How to Have a Fabulous Summer in the South of France

Boats at the portside town of Sanary-sur-Mer.

Greetings dear readers and friends. Well, one day you’re stocking multiple umbrellas in the trunk of your car, and the next the thermometer has climbed to 30°C (86°F)… so is the change from spring to summer in the south of France. It sneaks up on you and then bam, everyone and their brother-in-law is off to the beach. And looking pretty much like red lobsters returning to work on Monday morning.

Such was the case this last weekend, and after experiencing 8 summers in Provence, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect… and what to stock up on. Namely sunscreen, and loads of it.

Which got me thinking about all the “prep work” that goes into summer and how, with a little bit of tweaking here and there, you can have a pretty fabulous summer in the south of France.

So here are a few of my tips for making the most of a summer vacation / holiday down south. As always, please feel free to share your own trip ideas in the comments below (I love hearing from you).

Stocking up on summer essentials.

-Stock up on sunscreen and all things cotton.

Well, the sunscreen is a pretty obvious one. They have great brands in the supermarkets, and if you want to go a bit “luxe” you can pick up some high-quality protection at the pharmacies.

As for the cotton, this took me a few years to figure out. When packing for the south of France, the best bit of advice I can think of is to picture yourself in Florida. Even before venturing to the sunshine state, I felt like I had the drill down from all of the images we see in the media – cruising down to Margaritaville, boating around the Keys, etc etc… Those same billowy, light-as-a-feather cotton pants and tank tops are just the ticket for a summer vacation in Provence.

We’re only in the middle of June, and my jeans won’t see the light of day until mid-September at the earliest.

I’m a bit too shy to post myself in my go-to “uniform” for the summer, but I am currently living in a combination of cotton / linen pants and cotton tank tops in every color of the rainbow. And they don’t have to be expensive either. My cotton pants were €12 and my tank tops were €3 each from a store called Kiabi. Stock up on some “fancy” looking ones, and your outfit can easily go from day to night.

-Go to the beach early.

Sorry to say folks, but the beaches get crowded in the summer. I wish I could say otherwise, but if you’re planning a trip to the south during this peak season, you’ll be sharing your patch of sand with many other beach-goers. Except if you go early. Like 9am early.

Coming from Southern California myself, I know this sounds kinda crazy… like only die-hard surfers are setting up shop before 10am, but trust me on this one. The beach is so enjoyable at this time of day and since we’re not talking about the ocean, but the calm seas of the Mediterranean, the temperature of the water is much warmer. I’ve gone as early as 8:30am (having a 2-year-old will do that to you) and found many fellow bathers were already in the water.

You still won’t be totally alone, but you will have a spot to yourself and definitely beat the mid-day crowds.

(A small note: a lot of lifeguard stations don’t open up until around 10am, so just take care with early-morning swims.)

-Take a boat tour to the Calanques of Cassis.

This one never gets old and I feel like I could go here summer after summer. The Calanques are rocky inlets that wind their way from just off the port of Cassis to the beaches of Marseille. Not only are they visually stunning, but you also have the azure blue of the Mediterranean as a beautiful backdrop. You can take a hike along the Calanques from a trail that starts outside the village of Cassis. Again, it’s a good idea to start early and bring lots of water for your trek.

Colorful tomatoes at the Sanary-sur-Mer market.

-Visit the Provençal markets in the morning.

Well, you’re probably starting to see a pattern emerge here… namely, early is very good during the summer months. This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of being near Sanary-sur-Mer so I thought it would be a great idea to head to the weekly market. Only it was around 10:15am and I found myself in a line of cars trying to enter the seaside town – about a 15-minute-wait line of cars. And then of course it all came back to me… the best morning trips I’ve had to the Sanary market were when I arrived around 9am… parking to myself, vendors to myself, and a good hour to explore / shop before the crowds arrived. And with the wonderful markets that dot the south of France, you’ll surely want to make the best of your visit.

The daily outdoor market in the center of Toulon.

-Do nothing at all.

One of the most magical things about the south of France is its laid-back, carefree lifestyle. I’m not yet on vacation and have a few busy work-weeks ahead of me, but all I dream about is posting up in some seaside café, ordering a wine & cheese plate, and watching the world go by. Some of your best memories of Provence might be the ones you didn’t plan for at all.

Wishing you a trés bonne journée from le sud de la France!

-In case you missed it, I have an article on International Living about How to Take a Tour of France without Breaking the Bank.

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