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As foreigners we have our formed images about countries we never visited and these are often stereotypical.  An average traveller has several things in his mind when someone mentions France: baguette, wine, cheese, awkward moustache, and the Eiffel Towel.

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But, if you’re wondering what’s the true essence of France, head to the south of the country. While Paris and the French Riviera are legitimate destinations to visit, the true French spirit goes beyond the city of light and luxurious jet-set spots by the Mediterranean Sea. Incredible picturesque towns, as well as the countryside and breathtaking scenery will make you feel like you’ve stepped into one of the Claude Monet’s paintings. Here’s what you don’t want to miss.

Visit Van Gogh’s sanctuary: ArleArles France

Arles is a city best known for the legacy of Roman architecture and being a sanctuary of the famous Dutch painter Van Gogh, in the period between 1888 and 1889. His famous work known as the Yellow House is actually a painting of the place where he stayed in Arles (on the Lamartine place). Another great artist and Van Gogh’s friend Paul Gauguin stayed at the same building. The house doesn’t exist anymore (it was demolished during World War II), but the place still preserves a lot of stories and important historical facts. Arles is a famous tourist destination because you can get to know the city through Van Gogh’s footsteps. Go to the Arles Visitor Center and ask for a walking tour map. You can visit several landmarks that Van Gogh painted, such as the today’s café “Van Gogh” which is captured in great artist’s composition known as the “Café Terrace at Night”.

Get your heart pumping: Gorge de VerdonVerdon France

Gorge de Verdon is known as the “Grand Canyon of Europe” and is one of the best places in the world that offer you a chance to raise your adrenaline levels while soaking in all the mesmerising beauty of nature. Catch the winds and enjoy paragliding with an instructor to experience the view from above. If you love a good challenge, try rock climbing. Explore the gorges from the bottom, too: the river is simply perfect for peaceful kayaking or rafting. There are also many hiking routes you can try out: if you’re travelling during summer months, it’s best if you set out early in the morning to avoid the heat. Consult the staff at the tourist office to get the latest info and advice.

Purple aromatic paradise: the lavender fields3valensolev

The history of lavender in France is pretty interesting: over two millennia ago, Romans brought this flower to Provence, but lavender’s usage for perfume making, honey producing, and oil manufacturing started just over a century ago. The lavender central is considered to be The Valensole Plateau: with around 800 km² of lavender fields, you will feel like you stepped into a fairytale: imagine the blue skies and purple as far as you can see, and the soothing scent. It’s advisable to organize your visit somewhere between mid-June and July during the full blossom of the flower.

Step into to the Middle Ages of France: Lagrasse4-lagrasse

Lagrasse is one of the most beautiful villages of France, dating all the way back to the 8th century. There are two most prominent tourist landmarks here. First one is the old Abbey which gives you an authentic experience of the medieval times and is definitely a must-visit. The second one are the stone bridges with their distinctive arcs. To experience their beauty more fully, book your place at barge canal cruises and you’ll get a chance to enjoy wine tasting, discover this village’s history, and savour exquisite food. Lagrasse is a charming little place that lies in the largest wine producing region in France – Corbières and there are several places where wine lovers and gourmands can enjoy tasteful menus.

Amazing medieval fortress town: Carcassonne   Carcassone

It’s impossible not to imagine knights rushing on their horses along the walls of another French medieval jewel, Carcassonne. It is best known by its citadel and fortifications which are visited by around 3 million visitors every year, which makes it the second most popular tourist landmark in France, right after Eiffel Tower. Parts of the inner wall date all the way back to the Roman times. The former Romanesque style is now suppressed by the Gothic one which was used during restoration through history: it is best represented through rose windows and gargoyles. Make sure to take an audio guided tour of the castle. Other Carcassonne’s attractions include exploring the Canal du Midi and Town’s central square.  

Enjoy the slow pace at the seaside: CassisCassis France

Cassis is just a few kilometres Marseille and it is a true treat for those who one to relax by the sea, but don’t enjoy the fuss that jet-set places such as St. Tropez are known for. It is truly a place for savouring fine wines, enjoying locally produced food, and soaking in the sun. There is really something special about people who live by the sea: locals are incredibly warm-hearted and pleasant. Stroll through the city and enjoy the architecture, as well as the market held every Friday at the city’s square. Cassis is nearby the famous calanques, which makes it perfect for a day trip filled with exciting activities: rent a boat or go kayaking, or be adventurous and take a hiking trip.

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