Gateway to the south

It’s hard to say where in your journey through France you cross the ‘border’ and enter into what we would call southern France.

For sure, it is not defined very well by regional boundaries. Although Aquitaine, Provence, Languedoc and Midi-Pyrenees would certainly be considered as south of France, the regions just north of these also claim, with some cause, to be part of the south.

On a recent trip I passed through Correze in the southern Limousin department, and through Puy-de-Dome in the Auvergne . These fall just north of the Dordogne and Languedoc regions respectively.

The curious thing was that in both of these places I discovered towns which seemed to perfectly fit the description of ‘you are now entering the south of France’.

The first was Meymac, a small town in Correze, or perhaps even more so the attractive village of Saint-Angel just along the road. These two places didn’t have the same colour stone as the Dordogne, but there was something in the architecture that made you feel that you were ‘nearly there’. The countryside around had also stared to have the soft rolling green landscape that we expect from the Dordogne.

The second ‘epiphany’ was in a town called Issoire, just off the A75 – the motorway that heads to Marseille and the French Riviera. Exploring the town it didn’t quite feel like a Provencal town, perhaps the air was cooler, perhaps there were less people sat around outside - but the large open central square with its painted houses, the clock tower with its ironwork campanile (typical of Provence), the roman tiled rooves, all gave the right signals: I was well on my way to the south, if not quite there yet!

Neither of these towns could have existed outside the ‘near south’ – next time you are heading down through France take a look at whichever one is on your route, and see if you agree with me.

One other thing that always reminds me when I’m in the south – the network of motorways is called the ‘Autoroutes du Sud’. Nothing makes me feel more like I’m in the right place than when I pass the sign saying ‘Welcome to Autoroutes du Sud, have a Safe Journey’. (It actually says something in French, and I can’t remember the exact words, but you get the idea!)