I heard the south of France is lovely this year?
May 18, 2014 9:08 AM   Subscribe

I always found the answers to travel questions here very interesting, so here it goes: At the end of August/beginning of September, we want to go on a little post-conference vacation in the south of France. Our plan is to rent a car in Lyon and fly back two weeks later from Marseille. Do you have any tips and recommendations for us? Anything special we should keep in mind regarding to renting a car? We thought that the area of Languedoc-Roussillon is not as crowded as the Cotê d'Azure, so which cities should we visit? Primarily visiting some interesting places and relaxing at the beach is planned but tips for some short hikes are also highly appreciated. Thanks in advance!
posted by ironicon to Travel & Transportation around France (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
There are some great short hikes in the Rustrel ochre quarries. This Youtube video doesn't do it justice--incredible orange earth, green trees, and blue skies. Really nice.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:28 AM on May 18, 2014

Best answer: There are lots of people in Languedoc-Roussillon if you're there at the end of August. On the first of september, there won't be as many, since the holidays will be over, and French vacanciers will be back to work. Montpellier is real nice, there's a new museum there, Pezenas is small but interesting. Nearby, St guilhem le désert is fine if you like old stones and there's a great walk to do near the village. Of course, Arles and Nïmes are very interesting (very interesting museums in Arles, with very recent discoveries from the river, but there's also a Feria in September, which means a very lively city). Perpignan hosts a very important photojournalism festival (Visa pour l'image) at the very beginning of September, there are many projects in many parts of town with conferences and journalists from all over the world. There are many people but it's not that crowded that it's unpleasant.
You could visit Toulouse and Albi too. Toulouse could be a very nice place to stay in, Albi is beautiful but you don't need to stay there more than a day.
I'm sure Fraula will provide you with tips for the south-east.
Bye, enjoy your trip !
posted by nicolin at 9:46 AM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We just spent 5 days staying in Avignon (which is about 3/4 of the way to Marseille from Lyon) and exploring the region by rental car. The ochre mines at Roussillon were very cool. Pont du Gard, a gigantic old Roman aquaduct, was another favorite spot; it's very picturesque, and you can go hiking, swimming, kayaking, etc. We wished we had brought a picnic to just hang out there all afternoon. Our favorite day was just driving around the Luberon area. We went through Menerbes, Lacoste, Bonnieux, etc., spending a few minutes to an hour wandering around each little town, stopping for snacks if something looked tasty or getting coffee on the patio if someplace had an awesome view. The towns are all up on hillsides, looking across valleys full of olive groves and vineyards, so of course they all have amazing views.

For renting a car, don't let them "upgrade" you to a bigger vehicle. You want the smallest thing you can fit in, to make parking easier. There is usually a significant upcharge for automatic transmission, so be aware of that if you need it and make sure you reserve an automatic specifically if you can't drive a manual. Our rental unexpectedly came with a navigation system, and it turned out to be super helpful. Mess with the settings until you figure out how to tell it to avoid highways and tollways, and it will take you through the most beautiful places.
posted by vytae at 10:42 AM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want to try something a bit different then you might consider going to a professional Rugby League game - Perpignan is home to the Catalan Dragons, the only team outside the UK playing in the UK Superleague. They have home games on August 30th and Sept 13th.

You might find this thread about things to do in Southern France useful.
posted by biffa at 10:54 AM on May 18, 2014

Vytae has it exactly. That region is beautiful, and I have amazing memories of just puttering around there. The perched villages are spectacular, and driving between them wonderful.

And I agree that you want a small car with GPS; I like anything by Renault or Citroen generally, but Ford makes some nice European models. You'll be surprised (if you've never driven in France) and how fast people drive on small roads, but it's pretty safe once you get the hang of it. Just don't get in people's way too much and you'll be fine. On highways, the posted speed limits around cities are often monitored by camera, so you do need to follow those carefully, and also in small villages.

Another tip is to rent a VRBO so you can go to the markets and cook the amazing food you'll find. That time is year is harvest season for some of the best fruits and veggies of the year, and it's amazing to be able to shop and cook. Picnic lunches are fabulous too: great bread, sliced tomatoes, French cheese, good meat, fruit pastries. Oh heaven. Having a home base is wonderful, and if you love the place, you can really soak up French country life just sitting on your patio and hearing the sounds of the countryside. I find it's better to know a small area well than to spend a lot of time dashing from one place to the next and getting to know the interior of your car and the highway signs, so that's my preference.

Have fun.
posted by Capri at 11:42 AM on May 18, 2014

I love the valley of the Dordogne river, in the Perigord Noir region, about 2 hours north of Toulouse. Cro-Magnon caves, hiking, paddling, biking, and great food. Each village has a different market day, and there are great night markets (live music, BBQ, etc) in some of the "Plus Belle Villages" in the area. This page has links to some options. (My sister runs the B&B on this site, but there are plenty of gites and B&Bs in the neighborhood.)
posted by Atelerix at 1:16 PM on May 18, 2014

You might consider housesitting (petsitting)...I've noticed that this site, which is based in the UK, has a lot of great listings in France. Here's one random example. The site has a small fee for membership, but new listings every day. I've even seen an enormous chateau on there.
posted by three_red_balloons at 5:51 PM on May 18, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks very much for all the helpful answers and suggestions!
posted by ironicon at 1:30 AM on May 20, 2014

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