Medieval castles, fairytale villages, and modern metropolises: there’s no shortage of incredible settlements to visit during your trip to South West France. Here’s your guide to the best cities, villages, and towns in Occitanie you simply must visit!
Where is Occitanie?
Occitanie can be found in the South West of France, close to the border with Spain. Also known as Occitania, this region is the most Southern point of Metropolitan France (excluding Corsica). The area consists of the former regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées and is famous for its many castles, foodie scene, and medieval villages.
Prettiest Cities, Villages & Towns in Occitanie
Appearing as if it comes straight out of a storybook, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a member of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (the most beautiful villages in France). Home to thirteen historic listed buildings, as well as several impressive French Châteaux, the quaint settlement sits high above the River Lot. Also of note is Saint-Cirq-Lapopie’s position along the French section of the Way of Saint James.
The pink city of France (otherwise known as La Ville Rose in French) is one of the most popular cities in France for tourism and it’s not hard to see why. After all, as the capital of the Region of Occitanie, Toulouse has plenty of things to do, and even more attractions to see, including lots of hidden gems.
Home to some breathtaking architecture, the city counts several UNESCO world heritage sites among its historic buildings, including the Basilica of St Sernin and the Canal du Midi. While in town, be sure to pay a visit to the Capitole building, where you’ll find a breathtaking array of staterooms that are free to visit.
Just a short train ride away from Toulouse, Albi is characterised by its picturesque architecture, notably in the form of a historic bridge spanning the River Tarn and the imposing Gothic and fortified red-brick Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, which dates back to the 13th-century.
With over three hundred days of sunshine a year, it should come as no surprise that one of the best cities in Occitanie is Montpellier. And as one of the larger cities in France, there’s no shortage of historical, quirky, and cultural activities to do in Montpellier.
While the historic city centre is easy to wander around on foot (and get lost in for several hours- check out our Montpellier walking tour here), on the outskirts of town you’ll find Château de Flaguergues, one of the most beautiful mansions in France. Elsewhere in the city, Montpellier even has its very own Arc de Triomphe!
You may well have heard of the small South West town of Lourdes before thanks to a series of alleged apparitions by Mary to a young peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous in the 19th-century. From then on, the town became a major pilgrimage site, with water from the place said to be able to cure all manner of illnesses and ailments.
Today, one of the more striking attractions in Lourdes is the Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes. Elsewhere in the city, the imposing Château fort de Lourdes sits high above the town and has a history dating back well over a thousand years.
Founded by the Romans as a port city over two millennia ago, silt and sand has built over the centuries, to the extent that the city of Narbonne now lies over ten kilometres from the sea. Instead, if you’re looking to enjoy the beach, then you’ll need to visit Narbonne Plages.
Within Narbonne itself, you’ll find plenty of pretty churches and museums, including one dedicated to the iconic French singer, Charles Trenet, who was born in the city. Other highlights of Narbonne include a traditional French covered food hall and plenty of Southern French architecture. If you’re looking to enjoy the best of Narbonne over the course of an afternoon, then be sure to follow our free self-guided Narbonne tour.
Home to some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in France, including a two-tiered Roman amphitheatre that was built in around 70 CE and is still used for events and concerts today. Other highlights of Nimes include the Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard, and the Tour Magne, a Roman tower with breathtaking panoramic views.
Slightly similar in appearance to Albi, Beziers is one of the oldest towns in France, dating all the way back to 575 BC, and thus making it just slightly younger than the city of Marseille. With its own international airport and train links to the rest of France, a visit to Beziers couldn’t be easier, even if you don’t have access to a car.
With a population of just under 60,000 residents, known locally as Montalbanais, Montauban is a charming Occitanie town situated along the banks of the River Tarn at its confluence with the River Tescou.
Situated around 50 km North of Toulouse, the city has been designated a City of Art and History since 2015. Today, highlights of Montauban include exploring the historic upper town and enjoying plenty of traditional French food.
Easy to reach from the nearby cities of Montpellier and Beziers (should you get a train from one city to the other, you’ll even be able to spot Sète from the carriage windows!), the port of Sete has deep historical roots in the fishing industry. Now, the port city is one of the best places in France to enjoy seafood, often caught fresh that very morning.
A fairytale castle sits atop a mountainous peak: welcome to Rocamadour. The clifftop village is often cited as a Cité Réligieuse thanks to the sheer number of ecclesiastical buildings within Rocamadour’s limits, and highlights include a Romanesque-Gothic Basilica, as well as a Chapelle Notre-Dame.
Perhaps the most famous fortified city in the world is that of Carcassonne, a medieval fortress steeped in history. Dating all the way back to the 12th-century, the fairytale-esque look of the Château is thanks to extensive renovations and reparations by Viollet-le-Duc (the same man who modified Mont Saint Michel) in the 19th-century.
Just across the water from the world-famous Avignon and its semi-washed-away bridge, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon can even be spied from the Palais des Papes. Around a forty minute walk from Provence (and even less by bus or car), highlights of this medieval town include a church with beautiful cloisters, and the 14th-century fortress, Fort Saint André.
Constructed so as to serve as With a red sea that gets its appearance from the region’s rich salt deposits, Aigues-Mortes was founded by Louis IX in the 13th-century for the purpose of expanding France’s trade routes. Today, the walled city is breathtaking to look at and is filled with tiny coffee houses, narrow cobbled streets (many of which are pedestrian only) and lots of shopping opportunities.
Things to know before visiting Occitanie
If it’s your first time in Occitanie, then you’re in for a treat. Home to wild mountains, medieval villages, and breathtaking coastline, there’s no shortage of fun things to do in the region for all ages. You should know that, as a part of France, French is the official language spoken in Occitanie.
Though many touristic spots will be home to people who speak a good level of English, it’s only polite to learn a few words of the local language. ‘Please,’ ‘hello,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘sorry’ are a great place to start. Bring along a French phrasebook like this one to help you get by.
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