Welcome to the real south of France
The Languedoc-Roussillon region stretches from the Spanish border and the towering Pyrénées in the south to the Camargue region of Provence and the mighty Rhône river in the north. It’s a huge crescent-shaped area of almost uninterrupted vines, massive sandy beaches, inland lagoons and traditional wine-making villages, criss-crossed by rivers that ensure the area is always green and lush.
The region has always been an important cross-roads, for the Romans based in Nîmes and Narbonne to medieval knights sandwiched between a growing France to the north and the kingdoms of Spain to the south. As a result, Languedoc is blessed with some of France’s most spectacular historical sights, such as the fairytale splendour of Carcassonne castle, the eerie and atmospheric Cathar ruins perched on rocky outcrops, and countless châteaux built during the wine boom. In Nîmes, there's the gorgeous Maison Carée Roman temple, Les Arènes - a smaller version of Rome’s Colosseum, and the Pont du Gard, the world’s most spectacular Roman aqueduct.
Languedoc’s past is perhaps most evident in its vineyards. Once the world’s largest wine-producing region, wine-makers here have cut production in recent years in order to improve quality, and with spectacularly successful results. Languedoc is currently viewed by many as the world’s most exciting wine-growing region, with wine-makers from northern France and the New World pouring in to develop innovative new methods of growing and blending in an area that offers plenty of sun, superb ‘schiste’ soils and relative creative freedom compared to France’s other wine regions.
“Savvy travellers are swapping the gridlocked Côte d'Azur for the Languedoc - a spicy mix of Gallic and Catalan culture on the edge of the Pyrenees.”
It's all about the wine
Wine-tasting, of course, is a favourite pastime of visitors and residents alike, and hundreds of wine domains open their doors throughout the year, eager to share their passion for creating delicious wines. The same is true of the region’s olive oil producers, honey farmers, charcuterie and cheese-makers, all local specialties that are made in a time-honoured fashion. All will be on offer at La Baraquette, at tastings hosted by local experts keen to explain how their products are created.
“Languedoc has undergone an amazing transformation. Some of America's most innovative importers are flocking to the region for delicious wines.”
Drama and tranquility in equal measure
The Canal du Midi is another jewel in the region’s crown. Built to connect the Atlantic with the Mediterranean, this 'World Heritage Site' meanders its way under a panoply of plane trees from Toulouse and Carcassonne in the west, through the rugged Minervois and Corbières wine regions to Béziers and on to the Etang de Thau. From La Baraquette, you’re a short drive to where the canal meets the sea, and so perfectly positioned to hop on barge for a day’s cruise, replete with lunch and plenty of rosé.
To the south, the Pyrénées rise up, capped in snow for half the year. They offer excellent skiing and, unlike the Alps, natural hot springs. To the north towards Provence, the Camargue region of marshlands offers an exotic mix of flamingos, white horses and black bulls corralled by ‘Gardians’ (French cowboys). You can hovercraft, helicopter, horse-ride or 4x4 your way across this other-worldly region of undulating water-grasses and pink salt flats, or just turn up for one of the many traditional Gardian festivals held in towns here.
Of course, Languedoc isn’t just about authentic villages and rugged scenery. The region’s cities offer modern sophistication in spades. Montpellier, the regional capital, is also France’s favourite city in which to live. It’s lively pedestrian centre is abuzz with students (Montpellier is a university town), and countless cafés and restaurants spill out into leafy squares. The city boasts a very fine art museum, a top-notch orchestra and plays host each year to the Montpellier Dance Festivals, one of the world’s biggest. Down ancient cobbled streets you’ll find chic boutiques with vaulted stone ceilings, and in the centre, the city gives way to the huge ‘Place le la Comédie’ with its gardens, plane trees and weekend markets. In Nîmes, roman ruins rub shoulders with modern architecture. In Perpignan, a Catalan flavour pervades the tapas bars and artists’ workshops. And in pretty Narbonne, the canal drifts past a stunning medieval cathedral and lively indoor market.
“Languedoc-Roussillon's vital statistics make for tantalising reading: 300 days of sunshine a year, 135 miles of coast, 13 of France's most beautiful villages and six UNESCO world heritage sites”