History – Hérault, Gard and Aude
Languedoc’s history is richer than that of neighbouring Provence. The Greeks and Phoenicians colonised the seaside town of Agde, using it as one of their major trading ports. The Romans then dominated the area, linking it to their empires in Italy and Hispania with the Via Domitia – a portion of which you can still see in Narbonne’s city centre. They built capitals here at Narbonne (Narbo) and Nîmes (Nemausus) – leaving behind some of the most impressive Roman ruins outside of Rome itself. In the middle ages, ‘The County of Toulouse’ as Languedoc was overrun by crusaders, sent by Pope Eugene III o wipe out a growing christian sect known as the Cathars – whose increasingly independent ways of thinking had started the threaten the hegemony of the Catholic Church. What followed was decades of slaughter, as crusaders attacked Cathar strongholds (now some of the most spectacular castle ruins in France) exterminating all who refused to renounce their rebel religion. Finally, in the 13th century, the region become officially a part of France, having spent hundreds of years with close ties with the Aragon and Catalan kingdoms of Spain.
Languedoc, being relatively distant from Paris, remained a relative backwater until the 19th century, when a disease called Phylloxera wiped out France’s entire stock of vines. It was in Languedoc that the first new, disease-resistant varieties of grapes from the New World were planted, leading to a boom in the region. Languedoc became the world’s largest wine-producing area, and wealth poured in – allowing the building of impressive chateaux and the expansion of the area’s cities.
In the twentieth century – the draining of the swamplands that lined the coast led, at last, to the opening up of Languedoc to tourism – and the subsequent boom in the past 20 years. In the past 10 years, a thriving technology industry has sprung up in and around Montpellier.
Nîmes, the second largest city, features France’s most impressive roman ruins, such as the Maison Carrée temple, the ‘Les Arènes’ amphitheatre, and not far out of the city, the massive Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct. Narbonne and Carcassonne, both small cities on canals, offer relaxed city life, and Perpignan, France’s most spanish city, is alive with catalan nationalism, tapas and a thriving art scene.
Transport links have helped Languedoc achieve its high growth rate. The region sports five international airports, and another five lie just beyond its borders. All are busy with low-cost flights that bring in visitors from all over Europe. France’s impressive TGV trains ply their trade along the Languedoc coast – and inland to Toulouse. And the A9, A62 and A75 motorways also provide easy access to the area.
The wine industry has long dominated the region’s economy. Languedoc was, and may still be, the world’s largest wine-producing region. But quantity is now giving way to quality, with investment and know-how coming in from other parts of France and the New World – to produce what many think is currently some of the world’s most exciting wines. Reds from the Minervois, Corbières, St Chinian and Faugères wine areas regularly win prizes. As do crisp Languedoc PicPoul whites, and aromatic Viogniers and Muscats.
Hérault & Gard
Montpellier, the capital of the departement, is officially the favourite city of the French in which to live. Thousands move here every year from the cold, wet cities of the north. The city is also one of the most beautiful in France, with a large pedestrianised centre dominated by impressive 19th century buildings of cut sandstone, leafy squares overflowing with cafés, and a vibrant student population. Nîmes, the second largest city, features France’s most impressive roman ruins, such as the Maison Careée temple, the ‘Les Arènes’ amphitheatre, and not far out of the city, the massive Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct. Narbonne and Carcassonne, both small cities on canals, offer relaxed city life, and Perpignan, France’s most spanish city, is alive with catalan nationalism, tapas and a thriving art scene.
The Aude offers buyers so much. Amongst a rich heritage, discover the medieval Cathar castles ; romanesque abbeys and cloisters; the Medieval city of Carcassonne; the Roman city of Narbonne; prehistoric caves; and many other unique locations all around the department.
The Aude offers a wide range of outdoor activities in spectacular landscapes : walks and cycle routes bordering the famous Canal du Midi, hiking, water sports, mountain bike tours, speleology, and many more.
Above all, Aude hosts the biggest and oldest vineyard of France : no need to say that gastronomy is an art in this region, where you’ll be delighted by local recipes and world-famous Languedoc wines.