With so many historical monuments to visit, and countless campsites nearby, it makes sense to incorporate a spot of history into your camping holiday.
We look at some incredible historical monuments and where to camp.
Cité de Carcassonne
A medieval fortified city in the south of France that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Cité de Carcassonne is a medieval fortified city located in the Languedoc region south of France. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. A prime example of the majestic historical monuments you can find in France, some 2,500 years of history are held within the walls of the Cité.
Made up of two walled towns situated on a hilltop, the Cité was built in the 13th century during the reign of Louis IX. The Cite comprises cobbled streets, fortified walls and 52 towers housing the Château Comtal, the castle within the Cité.
During the first Cathar Crusade of 1209, led by Simon de Montfort, the Cité de Carcassonne was a key target. The citadel was successfully besieged and surrendered in August of that year. Simon de Montfort, known for his ruthless tactics, subsequently occupied the citadel and made the Castle of Carcassonne his headquarters for the fight against the Cathars. His tomb can be found inside the Basilica of Saint Nazaire within the citadel. In 1226, the viscountcy of Carcassonne was absorbed into the French royal domain.
There's plenty going on year-round with various events, including art tours, exhibitions, lectures, and more being held.
A palace built by a postman in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the town of Hauterives
Built by a postman in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval is another example of incredible French architecture, even making its way into a film called L'incroyable histoire du facteur Cheval (The Ideal Palace).
Situated in the town of Hauterives, around a 1 hour 25 minute south of Lyon, the palace is a fantastic example of naive art made of stones, shells and other materials the postman, Ferdinand Coeval collected on his daily route over 33 years, often working at night.
Featuring sculptures and carvings of animals, mythical creatures, and human figures, the palace is a testament to the creator's imagination. It is almost impossible to define any real architectural category though some features have taken inspiration from Christian and Hindu temples. The palace's interior is adorned with intricate mosaics, frescoes and sculptures, an incredible feat of engineering by just one man.
As this is a top-rated attraction, it's well worth getting your tickets ahead of time when it opens again on February 1st 2023.
A Neolithic burial mound in western France that is one of the largest of its kind in Europe
Discovered by archaeologists in 1840, The Tumulus of Bougon is a Neolithic burial mound located in western France owned by the Deux-Sèvres department. This ancient monument is one of the largest in Europe and dates back to the 4th millennium BC.
Built over the course of 1,200 years, the site takes visitors on a journey through the world of prehistory, specifically the Neolithic period, a time when humans transitioned to a settled lifestyle and constructed tumuli.
Five individual burrows, each with their own unique style, housed hundreds of skeletons. A 90-tonne capstone adorns Tumulus A, which would have taken several hundred people to move into place.
A visit to the Bougon museum, which focuses on prehistory with a specific emphasis on the Neolithic period, is well worth your time. You can see excavated artefacts from the site and replicas of Neolithic structures, such as a room from the settlement of Çatalhöyük in Turkey and a passage tomb from Gavrinis in Brittany. The museum also has an outdoor area displaying experimental archaeology, showcasing reconstructed examples of prehistoric techniques for transporting and building megalithic monuments.
A Romanesque church in Toulouse that is one of the largest surviving examples of its architectural style
This Romanesque church is located in Toulouse and is one of the largest surviving examples of its architectural style. The Basilica of Saint-Sernin is a true masterpiece of Romanesque architecture and is a must-see for anyone interested in history and architecture.
A UNESCO Heritage site, this church dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries and is a stunning example of a historical monument. The church was built in honour of Saint Saturnin, the first bishop of Toulouse. According to historical reports, he met a grisly end.
Saint Saturnine was responsible for the silence of the pagan idols in the city. He preached against the tearing down of temples and called their gods "devils", which led to his persecution and eventual martyrdom. He was chained to a bull and dragged through the streets until his body was broken and skull crushed. The spot where his corpse was deposited is now known as the Rue du Taur, or "Road of the Bull", and a church called Notre Dame du Taur stands in commemoration.
The Basilica of Saint-Sernin, located about 300 meters north, is believed to hold the remains of the martyred saint.
Despite that awful story, the church became a destination for many of the Catholic faith, embarking on great pilgrimages that started in Italy and made their way through southern France, with this area being one of the stopping points on the section of the Santiago Trail (the Way of St. James).
Toulouse has an incredible array of activities, so once you have seen the church, head into the main city and go on sightseeing tours, shopping and, of course, eating French cuisine.
The Grotte de Lascaux, located near the village of Montignac in southwestern France, is a series of caves that contain some of the most famous and well-preserved examples of prehistoric cave paintings in the world.
Discovered in 1940 by four teenage boys and was opened to the public in 1948. However, due to preservation concerns, the caves were closed to the public in 1963 due to the massive number of visitors whose presence started to degrade the paintings. A replica of the caves, known as Lascaux II, was opened to the public in 1983, so unfortunately, you cannot visit the original caves.
The paintings depict a wide variety of wildlife, including horses, bison, bulls, deer, and birds. The caves also contain abstract symbols and shapes that are thought to have had symbolic or religious significance to the people who created them.
A further development in 2016 was a new interpretation centre which used cutting-edge techniques to recreate the caves. This is known as Lascaux IV, which shows the evolution of homo sapiens during the prehistoric period.
Here you can enjoy a guided or self-guided tour complete with a tablet, which uses augmented reality and 3D imaging to give visitors a sense of the original caves. Visitors can explore the caves and the paintings through virtual reality and learn about the prehistoric people who created them.
The caves offer a unique glimpse into the lives and beliefs of our distant ancestors, and the preservation of the paintings is truly remarkable. Visitors can expect to spend about two hours at Lascaux, including the tour, the 3D film and multimedia exhibit.
France has a great wealth of world-class tourist attractions. But sometimes, whether you've somehow managed to see them all, or just a handful, you want something more quirky. You've visited Pont du Gard, the Caves of Lascaux, Père Lachaise Cemetery and Monet's Gardens; what now?
There are some impressive places on the list in France, as you can well imagine, such as Chatres Cathedral, the Palace of Versailles and the fortified city of Carcassone. So why not plan your next trip across the Channel to visit some of these sites, they’ve been given this status for a reason, so you know you’re in for a treat!