Vacation in the Other "South of France"
From the Pyrenees to the edge of Provence, and the sparkling Mediterranean in between
The region of Languedoc-Roussillon is in the South of France, but not the side near the Alps and Italy but over toward 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 for years. Too bad because it's less expensive than the more popular Provence and Riviera.
Countryside to remember
This area is, 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!
Cathar Castles abound in the South-East, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Carcassonne. Cathars were a liberal Catholic sect in the region beginning in the 11th Century, eventually becoming the majority religion. However, in 1215, the Pope and later the Kings of France issued a formal crusade against them. 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, derided by the French.
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.
Biggest Wine Growing Region
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. There you can bring your own containers and ask them 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!
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 it properly! I won't even attempt to explain how to say it here.
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 "blue-collar" and approachable than it's neighbor, Provence. I like Provence very much, but loved this area and hope to move here temporarily at some point in my life. One nice English lady we spoke to said she'd owned a 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 think about visiting France!
For more pictures and a funny video of my family's trip to Languedoc, see my blog: OhZutAlors!
If you're interested in Paris, see my website: Paris Made Simple.