The Languedoc has, until recently, been in the shadow of its more famous and glamorous sister, Provence. But whereas Provence has suffered over-development and high property prices, Languedoc has been able to hold on to its traditional charm. The result has been a boom in recent years in tourism and house buying, amongst the French and other Europeans – who flock to the region to enjoy the warm weather, dramatic countryside and relaxed, traditional way of life.’
Languedoc stretches from the Camargue wetlands just to the west of Marseille, down to the Spanish border, where the Pyrénées mountains tumble into the Mediterranean. The coast, unlike that of Provence and the Côte d’Azur, is generally quite flat and straight, giving the region fabulously huge sandy beaches. In from the coast, the land rises gently to form an area of gently rolling hills, mostly covered in vineyards. These, in turn, give way to mountains – the Cévennes in the north, the Montagne Noire in the centre, and the Pyrénées in the south.
Languedoc-Roussillon is still one of the poorest regions in France, but also one of the fastest-growing, with the wine industry (which used to provide cheap table wine) now diversifying into much higher-quality wines, and the tourist and property trades booming. That tourism is growing is no surprise – the region offers visitors everything they could want from a holiday destination – over 300 days of sunshine a year, huge beaches, some of France’s prettiest villages, superb food (especially seafood), increasingly exciting wines, and some of the country’s most spectacular historical sites.
There are so many things to do and see in Languedoc, that it’s hard to know where to start. Here are the highlights:
- The Roman ruins of La Maison Carrée and Les Arènes in Nîmes, and the impressive Pont du Gard aqueduct
- Cathar castles in the Aude department – such as Queribus and Peyrepeteuse (you can see one from the other), as well as Puilaurens and Lastours.
- La Cité castle in Carcassonne – the world’s largest example of a medieval castle
- The Canal du Midi – walk, boat or cycle down it, under a canopy of plane trees. Stop off for lunch along the way.
- Pretty villages – Minèrve, Lagrasse, Roquebrun, Olargues, Collioure and St Guilhem le Désert being the best examples
- Historic Towns – Pézenas, Uzès, Sommières and Limoux all offer interesting architecture and lots of lovely shops and restaurants
- Beautiful churches and abbeys – The cathedrals at Narbonne and Mende are spectacular. As are the Abbeye de Frontfroide, the Abbeye of St Martin de Canigou and the Priory of Serrabone.
- Spectacular natural wonders – Such as the Cirque de Navacelles (a hill and river in a deep canyon), the Cirque de Mourèze, Lake Salagou (with its Martian landscapes), the Gorges Héric (magical rock pools), Gorges du Tarn, numerous magnificent caves, and the wetlands of the Camargue – with their wild horses, black bulls and flocks of flamingoes.
- Activities – Wine tasting is a must in Languedoc, there are literally hundreds of domains al keen for you to try their wines. You can sail on the coast or on Lake Salagou or canoe down one of the region’s many rivers. The area is also great for fishing, bird watching, mountain cycling, rambling, golf and skiing in the Pyrénées in winter.