- Travel and Places»
- Visiting Europe
Discover Languedoc-Rousillon: The Other "South of France"
From The Pyrenees To Provence, And The Sparkling Mediterranean In Between
I've been lucky enough to travel quite a lot in France over my lifetime. I can't think of any other region I've visited that made me want to stay forever. Nice people, amazing history, interesting culture and so much to do! This all adds up to an amazing vacation - and perhaps more!
The region of Languedoc-Roussillon is in the South of France. It's on the side near the Pyrenees and Spain. The region stretches from the edge of the better known Provence to the Black Mountains in the north and the Pyrenees in the south and plains leading to the Atlantic on the east.
Lots of British citizens vacation, buy seasonal property, or retire here. But when we told people that we were Americans, they looked surprised and asked how we'd even found them! Many told me they hadn't seen an American in years. Too bad because it's less expensive than the more popular Provence and Riviera and equally beautiful.
Countryside To Remember
This area, being right along the Mediterranean, was an important part of the Roman Empire. In the city of Nîmes, there remains a well preserved Roman coliseum which is considered only second in its stunning nature to Rome's coliseum.
The oldest Roman road in Gaul passes through this region. It's called the Via Domitia. Originally 70,000 miles long, it connected Rome with Spain.
The Pont du Gard, built in 20 BC was the highest aqueduct ever built by the Roman Empire. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and visited by over a million tourists every year and well worth the visit!
The port city of Agde was settled by the Greeks in 525 BC. It is the oldest village in France!
The Cave de Niaux is one of the premier sites in Europe for prehistoric art. With prior reservations, you can actually see the original art. Most sites preserve their art by letting you see only reproductions
The Canal du Midi is the oldest canal in Europe and was commissioned by Louis XIV in 1666. It spans from the Mediterranean to Toulouse, joining two other smaller canals which create a waterway from the sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
Cathar Castles abound in the South-East, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Carcassonne. Cathars, a conservative Catholic sect in the region beginning in the 11th Century, met with a gruesome end when the Pope began a brutal crusade against them in 1215. The wealthy region fell into ruins and the local language Occitan (the language of literature and the troubadours at the time) fell to a little known local dialect..
These are but a few of the amazing historical sites, villages, and cities of the region.
Evidence from the prehistoric ages is every where, especially near the Pyrenees.
When you visit the region, you can see the remains of dinosaurs and evidence of the arrival of humans 3,000,000 years ago. There are caves with drawings, rivaling those from the famous Lescaux Caves and Neolithic architecture as well as megaliths.
The Biggest Wine Growing Region In France
Surprisingly, Languedoc is the largest wine growing region in France, producing more than a third of France's wine grapes.
As you drive through the region, fields are criss-crossed by grape vines and every sizable town you come to has a communal winery. You can bring your own containers and ask to fill them up for amazingly reasonable prices. There's also wine tasting and amazing lunches at many wineries. That is on the list for our next trip!
So Many Outdoor Activities To Enjoy
While I'm not much of an athlete, many people come to the Languedoc-Rousillion region for outdoor pursuits.
Exploration of the extensive cave systems draw many cavers and have led to the discovery of prehistoric sites.
If you are a skier, some of the most amazing skiing in the world can be found in the Pyrenees such as Font Romeu which opened in 1921. Nearby sulfur baths help you relax at the end of the day. The Cevennes mountains closer to Provence offer lots of cross country and easier down-hill skiing experiences.
Then there's golf, white water rafting, scuba diving, bicycling, fishing, swimming, rock climbing, hang gliding, dog sledding, horseback riding, or how about hawking? And one cannot forget the Naturist (nudist) beaches!
These activities are just the short list!
Friendly People, Lots To Do, Budget Friendly!
Two weeks was barely enough time for us to scratch the surface of this amazing region. Since we traveled with our two kids, we took a lot of down time to relax and enjoy "living" in our small town near the beach.
Everywhere we went, the people were friendly and curious about how we'd ended up in their beautiful region. One store keeper was patient and explained how to properly pronounce the town we were staying in. Literally, it took him at least ten minutes to get us so we could say Portiragnes properly. I admired his patience!
We benefited from staying in one place for the whole two weeks, getting to know our neighbors, shopping at the local markets, including the huge Carrefour - sort of the equivalent of a Super Walmart - with clothes, home goods, and food. We gassed up the car at the same place, ate at local restaurants and generally drove around and discovered the region!
The food was amazing, the local crafts well worth their prices, and the wine was excellent.
This region seemed more down-to-earth and approachable than it's neighbor, Provence. While I like Provence very much, Languedoc-Roussillon is where my heart wants to be. A nice British lady we spoke to said she'd owned her villa next to ours for over ten years and still hadn't seen half of what she wanted to see in this region.
It's a unique area full of history, sophisticated cities, and natural wonders. It was a quick 4.5 hour trip from Paris on the super fast TGV train and the regional roads were very good.
I hope you'll think about this region next time you plan a trip to France!
© 2013 MaryBeth Walz