Back when #eurobert was happening, I raved passionately about my experience traveling in Southern France, in particular Nice, Monaco and the rest of the French Riviera. As much as I genuinely enjoyed myself, however, I was troubled by a number of logistical issues I didn’t care to mention at the time.
At best, backpacking – or any sort of budget travel – in the south of France is a frustrating pursuit, one that takes a precise combination of planning, expertise and luck to execute successfully.
At worst it’s a crapshoot, a practice that simply doesn’t make sense in this region in the world: Southern France is known as expensive, exclusive and, to most backpackers, elusive for a very good reason.
As I backpacked through southern France this past August, I fluctuated between these two states of mind, for reasons I’ll go into in more detail below. Have you ever backpacked in the south of France and, if so, what were your impressions?
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Transportation in the South of France
It might sound silly to some of you, but my greatest desire upon arriving in the south of France was to traipse through the iconic lavender fields I’d previously only seen in ads for L’Occitane en Provence. Unfortunately, my dreams were crushed almost as soon as I arrived in Avignon, one of the principal tourist cities of southern France.
Not only was it impossible to take a public bus to any of the extremely rural places where lavande grows in the south of France, but even if I had coughed up 80 euros to take a day tour of the region, my ability to dance and prance through the fields would’ve be limited, at best.
At the advisement of a friend I made while roaming the streets of Avignon, I decided to rent a motorbike my second morning in the city, with the idea that I would spend the entire day amid the purpleness. There was just one problem: I’d never ridden a motorbike – and, assuming this would be easy, lied to the man at the rental desk about it – and crashed it before I even got on the main road.
Cost of Travel in Southern France
It’s not a big deal, Robert, I reassured myself as I walked away from the rental shop in utter shame. You bought rental insurance, so you really didn’t lose any money. Let’s just go to the car hire place at the train station and pretend this never happened, shall we?
That was the plan, but unfortunately, not what eventuated. Even if a car had been available – I was traveling in southern France during the country’s peak holiday period, and literally all the cars were rented out – the minimum rate I was quoted was a whopping 180 euros per day, without insurance, gas or any of the other inevitable extras of car hire.
Of course, the fact that Southern France is expensive won’t come as a surprise if you’ve watched coverage of the Cannes Film Festival, even if it does present a slightly glitzier image of the region than what actually exists.
To be fair, prices of some things in southern France – Italian food, wine and other consumables – range from affordable to bearable, whether you buy them in bucolic places like Avignon and Arles or in Nice, right down the Riviera from Cannes. But the fact is that most of your core expenditures in the south of France will be sky-high in price – transport isn’t the half of it.
Budget Accommodation in South France
Accommodation tends to be expensive in the south of France, but it’s less because of the overall price point, and more because budget lodging – i.e. hostels – simply isn’t common in the cities of southern France. I stayed in a dorm at a campground in Avignon, for example, and decided to take a day trip to Arles, rather than sleeping there, because no cheap lodging existed.
There are some hostels in larger regional cities like Nice, Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, but prices tend to be extremely high – I paid an average of 50 euros per night at Villa St. Exupery in Nice, for example – and availability for hostels, where they exist, low, on account of all the people that try and backpack in southern France, even though it really isn’t a great region to do it.
Thing is, southern France is a great region in general, maybe one of the most enjoyable and beautiful ones I’ve ever visited. If you’ve got the opportunity to travel here I definitely recommend it, but I also suggest you set realistic expectations: Your likelihood of traveling cheap in the south of France is pretty slim-to-none.
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