The Hidden Gems of France's Med Coast
Think you know France? Think again. France’s south coast has a lot more to offer than Nice, Cannes and St Tropez. Not far from these tourist hotspots is a huge variety of lesser-known gems waiting to be discovered. And, with many airports served by low-cost carriers peppered along France’s Mediterranean coast, getting to these places is easy and affordable.
Nimes & The Camargue
Nimes Airport is ideally located for discovering the Camargue area. Very well known in France, this destination hasn’t yet been fully discovered by foreign tourists. The Camargue is western Europe’s largest river delta - it has beautiful landscapes and is renowned for its unique breeds of bulls and horses. Ryanair flies to Nimes from London Luton and Liverpool. Marseille Airport, which has links with a larger number of UK regional airports, is also nearby.
Marseille itself often gets overlooked as a destination. Many travellers only use the airport as a gateway to Provence and the French Riviera, but Marseille has a lot to offer, not the least of which is history. Dating back more than 2600 years, it is France’s oldest city. It’s also near one of the Med coast's most impressive sights: the Calanques (main picture, above), abrupt limestone cliffs that rise up to 500m above sea level. These are easily accessible; just head to the Vieux Port and buy a ticket from one of the various ferry operators offering guided tours.
Ile de Porquerolles
Travelling east along the Med coast, you'll come to Toulon. This is the access point for one of the Med's best-kept secrets: the island of Porquerolles, which is just a short ferry ride from the mainland. The isle, which inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is very popular with French tourists — however, the good word hasn’t quite reached the UK yet. UK visitors can fly with Air France from London Heathrow (via Paris Charles de Gaulle) to Toulon Hyères Airport, or fly direct to Marseille and transfer (approximately a 45-minute drive) from there.
A lot of people fly to Nice every year to visit either the city itself, or to get to Cannes. My preference, however, will always be Antibes. The old part of the town is beautiful with a lot of small boutiques, restaurants and bars. Pablo Picasso lived there for some time, and many of his works are housed in the Picasso Museum. Nearby is Cap d’Antibes, where you'll find many small beaches and bays. Flights to Nice are available from London, Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.
The good news is that now is a great time to go. With France's peak tourist season ending around mid-September, hotel prices can fall quite drastically.