Steph Larson is a freelance writer who loves to travel and try foods from all over the world. She’s always excited to plan her next adventure!
Budget Travel in the South of France
When some think of a vacation in France, they might think of the culture and bustle of Paris and all its iconic landmarks. But if you’re looking for a French getaway without the urban energy, consider the south of France, where you can enjoy the cuisine, enjoy the scenery, and take it a little slower — all without breaking your vacation budget on runaway Paris taxi fares.
Before You Go
- Plan and research. Although you shouldn’t plan down to the second, you should have a good idea of what you plan to see and how to manage your time. Leave yourself enough room to improvise and be impulsive, but don’t go in blind. Check website reviews for your lodgings. Read up on the area of France you’re planning to visit and find out if there any issues or events that might make your trip more (or less) enjoyable. Also, be aware of the common scams that often get played on tourists, so you can be on the lookout for them.
- Learn the basics of French. This tip might seem self-explanatory, but your trip will be much more enjoyable if you can communicate with the locals beyond asking for directions to the bathroom. If you’ve planned your trip far enough in advance, pick up some DIY language course software or audio books and learn the language.
- Know about the cultural differences. Many cultural cues that seem obvious to natives might look bewildering to outsiders. For example, it is considered rude in France to walk up to someone and begin talking to them without first exchanging greetings. The meters on Paris cabs begin running when the cab leaves the station — so when your cab arrives, you already owe a fare. Take the train instead.
Here are some tips on how to stay within your means while traveling. A little preparation can save you a lot of money in the long term.
- Get local currency through an ATM with a debit card — it’s the safest and cheapest way to get the coin of the realm overseas.
- Check into possibilities for couch-surfing or staying in local BnBs, especially if you’re traveling alone or without children.
- Look into traveling in the off-season. July and August are not only going to be packed, prices are also likely to be higher.
- Ask the locals about nearby markets. Many towns in Southern France have “market days” where you can find local food much more cheaply.
- Eat at small local cafes or bistros, rather than splurging on overpriced food at the hotel. The local food will be better anyway!
- When booking or planning, look for free cultural activities in the area, such as galleries, festivals, or live music.
- Purchase a Eurail Regional pass and take the train instead of renting a car.
- You can also bus to many regional locations, further trimming back your travel expenses.
- If you’re in Southern France to enjoy the natural beauty, consider camping as an option rather than staying in a hotel. France has many comfortable and well-regulated campgrounds, with “star” ratings just like hotels.
Where to Stay
When imagining the south of France, many people think of Cannes and beach-front resorts, which might be far out of the price range of many travelers. However, the south of France does offer more than just yachts and Monte Carlo casinos — the area offers plenty of natural beauty and relaxed atmosphere.
The city of Nice is commonly considered the cheapest in the area, and is near several other travel destinations like Monte Carlo. Nice often has holiday apartments for rent available for travelers in need of a place to stay, and is generally far more welcoming to travelers than St Tropez.
What to Eat
The south of France is known to some as “a foodie’s paradise.” Here are some local dishes to try while traveling. If you happen to be in Nice, especially stop by the Cafe Bianco, Oliviera, or Flaveur, which offer good food at reasonable prices.
- Rosé wine is common in Nice — a dry, inexpensive wine that complements French food.
- A common dish, Niçoise salad, is made with anchovies, Dijon, red peppers, and other vegetables.
- Socca is a chickpea pancake that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. It’s a “street food” cooked on hot coals and available from streetside vendors.
- Pea puree bruleé is pureed peas with heavy cream and topped with breadcrumbs and Parmesan.
- For simpler fare, try a baguette with pear confit and some cheese. If you’re a carnivore, you should also try the steak tartare there — with a glass of rose wine, of course.
What to Do
The biggest thing to keep in mind when planning your trip is not to bite off more than you can chew. An overplanned, high-speed vacation where you try to see everything will have less impact than a trip where you limit yourself to a few activities and give yourself a chance to really absorb them. That in mind, here are a few suggestions:
- See the cave drawings at Grotte de Niaux.
- Attend one of the many small festivals in the area (this is where that research pays off- Jazz Festivals such as Jazz à Luz, or the Souillac en Jazz festival offer a lot of free concerts daily).
- Get in touch with history at the medieval citadel of Carcassonne, or the chateaus Queribus and Peyrepertuse.
- Check out the Picasso Museum in Antibes.
- Hire a boat and take a leisurely trip down the Canal du Midi in Languedoc.
- If you want a more urban adventure, check out the Roman ampitheatre at Arles.
Remember, a planned vacation doesn’t have to mean a dull vacation. Do a little homework and go on holiday with some modest goals in mind, and create an unforgettable experience.