The days of lazy beach excursions are replaced by coats, thick scarves and boots in most of France, but the vestiges of warmth live on in the Southwest.
Looking for perfect French fall destination? Hotspots like Toulouse and Carcassonne are best off-season, when the crowds have long gone. Head south to enjoy the temperate climate, and stay for the indulgent regional fare.
Capital of the newly-named Occitania region, the bustling city of Toulouse serves as a perfect base for day trips and excursions to the surrounding area. The heart of the city, Place du Capitole, boasts a beautiful city hall and expansive plaza, surrounded by a line of outdoor cafés. Just down the street is the UNESCO Basilica of Saint-Sernin. Head to nearby O Thé Divin for lunch, a delectable pastry and a pot of tea delivered in adorably mismatched floral teapots.
Tour Esquirol, a cool, Brooklyn-esque neighborhood for some thrift shopping, a walk along the Garonne River or a short cruise to see the city from a different angle. Stay at the lovely Hotel des Beaux Arts, located on the river. The rooms are small but the ambiance makes up for it.
Meander your way through the regal quarter of Carmes, overflowing with historical buildings, haute cuisine, boutique shops and bars. Stop by Café Chouchou for a glass of wine or some tapas, and sit in the fur-covered chairs outdoors.
Next, head to one of Toulouse’s covered markets—Victor Hugo, Carmes or Saint-Cyprien, open Tuesday-Sunday. On Sundays, don’t miss the Marché Saint-Aubin, a lively open air market with unexpected treats like an empanada truck and band that often plays upbeat 1920s music. Take your spoils by bike (€1.20/day to rent) to Jardin des Plants, a park favored by locals.
For dinner, don’t miss Le Cave au Cassoulet, a cozy basement restaurant known for their delicious meat and bean cassoulet stew, a staple of the city. Their fois gras appetizer—also a regional speciality—is unbelievable, and although your stomach might protest, order both dishes.
Just an hour by car or train from Toulouse, Albi is one of France’s most underrated cities. Make sure to visit their covered market (open Tuesday-Sunday), housed in a beautiful brick building, to pick up some regional products and chat with the inviting shopkeepers.
Go to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum to see the second-largest collection of the famous French artist, born in Albi. Located in the medieval Palais de la Berbie, the museum also has a perfectly-manicured garden from which you can see a stunning view of the city. Right next door, you can’t miss—literally—the huge Sainte-Cecile Cathedral. Built almost exclusively with red brick, this imposing gothic cathedral is cause for awe in an otherwise petite, charming city.
For lunch, reserve a table on the patio at nearby Le Clos Sainte Cécile. If you’re into fashion, visit the Musée de la Mode, whose current exhibition, Fleurs, is open until January. For dinner head to the beloved L’Epicurien restaurant, which offers delicious French classics with a twist, served in a modern, design-oriented space.
Stay at the Alchimy hotel, an upscale and stylish option just a short walk from the main attractions.
This historical city is a fully-restored medieval citadel, complete with looming walls, watchtowers and ramparts, which you can learn about on the guided group tour. The center of the cité has sadly been overrun with vendors selling kitschy items that have little to do with the property, so head up to the ramparts to enjoy the best views and escape the crowds. At night, all activity leaves with the vendors, so stay at Hotel du Château just outside the citadel’s entrance. The entire cité is illuminated at night—take a stroll along the Pont Vieux to enjoy the view.
Inside the citadel you will also find open air Théâtre Jean-Alary, which hosts concerts and plays several times a month. If you’re lucky enough to be there, snag tickets—probably your first and last performance in a medieval citadel.
Dining options are generally mediocre in the cité, save for the elegant La Marquière (closed 11/9-11/24), serving seasonal French cuisine.
Built in 1222, Cordes earned its name from its location atop a steep hill, so high it seems to graze the sky. The few museums and restaurants here are small and charming (and closed at various points during this off-season), but the bulk of your time will be spent admiring the ancient architecture and scenery. In October, eat lunch at Terrasse sur Ciel—the terrace offers an unparalleled view of the countryside.
If you want to stay on the summit, book at Logis sur Ciel, a simple but lovely property as old as the town itself.