The Palais des Papes is the first reason to visit Avignon. In the 1300s, Avignon was the heart of Roman Catholicism, which is why as a building it is referred to as the smaller cousin of the one in the Vatican. It was – and still is – imposing on the southern French landscape, and a symbol of the influence of the church at the time. When you arrive in the city, head straight to the tourist information office as their leaflets and guide books are useful for the best ways to explore historic Avignon in a day.
Similar to Nimes, Arles was once a provincial capital of Rome and so there are lots of ancient monuments and remains to spot when exploring the city – all listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1981. Most impressive is the amphitheatre at its centre, which today can be visited via guided tours and still regularly hosts shows and plays. The city was a favourite of Vincent van Gogh, who arrived in 1888 and painted many pieces about the town, most notably Café Terrace at Night.
Often called the Provençale Venice, Martigues is a gorgeous pocket of the South of France that can be reached from Nimes in under an hour and a half. The town sits on the Etang de Berre, with also a channel connecting it to the Mediterranean Sea. The centre of town is on a little island linked by a road on the west and one on the east with a canal running through its heart. Make sure to indulge in some seafood as this is where you’ll get them fresh.
Perched in the Alpilles mountains, Les-Baux-de-Provence is the kind of village you dream you’ll uncover in Provence. Awarded as one of the most beautiful villages in France, it’s ideal for escaping the city for a day. About 40 minutes outside of Nimes by car, you’ll enter the Alpilles Natural Regional Park and will be greeted with spectacular views over rocky hills and pine trees. In the village, don’t miss the Château des Baux de Provence and Carrières de Lumières, a former quarry that does large-scale art projections with music – quite spectacular.
The natural park of the Camargue is a real delight, especially after being in a more urban setting. It has been a nature reserve since 1970 and visitors come to enjoy wildlife in its natural habitat and beautiful scenery with pretty villages thrown into the mix. One of the most iconic sights of the Camargue is its white horse, which you’ll spot roaming and being used by riders in the park’s wetlands. For flamingos, head to the Ornithological Park of Pont de Gau, which has trails to explore the scenery and to spot these rosy birds.
Le Grau-du-Roi is a sprawling area on the Mediterranean, consisting of beaches, a central village, and an Etang behind it. It is a popular modern-day resort that still retains some old-world charm. The beach of Espiguette is famed in the region for its vast white sands and wild feel. So if you’re looking for a day on the coast, this is where the Mediterranean looks its best. Being a popular resort, you’ll find all the usual activities even when travelling with children, such as days out to aquariums and horseback riding on Camargue horses.
Uzès is a very smart and elegant medieval town between Nimes and Avignon that makes for a perfect day trip. If you can, visit on a Saturday, when the weekly market is held. Filling the main square, Place aux Herbes, and surrounding streets, this market illustrates what the South of France does best: fresh produce from stall to table, warm and energetic atmosphere, and too many gorgeous scents to handle. Some of the landmarks were destroyed during certain points in history, such as the Wars of Religion, but the Romanesque Tour Fenestrelle dating back to the 11th century still stands and is one of the sites not to miss.
The capital of the Camargue is the delightful ancient fishing village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, just an hour from Nimes. If you hire a car, drive all the way through the Camargue plains, spotting flamingos and the famous Camargue white horses, until you reach the Mediterranean. Climb to the top of the Eglise Notre Dame de la Mar for a wonderful view of the rooftops and the sea, or cool off at one of the beaches that surround the edge of town. If you have access to bikes, cycle along the sandy paths to the Gacholle Lighthouse.