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5 Great Destinations In The South Of France (That Aren't Provence Or The Riviera)

Posted: 05/19/2012 7:00 am

When you hear someone is planning a trip to the South of France, chances are good you're imagining one of two things: the turquoise waters along the French Riviera or the lavender fields of Provence. These are both lovely images and lovely places, absolutely ideal to serve as travel inspiration. That said, there's much more to the southern part of the country, including a region well-known (and highly regarded) by the French, the Languedoc-Roussillon.

The Languedoc, just to the west of Provence, is full of the kinds of picturesque villages visitors to France dream about. The region stretches all the way to the Mediterranean so you can get some beach time in, too. What makes it even more idyllic for travelers is that the region is far less popular as a tourist destination.

Here are five off-the-beaten-path places in the French Mediterranean.

Sète
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This seaside fishing town has a Mediterranean beach and a different attitude than a traditional Riviera coastal town.  Locals call it "Little Venice" for the canals that line the main streets, and mussels cling to the docks along bright blue water.  Sète doesn't try to dress itself up: you can watch fishermen bringing in the catch of the day or walk along the Promenade Maréchal LeClerc, where you'll glimpse ferries departing for Morocco or Algeria.

Quai General Durand, which runs along the Grand Canal, is filled with seafood restaurants serving tempting prix-fixe menus.  Be careful, though, because the enticing scenery and outdoor seating can lead to awfully over-salted and over-priced meals.  Head a few blocks inland instead to get your fix of moules frites (mussels and fries) or bouillabaisse (fish stew).  The best thing to do in Sète is to work off your meal by walking up Mont St. Clair: you can find it by heading uphill on any of the many chemin--staircases--leading out of the harbor part of town.  A long, fairly strenuous climb will take you to a hilltop esplanade overlooking the water, windmills, and surrounding vineyards.  Of course, you can always drive up instead, like most of the French do--but that wouldn't be nearly as fun.

Sète is roughly 30 kilometers south of Montpellier, about halfway along the coast towards Béziers.  Trains and buses run at least hourly from Montpellier and any of the surrounding towns, and there are (expensive) ferries from Northern Africa several times a week.

Read about other "fake Venices" around the world
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