The South of France boasts a rich and varied history of winemaking from the country’s oldest wine-producing region of Provence - south of the Alps and stretching from the east of the river delta to Nice - to perhaps the slightly neglected but increasingly alluring Languedoc-Roussillon region - lying to the west and mainly in the plains that stretch between the southern limits of the Massif Central and the Mediterranean.
The climate is typically Mediterranean and provides a sound base for organic viticulture, with the warm, dry growing season offering optimum grape cultivating conditions.
The main grape variety throughout Provence is Mourvedre which is often blended with Grenache and Cinsault, and is the primary component for many red wines and roses that the region is renowned for. The globalisation of the wine industry has seen Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah rise to prominence, and the area has eight major wine regions with AOC designations: the Côtes de Provence is the largest followed by Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence while the other significant regions include Les Baux-de-Provence, Coteaux Varois en Provence, Coteaux de Pierrevert, Bandol, Cassis, Bellet and Palette.
For the most part the grapes grown in the Languedoc-Roussillon region are the same as Provence, plus Carignan, and the area has thrived since the development and rapid rise in the production of Vins de Pays and subsequently the regional Vin de Pays d’Oc. The five main appellations in the Languedoc are Coteaux du Languedoc, Corbières AOC, Faugères, Minervois AOC, and Saint-Chinian AOCs.
While the South of France and Provence’s reputation for excellent wine and in particular rose, is well-established, the area offers tourists a wealth of opportunity to explore the beautiful landscapes, captivating cities, sprawling hill towns, and picturesque oceans of eye-catching vineyards.
A heady mix of delightfully preserved Roman remains, artistic masterpieces, idyllic beaches and saturated with A-list visitors thanks to its bohemian traditions established during the 1920s and cemented in the swinging 1960s, the region is imbued with a decadent charm.
Avignon, in south eastern France, remains one of the architectural and cultural centres of the country, tendering an enchanting array of stunningly striking medieval buildings and old stone houses. Referred to as the ‘City of Popes’, Avignon is home to the iconic Palais des Papes, one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe and formerly the papal residency.
Near to the Palais des Papes is the famous Pont d’Avignon, the 12th century Bridge, and the Rocher des Doms Park Gardens, which provides a sweepingly tranquil escape from the bustling Avignon streets. The town of Orange houses a resplendent Roman theatre and this small area in Provence is home to the Chorégies d'Orange summer opera festival.
The Calanques on the coastline between Marseille and Cassis offer breath-taking views of the turquoise Mediterranean, as well as beautifully undiscovered beaches set amongst the limestone cliffs and pine trees.
To the south of Avignon is Baux de Provence, a village that welcomes more than two million visitors a year thanks to its standing as one of the most beautiful villages in France. There are great views across the plains of the Alpilles Mountains as well scenic viewpoints of the Mediterranean below. The Luberon region, 40km east of Arles and Avignon and north of Aix-en-Provence is also an area of outstanding natural beauty, enclosing a plethora of hill toped villages from the medieval period.
The coastal region of the Var is inclusive of some France’s finest coastlines and of course the iconic Riviera resort of Saint-Tropez. Lying 50 miles southwest of Cannes, the aforementioned town has been a favoured haunt for some of the world’s most glamorous celebrities since Bridget Bardot and the Rolling Stones, amongst others, became perpetual visitors during the 1960s.
Lozère, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region but perhaps better known as part of the Massif Central, affords visitors dramatic views of unspoilt French landscapes such as the Gorges du Tarn, which runs the course of the Tarn River.
The Languedoc-Roussillon has plenty of long, wide sandy beaches, mountains and meandering rivers and while it perhaps remains in the shadows of the more championed Provence, it is equally stunning, increasingly important in the wine making world, and certainly worth frequenting.
While too vast a region to mention each and every area of significance, having missed out a host of notable places like Montpellier and Marseille, the southern part of France, including Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, remains a hugely popular tourist destination and much, much more than a prolific maker of superb wines. Hopefully the above gives a little indication to the endless possibilities on offer for visitors to the region.