The Gulf of Lion is a vast area of France spanning the Spanish Border up to Hyères – 20km (12 miles) East of Toulon.
In this itinerary we will drive along the southern coast of France and advise you the best places to stop. You can see the map of our trip just below.
Stop No. 1: Perpignan
Perpignan was the original continental capital of the ancient Kingdom of Mallorca, surrounded by mountains on three sides and by the sea on the remaining one. The city enjoys sunny weather as the majority of the clouds are blocked by the chains of mountains. Firstly recorded in 927 AD, the land was sold to the bishop of Elne, but it is only from the 10th century that the city starts growing – becoming the capital of the Roussillon County. Educational city since the 14th century, it still remains one of the knowledge cradles of France and offers one of the best European programmes of Environmental Sciences and Renewable Energies and Technologies. Don’t hesitate to visit the Palace of the King of Mallorca and the Cathedral, it’s worth it!
As your day is probably over we suggest you to drive to Argelès s/ Mer to enjoy the shores of the Mediterranean where the “Camping Les Pins” will happily welcome you. If you want to stay longer don’t hesitate, the area is amazing.
Stop No. 2: Narbonne and the Regional Natural Park
About 90km North is Narbonne and its Regional Natural Park, meanwhile driving to Narbonne you’ll go through the Natural Park, try to make the most of it as you will be able discover the Mediterranean contrast between the drylands and wetlands as well as the one between wilderness and planned rural areas. Once you are done follow the road to Narbonne nicknamed “the eldest daughter of Rome outside of Italy” due to its history. Founded by the Romans in 118 BC the city has seen many populations settling in from the Wisigoths to the Frankish tribes and the Arabs. Heart of the Catholic faith in Southern France during all the Middle Ages it was the bridgehead of the Roman Catholic force during the Albigensian Crusade (Cathar Crusade). Located at the very centre of the vineyards area of the Languedoc it is an amazing region to enjoy the laidback lifestyle of Southern France with a glass of the traditional Languedoc Rosé wine. Don’t hesitate to visit the cathedral and the bishop’s palace, if the weather is too hot for you go to the Horreum (Roman warehouse complex)
When you’re done you can both go backwards to Le Barcarès and go get some rest at the Croix du Sud Camping Club or you can go further North to Valras-Plage to the 4-Star Hermitage Camping and Village.
Stop No. 3: Béziers
One of the oldest cities of France, Béziers was founded at the beginning of the 6th century BC and has over 2,700 years of history. Home to multiple people it was subsequently occupied by the Romans, the Wisigoths, the Arabs and the Catalans until it became part of the Kingdom of France in 1247. Being a Catharism stronghold the city was sacked in 1209 by the crusader, this sack is often known by Frenchmen when they hear the quote: “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius” (Kill them all, God will recognise his own). This sack killed between 15,000 and 20,000 which almost left the city empty. Nevertheless throughout its history the city remained a religious landmark with the wine industry supporting its growth. Make sure you visit the Cathedral and the Arena.
If your day is over and you’re looking for a place to get some rest drive towards Portiragnes where the Camping Club Les Mimosas will be a haven for you to relax before the big drive to the East of the Gulf of Lion.
Stop No. 4: Natural Regional Park of Camargue, Aigues-Mortes and Saintes-Maries de la Mer
About 120km North-East of Portiragnes is the Natural Regional Park of Camargue, located in the centre of the Rhône delta, the park is incredibly rich in terms of biodiversity and is a protected area of wetlands (probably the most famous in France) where you will be able to see the famous wild horses and bulls of Camargue as well as the flamingos.
But when entering the territory don’t forget to stop by the medieval city of Aigues-Mortes surrounded by its 13th century ramparts. Original spearhead harbour to embark for the Holy Land, it was developed mostly by King Louis IX to avoid the long walk through many countries that were taken during the first and second crusades. For those who want to buy something typical the “fleur de sel of Aigues-Mortes” is one of the most appreciated by chefs you should also try the “Vin des Sables” (issued from vineyard planted in the sand dunes).
Then continue driving on the D570 and you will arrive to Saintes-Maries de la Mer. The place is known for its Mary Magdalene yearly pilgrimage. This pilgrimage is due to the legend that says that following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea were to set sail for Alexandria, Egypt and were washed up on these coasts. Also more recently the town became the centre of the Gypsy religious festival in honour of Saint Sarah, who would have been the servant of the three Marys or a local woman who would have welcomed them on their arrival.
If you want to rest prior to drive any further go to the Camping Le Clos du Rhone.
Stop No. 5: Calanques National Park and Cassis
On your way you will probably have to circumnavigate Marseilles to reach the national park, if you want to avoid the burden of driving through the circular road we suggest that you take a longer but quicker way; switch to the A8 towards Aix en Provence (Aix en Pce on road signs), then take the A52 to Aubagne, finally take the A50 and exit towards Cassis, drive through the city and go towards the Calanque of Port Miou and enjoy the magnificent landscape so typical of the Calanques.
Go back to the city centre, park your car and lose yourself on a stroll in the picturesque streets of the traditional French Mediterranean-style city.
Finally when you are done drive towards La Ciotat about 12km away and go to the Camping du Soleil to get some rest before your sixth and final stop the city of Hyères.
Stop No. 6: Hyères
Located on the threshold of the Côte d’Azur, the area was founded by Phocaeans (Marseilles’ Greeks) in the 4th century BC, known as “Olbia” which archaeological site can be visited. The city is located 4km from the sea and has been a resort for many Britons during the 19th century, even Queen Victoria spent three weeks there. Don’t hesitate to go to Giens or take the ferry to the Isle of Porquerolles to enjoy amazing beaches with crystal blue water.
If you want to stay somewhere we recommend you the Camping Port Pothuau. This drive-away in the South of France ends here; however, we recommend you spend at least a couple of days in each location to really have time to enjoy your trip.