Languedoc – Roussillon stretches from the Camargue on the east to the Pyrenees Mountains on the west with one of the longest sea shores of France opening out onto the Mediterranean Sea. With Montpellier and Carcassonne as the main cities, this region is mainly known as Cathar country. But there is so much more to discover!
So let’s start our visit as we land in Carcassonne, the famous fortified city which saw the main events during the Albigensian Crusade, or Cathar Crusade. I am afraid, that there’s no other place in the world as stunning as Carcassonne and should you be so lucky as to visit it with a very good guide, you’ll see all the history of the Middle Ages with the Templars, the Inquisition and so on while you take the sites in as you stroll along the cobble stone streets.
But this city relives its most magnificent moment on Bastille Day.
The fireworks display in Carcassonne is one of the most important in France, its only competitor being the Trocadero in Paris. Millions of people attend this event from early in the afternoon, even from abroad, trying to get a good spot as they picnic on the banks of the river.
But now, let’s go south to the coast.
First, have a listen at the locals’ accent! You’ll recognise them miles from away: a wonderful singing accent as deep as their kindness. This goes hand in hand with their culture in the Catalan country with towns like Collioures and its famous fishermen’s harbour and Perpignan whose train station was celebrated by Salvador Dali.
As we head to Narbonne, the city with an exceptionally picturesque market and numerous Roman vestiges, we’ll cross the lagoons into where Leucate used to welcome the kitesurfing world championships. This is also a favourite area for family holidays with many resorts to choose from. But among these lies a village really worth a stop named Gruissan and from there, you can head to Narbonne through the vineyards and Mediterranean flora.
Then we enter the Minervois country where families from many generations grow a great variety of vines that not a lot of people are aware of.
Minervois gets its name from a magnificent small village called Minerve. In the Middle Ages, Minerve was a proud fortress which witnessed one of the most dramatic Albigensian Crusades. In this stronghold, a strong Cathar community had taken cover. After 5 weeks of siege by an army of 7,000 men, they had to capitulate as they were given the choice of converting or being slaughtered. Most of them refused to deny their Cathar faith.
Now I would suggest to head to Olonzac on our road to the coast to enjoy the charm of this typical southern village and have a meal at the Villa Limonade, an old (small) lemonade factory transformed into a B&B, with exceptional wines and food by 2 people passionate about oenology.
Anyway, we can’t leave the coast without going to Sete, a fishermen’s village, with its famous marine cemetery where the poet and singer Georges Brassens is buried. A few miles away, we’ll reach the Grau du Roi and Aigues Mortes, with the famous ladies towers (another story!).
Before boarding back to the UK, Montpellier will be the last stop. Although you may know the Place de la Comedie, the Corum, the grandiose mansions from the 17 and 18th centuries, Montpellier is very famous also for it Medecine University which groomed world known scientists and occupies a former Benedictine Monastery founded in the 14th century.
Or you may choose Nimes with its well preserved Roman arena and its Maison Carrée.
Bye-bye Languedoc-Roussillon for the moment, but next time you go to the shop to buy your wine, look for some Minervois, some Viognier, some Frontignan, Muscat… and don’t forget that the Languedoc Roussillon is the world’s number 1 wine-producer with 25,000 producers and 2,500 individual cellars!
Where to sleep?
- Designed by the acclaimed architect Rudy Ricciotti, the 3* Apartment-Hotel Park & Suites is also conveniently located in the heart of the Montpellier Millénaire business district, and very close to the exhibition centre.
- Set in the triangle of Carcassonne, Narbonne and Béziers, the Château de Siran – an old castle with vaulted rooms and a renaissance sandstone staircase – has been converted into a charming hotel in the heart of the Minervois area, in the Haut Languedoc Regional Park.
- The former Riberach wine cooperative is an exceptional establishment: it has been entirely remodelled to allow the public to benefit from a top of the range hotel and gastronomic restaurant, whilst preserving the site’s historical character.
Where to eat?
- Klim & Co is a newly opened restaurant set upon the cliff tops in Leucate, featuring a modern design by the award-winning architect Eric Raffy. Fine cuisine and panoramic views over the Mediterranean will take anyone’s breath away.
- Vinipolis in Florensac is a wine museum with many tasting sessions and virtual guided tours of the cellars available. Whilst the restaurant serves food made from fresh local produce, the wines tasted during lunch can be bought at cellar prices from the shop.
- Overlooking the water from a beautiful terrace, MIA is Montpellier’s new bistro chic. It revisits some French classics, and teaches you how to make them with in-house cooking lessons.
- The Camargue is home to an exceptional range of fauna and flora, a true European sanctuary for wildlife: more than 400 species of birds, wild horses and flamingos in the land of the bull.
- The Corbières appellation is a maze of geographical treasures. It produces wines of character, mirroring that of the winegrowers who put so much effort into producing them. With the ‘Oeno Circuit’, visitors can go through a voyage of discovery.
- The Cevennes National Park is today an important conservation area and has been a UNESCO ‘World Biosphere Reserve’ since 1985. For centuries, chestnut groves have provided food for the locals and today discovery tours are regularly organized.
How to get there?
- By plane: Direct flights from London, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Southampton, Bristol, Manchester, East Midlands, Bournemouth, Glasgow and Dublin to Nîmes, Montpellier, Béziers, Carcassonne and Perpignan with Ryanair, EasyJet and Flybe.
- By train: Eurostar and TGV: From London to Nîmes, Montpellier, Narbonne and Perpignan and other cities (via Lille or Paris).