You don’t have to visit the Louvre in Paris to experience exquisite art in France. Southern France is known for its gamut of glorious galleries in which to dive into art and culture. From Nice to Toulouse to Marseille, discover the natural beauty of the French countryside while engaging with the remarkable manmade beauty of a gorgeous Cezanne or Van Gogh. Put your pedal to the metal and escape on a road trip through France.
Matisse in Nice
Whether you fly into Nice or take a train, you can begin your road trip by hiring a car to explore the city’s many art galleries. Or, if you have time to hit up just one, then you can’t go wrong with Matisse. The Villa des Arènes houses many of the French painter’s works. In fact, one of the artist’s largest collections traces the evolution of Matisse’s artistry, from his early works to his final brushstrokes. Opened in 1963 in a seventeenth century villa, the permanent collection consists of an enormous amount of paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, photographs, illustrations, and even everyday objects belonging to the artist.
Meander in Marseille
Drive a couple hours along the spectacular southern coast and meander around Marseille, one of France’s trendiest art cities. Visit the Vieux Port’s lively restaurants and bars then swing on into the newly renovated wing of the Palais Longchamp, where the Musée des beaux-arts de Marseille resides. This museum displays drawings, paintings and sculptures, ranging from the 16th to the 19th century. Along with Rodin’s masterpiece, La Méditation, the museum houses a collection of sculptures by Marseille’s own Pierre Paul Pugetas. When you’re museumed-out, stop by the stunning church, Notre Dame de la Garde, and enjoy a lovely panorama of the city. You can even take advantage of the tourist train from the Vieux Port to travel roundtrip to and from the church.
Amble around Aix-en-Provence
Car hire excess insurance will enable you to continue your road trip, heading twenty miles north of Marseille to Aix-en-Provence, where Paul Cézanne lived and worked. You can visit his house and studio, alongside the Musée Granet. If you’re channeling the real spirit of Cézanne, invest a couple hours in climbing Mont Sainte-Victoire, his beloved mountain.
Amble through Arles
Drive an hour west and you’ll arrive in Van Gogh central. The troubled artist called Arles home, spending many of his most productive years there. You can have a cup of tea at, what is now known as, the Café Van Gogh. In 1888, Van Gogh painted his famous “The Café Terrace at Night” here on the Place du Forum. The nearby Saint Paul Asylum at Mausole is where the artist produced prolifically, painting over 150 pieces before he committed suicide.
Tool around in Toulouse
End your French escape in France’s “pink city,” Toulouse. Drive south-west through the lush Tarn region and head toward the city center, where the Romanesque Basilique St. Sernin stands. Dating back to 1215, the church’s ceiling inspired Dali’s Santiago el Grande.