeys in Europe.
Julia Jackson writes regularly for various travel and holiday websites and blogs. She often enjoys sailing holidays in the South of France with her family. Julia is dedicated to the principals of responsible travel and insists on assessing the impact of any trip she makes.