The ‘South of France’ starts around the cities of Valence (Drôme), Montélimar (Drôme), Brive-la-Gaillarde (Corrèze), and Perigueux (Périgord), according to several spokespeople from tourism offices contacted by The Connexion.
The official beginning of the South of France is associated with a sharp climatic and geographic change, leading to the type of landscapes often found in Mediterranean areas.
Read more: Mediterranean garden in south of France is a winter paradise
The tourism professionals made reference to sunnier weather, lavender fields, cicadas, pine and larch trees and private swimming pools as common characteristics of what the South of France is considered to look like.
There seems to be more debate of the start of the south relating to the east than the west, where the marketing is more centred around culinary riches and historic heritage.
While the western unofficial border line looks clear, the start of southern France in the east is hazier.
Tourism offices seem to agree Brive-la-Gaillarde (Corrèze) and Perigueux (Dordogne) are the two gateway cities in the south west.
Brive-la-Gaillarde’s tourism office says a common saying in the town states that ‘everything above Brive-la-Gaillarde is considered north.’
The tourism offices of Valence and Montélimar both market their cities as being the point at which people enter the South of France or the ‘Midi’, the colloquial term for ‘southern France’ in the east.
Interestingly, both cities are situated along the A7, the motorway taking drivers from Lyon to Marseille that is nicknamed the ‘the sunshine motorway’ (l’autoroute du soleil).
“We have been marketing Valence based on the sunny atmosphere,” said Naomi Nicolas, director of communications at the Valence tourism office.
While the office’s official slogan is ‘changez d’air’ (‘a change of scenery’), Ms Nicolas confirmed that the office also marketed Valence as the gateway to the Midi with slogans such as ‘Ici commence le Midi’ (The Midi starts here) and ‘Valence aux portes du Sud’ (Valence as the gates of the south.)
Loriol-sur-Drôme? Portes-lès-Valence? Valence?
Ms Nicolas also mentioned a billboard on the motorway rest area near Portes-lès-Valence (Drôme) that reads: ‘Porte du Soleil’ (‘Gate to the sun’), playing on the ‘porte’ in the commune’s name.
However, inhabitants of Valence have an expression claiming that they live at ‘midi moins le quart’, which means ‘a quarter to 12’ but also suggests that they are almost but not quite in the Midi (south).
Pont-de-l’Isère, a town 10 kilometres north of Valence in Drôme, is also sometimes considered to be the beginning of southern France, since it is crossed by the 45th parallel, between the North Pole and the equator.
However, the town has never marketed this to tourists.
“Loriol-sur-Drôme (Drôme) is for me the frontier,” said a spokeswoman for Montélimar’s tourism office, arguing that the change in scenery and the combination of dry weather, pines and a stronger mistral wind were all features of the South of France.
But Magali Boudières, director of communications of Grenoble’s tourism office, referred to the two mountain passes of the Lautaret (Hautes-Alpes) and the Col de Rousset (Drôme) as geographical borders dividing the north and south, rather than two cities.
Ms Boudières mentioned the lavender fields found past the Col de Rousset as a sharp distinction with the blanket snow and ice-cap scenery north of the pass.
She said the abundance of larch trees after the Col du Lautaret was another geographic feature she factored in.
Ms Boudierès said she did not consider Grenoble to be part of the south of France, while Ms Nicolas did agree on Valence being in the south.
Climate change may push the border upwards
French newspaper Libération created an online game where it asked players to label cities as being in the north or the south, from their own perspective. The game is no longer accessible because of technical issues.
The South of France line may move further north over the years as climate change pushes temperatures up and brings phenomena often observed along the Mediterranean coast.
Ms Boudières did mention cicadas in Grenoble over the summer, a rather unusual characteristic for residents.
Likewise, Ms Nicolas said lavender fields are beginning to blossom further and further north.