Day Trips in Southwest France: Visit the Best Towns in Occitanie

Day Trips in Southwest France: Visit the Best Towns in Occitanie

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Holidays in southwest France are a good bet if you like variety. Occitanie has mountain ranges and sandy beaches. And the region is the sunniest area in France. One more thing it doesn’t lack is an impressive number of beautiful towns and villages. So with all that choice, here’s three of the best towns in Occitanie that I would consider unmissable.

And on a sidenote, these towns could also be considered some of the prettiest towns in the Pyrenees, this side of the border.

But first, here's a little bit about Occitanie

Occitanie sits on the Mediterranean coast, it’s the second largest region in France. The area is full to the brim with mountain ranges, beaches, marshland and ancient settlements. No matter how you like to spend your holidays, be it camping, exploring cities, hiking mountains, or relaxing by the sea, Occitanie has it all.

Pronounced Ok – si – tuh – nee with the emphasis on the “si”. The area borders Spain and shares the Pyrenees mountain range with its neighbour. The area was created in 2016 when the Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées regions were grouped together to create the area we now know as Occitanie.

If you choose to visit Occitanie for your summer holidays, you can’t go wrong with wherever you choose to stay. Holidays in southwest France are a dream, the region has something for everyone.

A street vista in Collioure with colourful buildings and green plants on the balconies

Three places to visit in Occitanie

If you are short of time or want to make sure you have plenty of time to relax on your holiday, here’s a few places to visit in Occitanie that make hiring a car worth it. Whittling down a long list of beautiful places in Occitanie is a tricky job to do, but I’ve had a good go.

  1. Collioure
  2. Carcassonne
  3. Eus

The Pyrenees Town of Collioure

First on the list of best towns in Occitanie is Collioure. This has also got to be a contender for one of the prettiest towns in the Pyrenees.

The town has prime position, nestled on the sun-kissed shores of the Mediterranean and the foothills of the Pyrenees. Collioure is a picturesque coastal town that tourists flock to.  It could be considered one of the best towns in Occitanie when you look at everything it has to offer. From its rich history and grand fortifications, to its a strong gastronomy scene and enviable location, it’s a gem on the Mediterranean coast.

Over the years, Collioure’s beauty has attracted artists from far and wide. A quick wander through the narrow streets and you’ll see why works of Fauvist artists, like Henri Matisse and André Derain, were inspired by the vibrant streets of Collioure.

With its rich history, there are many Occitanie tourist attractions to experience in Collioure. A few to add to your list include:

The view of the town of Collioure and its rocky coastline

Château Royal de Collioure

A fortification has been stood on this site since Roman times. This ancient castle sits up high in the middle of Collioure. It was occupied by various kings since the 12th century. It has been classed as a historical monument since 1922.

Visitors to the castle can climb its ramparts for panoramic views. There’s an option to take a guided tour through the castle which really brings Collioure and its castle to life.

Moulin de Collioure

Built in the 14th century, the Mill of Collioure is the oldest buildings in the department. It was used to mill grains in the area from the 14th century until the 19th century when it was left to ruin. Now it is used as a place to produce Collioure’s olive oil.

You can visit the mill between April – September to purchase the oil. The opening hours are limited so check with the website before making a trip.

Fort Saint-Elme

This 16th century fortress sits upon a hill in a rather majestic manner. The military fort is now a museum about the renaissance but is currently closed to the public until 2024. Visitors are treated to a spectacular view of the coast.

Collioure Market

Every Wednesday and Sunday morning a market comes to Collioure. Expect locally grown fruit, vegetables, bakery items, fish, meat, seafood, clothes and jewellery. It gets busy as it covers just a small area but if you arrive early to beat the crowds, you’ll be glad to have made the trip. It can be a good place to pick up some food for a picnic.

It’s understandable why Collioure is a tourist hotspot. Its artistic allure, tapestry of history, ocean vistas, gastronomy scene, and natural beauty allow tourists to experience the best of southwest France in a small town.

Collioure’s proximity to other small fishing towns can make it into a perfect day trip or weekend away. Just a quick word of caution, it can get a little busy on a Sunday when the market is in full swing.

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The medieval walled city of Carcassonne

You might recognise number two on our list of the best towns in Occitanie from films, TV, the Tour de France and many, many postcards. It’s the Cite de Carcassonne, France’s largest fortified town. Perched on top of a hill, the fairytale-like towers in this walled city can be seen from miles away. 

Carcassonne is one of the most visited Occitanie tourist attractions.

A view of the medieval streets within the walled city of Carcassonne

A brief history of Carcassonne

The Romans established a fortified hilltop settlement in the 3rd century and named it Carcaso. In the middle ages it became a major stronghold for the region. By the 19th century, it had been left for ruin and was scheduled for demolition. Until Viollet-le-Duc came along. As a French architect, he began a lengthy and thorough restoration project. And in 1997 it was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list.

Visiting Carcassonne: Things to do in Carcassonne

You visit Carcassonne for the walled city, the town below the City is worth a look around but if you’re short on time, it’s not worth rushing around Carcassonne to see it. You’ll want to make sure you get the most out of your time in Carcassonne. And what better way to do that than with a walking tour.

Walking Tours in Carcassonne

There are a couple of different walking tour options to choose from when visiting Carcassonne. From self-guided to private tours, and even a tour focusing on Carcassonne during WWII. If you’re price sensitive, choose the self-guided tour.

Château Comtal – the castle in the centre of Carcassonne

Entrance to the fortified city of Carcassonne is free, however, to visit the castle within the walls you’ll need a ticket. Tickets cost €9.50 for adults, there is free admission for children under 18.

Tip for Budget Travellers to Carcassonne – Entrance to Château Comtal is free on the first Sunday of each month. Arrive early to avoid the long queue.

Église Saint-Nazaire – the church within the medieval walled city

Free entrance, so it’s worth peeking around the corner even if you aren’t interested. The stained glass windows are beautiful, as are the 22 gothic sculptures within the church.

Le Pont Vieux – The bridge from Carcassone city centre over the river heading to the walled city

If you have time, wander down to the bridge from the walled city of Carcassonne. The views of the walled city are beautiful from this bridge. It’s a great way to take in the view of the walled city from below. The turrets and towers look like they are straight out of a Disney film. It’s a spectacular sight.

A view of the small town of Eus on a hill with the church right at the highest point

The small town of Eus in the Pyrenees

Our list of the best towns in Occitanie wouldn’t be complete without Eus. Considered one of the prettiest villages in France and it just so happens to be one of the sunniest places in France, too.

The population of Eus is roughly 400, so it’s not a big place. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty.

The village is perched on the side of a hill with views over the Pyrenees. The views from every outlook are spectacular. Even in the rain.

A lot of Eus is pedestrianised. Which makes things perfect for the wandering tourists who make their way off the beaten track to explore Eus. If you visit Castelnou, you’ll want to visit Eus, too. Similarly small, but they both pack a good punch.

What to see in Eus, France?

As I’ve said, it’s not a large place, but you can easily spend an hour or two walking through the narrow, cobblestone alleys winding their way up to the church at the town’s peak.

Church of Saint-Vincent-d’en-Haut in Eus

This 18th century church has the best views of the area. From the door of this church you can take in the Conflent Valley and Mount Canigou. Make sure you explore all the way around the church and through the little cave-like corridors. You are able to look inside the church from the gate if you put a Euro into the machine. But the really draw of the church is the views towards the mountains.

Solana Museum

A museum in the old school is open between mid-July and mid-September. It has quite limited opening hours, but gives visitors an insight into the everyday life of Eus residents over the years.

Restaurants in Eus

There are a couple of restaurants in Eus, but you might want to check opening hours before heading to Eus as they do have a couple of days when they aren’t open each week. If you do eat in Eus you will be spoilt with the views from the terraces.

The view of the Pyrenees and the Conflent Valley from the church in Eus

That completes our short list of the best towns in Occitanie. If you visit Occitanie, you’re in for a treat. We whittled down the list to three towns but there are many to choose from. It’s a beautiful place with a lot to offer. If you love impressive views, you won’t be disappointed!

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