Travelling to France country is always a pleasure, which is why it is the country that receives the most tourists in the world. Its landscapes, its culture, its monuments or its gastronomy make France a complete and highly recommended country to visit.
In this post we are going to go on a route by car to go sightseeing in the South of France, through the towns closest to the border with Spain. Leaving from Barcelona and visiting places that are well worth a visit at least once in a lifetime.
7-stage driving route through the South of France
The fact of doing a route by car in this case I consider that it has many advantages. On the one hand, the fact of being able to move freely to several different places. On the other hand, the good communications and the good state of the roads in this area. The only negative aspect I see is the high price of the highways both in Catalonia and in France. In addition to the fact that in some cases you have to spend money on parking, but in my opinion this area is ideal for travelling by car. They are places that you can see quickly and you have to move around a lot to see many things in a short time, but without stress, because that’s why we are on holiday 🙂
Let’s start the route!
Day One. South of France
1st Stage: Barcelona-Ceret (2 hours)
We set off on a sightseeing trip to the South of France, leaving Barcelona and heading towards Girona. Then we cross the border at La Junquera and enter France in the direction of Céret, a small village near the border. This village takes its name from the fact that it is a large producer of cherries. It is worth a first contact with the French culture. Take a stroll through its pretty streets, have a coffee and for art lovers, visit its famous Museum of Modern Art, which houses numerous paintings by Picasso.
2nd stage: Céret – Perpignan (30 minutes)
We go on this short trip to the first city of the route: Perpignan. Here we have monuments such as La Cathedrale St-Jean, the Palace of the Kings of Majorca or the Castillet. One of the occasions that I was in the South of France was in December, so the Christmas decorations were already up. For my taste, December is a great time to visit the South of France. And to enjoy its tourist attractions in a charming Christmas atmosphere.
Perpignan is a city with more than 100,000 inhabitants, so there is also a wide range of leisure and gastronomic options.
Stage 3: Perpignan – Carcassonne (1 hour and 12 minutes)
On our route by car through the South of France, we left early on the first day and were able to see Céret, Perpignan and arrive for dinner and sleep in Carcassonne without rushing. Since the distances, except for the stretch from Barcelona to Céret, are short, we took a hotel in Carcassonne.
We took a hotel in Carcassonne and went for dinner in the centre of town. We also took the opportunity to visit one of the most spectacular medieval castles I have ever seen and the main attraction of the city. At night, illuminated and without people, it is adeal to stroll around it. Admiring the medieval city from the outside is a great way to see it from the inside the next day. As for overnight accommodation, there are plenty of options to suit all tastes and budgets, as it is a tourist town.
Day Two. South of France
In the morning we went straight to see the medieval town and visit the castle. Carcassonne is divided into two distinct parts connected by a bridge. In the more touristic part, the Cité (the medieval city), we are surrounded by more than 3 km of ramparts. These walls give us a glimpse of its great medieval past. We stroll through its cobbled streets, its typical shops and its towers. Of course its medieval castle from the 12th century, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visiting the medieval fortress is free of charge. What does cost is a visit to the castle, which is €8.5, although there are reduced rates and it can even be free if you are under 18 or an EU resident and aged between 18 and 25.
The visit to Carcassonne Castle can be guided or free. We did it on our own and it was great. In addition, there is a part of the visit where they show a documentary about the castle with subtitles in several languages, which is more than enough to get a general idea of its history.
This visit took us a good part of the morning, so we left directly to find a place to eat and start the journey to our next destination, Toulouse.
4th stage: Carcassonne – Toulouse (1 hour and 10 minutes)
Following our route by car through the South of France, we arrive in Toulouse, one of the two big cities we will visit on our trip. We arrive around 4.30 am, with enough time to enjoy the city all afternoon. Personally, it is one of those cities where you feel at ease. A large but manageable city, well cared for, beautiful, with monuments and spacious squares. It is crossed by a river with a canal where you can stroll and sit down to eat a crêpe, good places to eat and go out at night. It has a great university atmosphere as it is one of the great university cities of France. Among other monuments, the Saint-Sernin basilica and the Capitol Square, the nerve centre of the city, are outstanding.
As I said before, one of the times I went to the South of France was in December. So I had the opportunity to see this great city with its lights, markets and Christmas decorations, which added a lot of beauty and charm to the trip.
As for the gastronomy, I recommend going to dinner at a restaurant called L’Entrecote. They only serve entrecote, as the name suggests, and both times there were queues so you had to wait a while to get in. The only thing you have to say is what point you want for the meat. There is no menu or anything to choose from, they serve it with potatoes and a salad beforehand. The place is cosy, not spectacular and the tables are very close together, but the service is fast and it’s good value for money. If you want to eat a good French steak and you don’t want to spend a lot of money in a super restaurant, it is a good place.
Day Three: South of France
On day 2 we slept in a hotel in the city centre of Toulouse, Grand Hotel D’Orleans. It is not a super hotel, but it has a very good location and, when we went there, it had quite good ratings, although I have seen that over time it has lost rating. In the end, hotels are very subjective, everyone has their own budget and preferences. Nowadays it is easy to look for hotels and see which one is the most convenient. What I can tell you is that this one is very well located to visit the whole city on foot. However, in Toulouse there are many hotels to choose from.
After continuing the morning’s visit to Toulouse, we head towards our next destination in the South of France, Montpellier.
5th stage: Toulouse-Montpellier (2 hours and 25 minutes)
The first option is to go all by motorway but in this case we took part of the way on regional roads to be able to see the landscapes and vineyards of Languedoc-Roussillon on the way to Montpellier. If you make the route a little longer, you can pass through cities like Narbonne or Béziers. They are attractive places for tourists because of their monuments, natural areas and their wine tradition.
After this, we arrived at the other big city that we would visit (although it is much smaller than Toulouse) in our route by car through the South of France, Montpellier, the capital of Languedoc-Roussillon.
There we stayed in a centrally located hotel, Kyriad Hotel Montpellier Centre Antigone, so we could forget about the car for the duration of our stay. As in all tourist cities, there are options for all tastes and budgets.
It is a city that is easy to get around on foot, without taking the car or public transport at all. Its historic centre is particularly noteworthy, with the Place de la Comedie as the city’s main square. Walk along the Peyrou Promenade among its arches and statues, visit its aqueduct. Besides tasting the French gastronomy accompanied by a local wine are some of the things you can do in this wonderful and well-kept city. Which far exceeded my expectations prior to the visit.
Day Four. South of France
To face the last day of our visit to the South of France, we continued the morning admiring Montpellier . After a quick lunch, we jumped in the car and headed back to Spain. But first we stopped in a small coastal town near the border, Colliure.
6th stage: Montpellier – Colliure (2 hours)
The last town in France. We arrive before 5 o’clock to see it during the day, since it gets dark very early at that time of year, and this is a coastal town that is worth seeing before nightfall. It is a very charming village, one of the jewels of the Languedoc-Roussillon province. It is the burial place of none other than Antonio Machado, who died in Colliure when he was in exile. You can stroll around its fortress by the sea and enjoy the views of its castle or its cobbled streets. Colliure is a town that has kept its originality intact and is calm. Although it is full of tourists due to the mixture of its historical heritage and the attraction of being a small coastal town.
7th stage: Colliure – Barcelona (2 hours and 15 minutes)
To finish, the hardest part of the trip, returning to the place of departure :(. We crossed the border again and left (in my case) towards Barcelona after this route by car through the South of France. I have done it twice and would do it many more times. The variety of places you can visit in a relatively small radius is a real marvel for all the senses, especially for the sight and the taste 🙂
Recommendations for a 4-day drive through the South of France
As for the roads, we have already mentioned them above. Tolls at almost every stage and expensive. Petrol in France is also much more expensive than in Spain, so filling up before crossing the border is a good idea. There are areas where you can take country roads and it is worth doing so. This way, as well as saving on tolls, you can enjoy the scenery. These roads are very good. They are not very busy, so it is easy to get around with a GPS.
French gastronomy and oenology are among the most renowned in the world and the fame is well deserved. Meats, wines, crêpes, croissants and desserts are some of the delicacies not to be missed. There are some meals that stick in your memory and in my case one of those was in Montpellier. I remember eating a “Canard a l’orange” (Duck a l’orange) that would knock your socks off. It is true that I have a weakness for duck, but that is certainly the best I have ever tasted.
The South of France is very different from other parts of France. Both in its culture and in its people who are very friendly, talkative and welcoming to tourists, or at least that is the impression I got.
And finally, the places to stay. The hotels in France, whatever their category, are comparatively worse than the ones we are used to in Spain. For the same price you can have a much better hotel in Spain than in France. With that in mind, I can say that the South of France is a tourist area with a lot of accommodation. With options for all tastes and affordable prices. Always bearing in mind that we are in a country with a higher purchasing power and a higher cost of living than Spain, except if you live in Madrid or Barcelona 🙂