The South of France is a land made for picnics. there is great food and wine, plenty of wide open spaces, and warm sunny days where your only priority is finding shade under a nice tree. A picnic is also something that the French take very seriously. I have seen potential divorces caused by an errant husband forgetting to bring the baguettes.
If you find yourself in the South of France on a hot summers day and you want a lazy day out with the family, then here is our choice of the top 10 best Picnic Spots in the South of France. Other picnic places could have made our list, for instance taking a picnic along the banks of the Canal du Midi, up amongst the Onion fields of the Cervennes, next to a lavendar field in Provence, and so on. But anywhere, here are our picnic spot suggestions if you find yourself in the South of France on a hot summers day.
1. Picnics in South France: Carcassonne
Whenever we go to Carcassonne, we park-up in the car parks and then take a short walk away from 'La Cite' up past the Musee Memoires du Moyen Age and out along the small road towards the motorway. Here you get one of the best views of Carcassonne and the Castle. There can not be a finer place in the South of France than to have a picnic overlooking this magnificent fortification. After your picnic, you can wander around Carcassonne's Castle or drop down into the town itself. A lot of guide books slag off Carcassonne (town) but I have always found it ok, even if it is overshadowed by the castle. An alternative activity is to drive out to the Canal du Midi in between Carcassonne and Castlenaudary. If you're still feeling peckish after your picnic you can dine in Castlenaudary itself and try the famous dish of the Languedoc - the Cassoulet. See Carcassonne for more information about the citadel and the town itself.
2. Places for picnics in France: Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard, situated just north of Nimes, is one of the most dramatic monuments of Roman architecture in the South of France. This Roman aqueduct, was built around AD50 to carry water over 50 km from Uzes to Nimes. There are two alternative picnic spots at the Pont du Gard. You can either eat on the banks of the river with a fantastic view of the bridge in all its glory, or you can pick a nice shady spot on the botanical trail through the Mediterranean garden. From here you can capture the full height and beauty of the Pont du Gard without getting mobbed by all the crowds. I have to say the the Pont du Gard is my favourite picnic spot, but I got out-voted by my children. It is well worth the trip (see Pont du Gard for more details).
3. Picnic overlooking the Cirque de Navacelles
The Cirque de Navacelles is a dramatic ox-bow canyon which cuts deep through the plain of the Upper Herault. On the small hillock that is left in the middle of the Cirque de Navacelles, is huddled the ancient hamlet of Navacelles. The best view of the Cirque de Navacelles is from the South. If you reach the small hamlet of St-Maurice-Navacelles, you should take the D130 northwards until you come to the lookout point and information centre. From here the road takes a series of hairpin bends down the Gorge into Navacelles itself. We always have our picnic at the lookout point and take in the whole scale of the Gorge. For the fit and healthy, their are guided walking tours through the Cirque de Navacelles down from the Information Centre. Some friends of ours took the walk from Navacelles along the river and found a great picnic spot and spent most of the afternoon diving into the plunge pools of the river.
4. Picnics in South France: Gorge du Verdon
On the South side of the Gorge du Verdon along the Corniche Sublime (D71) you can stop for a picnic at a place called the Balcons de la Mescale. From here you will get a superb view of Europe's highest bridge, the Pont de l'Artuby and see the full scale of this 700m deep canyon of the Gorge du Verdon. The Gorge du Verdon is one of the most spectacular sights in the South of France. Cutting deep into the rock, the Verdon river has created a series of gorges along a 25 km (15 miles) stretch of limestone. Down below from the Balcons de la Mescale, the River Verdon appears vividly blue in places, foaming white it others where it storms through rapids beneath limestone cliffs. The Gorge du Verdon flows south into the turquoise waters of the Lac de Ste-Croix, which is an alternative spot for a picnic.
5. Picnic on Collioure beach
Sitting on one of the two beaches at Collioure and tucking in to your picnic collection of charcuterie, olives and salad is a joy to behold. I believe that the view over the bay, with the Pyrenees behind you and the sea in front of you is one of the best coastal scenes in the South of France, if not in Europe. Collioure does get extremely busy in the summer, so it is best to arrive early to 'bag' a good spot on the beach. Collioure is situated in the very South of France, 26 km (approx. 15 miles) from the Spanish border. Collioure has always attracted a host of artists because of its 'special light' and you can follow the unique art trail through the town. I don't know why, but we always have a picnic on Collioure on a Sunday. Our favourite picnic spot is on the stony beach to the North of the town, down by the harbour walls (see Collioure for more details on the town).
6. Picnic spots in France: Millau bridge
What? A picnic beside a motorway looking at a bridge? Have you gone mad? Look, trust me. This bridge is absolutely amazing. Opened in 2004, it is so high that cloud formations float underneath it. The views from on top of it over the gorge it crosses are spectacular. You can only get a scale of how immense the bridge is when you are down on the valley floor, besides the river. It really is one of the Engineering wonders of the modern world. We always park up on the North side of the bridge in the car park of the service station and walk down onto the grass. After our picnic we then drive down into Millau itself and call into the visitors centre for a photo shot. Also closeby and worth seeing is the Roquefort caves. The scenery around here is beautiful.
7. Picnic places in South France: Aigues-Mortes
'Cock a snoop' at the expensive tourist restaurants in Aigues-Mortes and sit down to eat with one of the best views of the town in front of you. Around the fortified walls of this medieval town you will find a grassy area that is perfect picnic spot. Just roll out your blanket and enjoy the view! Aigues-Mortes was originally intended to be the principal port in the South of France. It was founded in 1246 by Lois IX, who used the Port as his base for two expeditions from the South of France to Cyprus and Tunis (where he met with his death). His son, Philip, took over from his father and commissioned Genoan engineers to build up Aigues-Mortes' famous fortified walls and grid-pattern streets. For a time the Aigues-Mortes prospered from the nearby salt beds. Now it is a popular tourist town (and picnic spot! - see Aigues Mortes for more details)
8. Picnic on the banks of the River Orb
If you follow the D14 away from Beziers, the land soon flattens out into the the plains of the Saint Chinian vineyards, one of the best wine appellations in the South of France. Ahead of you are the Black Mountains. When you arrive at Murviel-les-Beziers, follow the signposts to the 'Valle de l'Orb'. After about 2km you will come to the small hamlet of Relaes and an Iron Bridge that crosses the River Orb. You can either park up here on the left (behind the Bar & Restaurant) and climb down to the wide swimming pools and river beaches, or you can carry on for about another 1km until you reach the Canoe centre. Just past the Canoe Centre is a large picnic area perched on the Banks of the River Orb. The picnic area comes complete with stone barbeques and stupendous views of the mountains and Upper Valley of the River Orb. Children are well catered for here - lots of stones to throw into the river, loads of wide open spaces and trees to climb and best of all lots of plunge pools into the cool and clear River Orb itself. This is a really good picnic spot on a baking hot day in the South of France.
9. Oppidum d'Enserune & the Canal du Midi
Sitting up high on the hill near the Oppidum d'Enserune and looking down over the Basin de Montady, with its fields shaped like a wagon wheel, is a truly special place for a picnic. The Oppidum d'Enserune is a pre-Roman settlement, perched on a ridge above the vineyards of Beziers. We always park up in nearby Colombiers and follow the short walk along the Canal du Midi in the direction of Capestang (about 20 mins). The Canal du Midi snakes itself across the South of France from Toulouse to Sete on the Mediterranean coast. I always think of barges slowly edging along the Canal du Midi as one of the the most evocative images of the slow pace of life in the South of France. If we're feeling energetic, we somtimes park up by the canal boats at the Capestang and cycle along the banks of the Canal du Midi towards the Oppidum d'Ensurune. The cycle ride is about 11km and takes about 1½ hours. This is a great cycle ride because this section of the Canal du Midi is so beautiful here. After this long cycle ride the Oppidum makes for a perfect relaxing spot for a picnic. See Canal du Midi for more information about this magnificent Languedoc site.
10. Seafood picnic at Bouzigues
This picnic is so simple. A bottle of chilled Picpoul-de-Pinet, your fresh oysters (that you bought at one of the stalls in Bouzigues), some tabasco sauce and away you go. Dine like a King in the sunny South of France for under €10 whilst you look out over the oyster beds of the Etang de Thau and out towards Mont St-Clair in Sete. Absolute perfection. When we get to Bouzigues, we generally head out leftwards along the shore of the Etang de Thau (see our article on the Etang du Thau) in the direction of Balaruc until we find a nice quiet spot. Bouzigues is famous throughout France as producing the finest oysters. From this tiny village, oysters and mussels are transported to restaurants all over France. Bouzigues is also home to the Musee de l'Etang de Thau (see Musee Etang Thau).