I’ve been living in the South of France for eight years and have found that the summers here are really the best time of year to experience all the region has to offer. As the French get five weeks of vacation time, most of which is taken in the summer, the season is chock-full of activities, beach-going, and pure relaxation.
For starters, there are festivals galore—food festivals, music festivals, theatre and art festivals, to name a few. Many are free, like the summer jazz concerts that take place all over the city of Toulon, and many others are reasonably priced.
You might find yourself at the Soupe au Pisou festival (a kind of summer minestrone soup) dining with the locals while a 1980s cover band accompanies your meal. After a few glasses of rosé and a few turns on the dancefloor, complete strangers become fast friends by the end of the night.
Some of my favorite events are the food festivals that take place in my hometown of Ollioules. In the center of the village, they clear out the main square, set up rows of tables, and offer a three-course meal for around $30. For that price you get a starter (soup or salad), main course (fish is popular as a festival theme), dessert, bread, and two glasses of wine.
No Provençal summer would be complete without a visit to the South of France’s iconic beaches. If you’d like to rub elbows with the rich and famous, you can head to the azure coast of Cannes and St. Tropez. But lesser-known beaches can be just as charming and usually easier on the wallet if you’d like to dine at the local restaurants afterward.
A favorite weekend activity of mine is to visit the sandy beaches of Bandol, a town otherwise famous for its production of crisp rosé and white wines. After spending the morning near the sea, I’ll leave around 12 p.m. to catch the tail-end of Bandol’s lively outdoor market. Here you can put together a picnic basket of roasted chicken, Provençal potatoes, local olives, and fruits if you feel like returning to the beach.
Alternatively, you could try one of Bandol’s many restaurants lining the main boulevard. One of my favorites is L’Esperance; a small establishment where the chef shops for his ingredients at the local market and sources the finest products from all around France. This is an opportunity to “splash out” and perhaps experience one of the best meals in the region.
Of course, Bandol is just one of the many fantastic beach towns to visit up and down the coast. Another must-see destination is Sanary-sur-Mer, which was recently designated the “Most Beautiful Market in France” following a nationwide poll. Besides having a breathtaking port and easy beach access, Sanary opens a bustling night market during the summer months. This is a great way to cool down after a day at the beach and a chance to get some shopping in before hitting up the town’s many restaurants and wine bars.