Think of France’s south coast and your mind will likely fill with images of the Côte d’Azur: of bronzed millionaires strutting along the manicured beaches of Monaco, Saint-Tropez, Cannes and Nice; of lines upon lines of poorly parked super cars. But such opulent sights are only part of the story.
Just to the west, the dual region of Languedoc-Roussillon possesses a more rustic, nay ramshackle charm. Here you’ll find a landscape ranging from rugged mountains to vine-covered hills and plains, a vast coast pocketed by beautiful lagoons, and cultural attractions like thriving Montpellier and the old Roman city of Nîmes.
A tale of two regions – Languedoc and Roussillon
As you can probably guess from its double-barrelled name, Languedoc-Roussillon is actually formed from two distinct regions.
Languedoc, the more French of the two, is home to the vibrant, slightly Barcelona-esque capital of Montpellier, with its stately boulevards, leafy squares, and shady backstreets. Wander along the tree-lined Place Royale du Peyrou to watch the locals engage in their games of pétanque.
Elsewhere in Languedoc the sun-baked city of Nîmes is home to some of southern France’s best-preserved Roman buildings, including a 2000-year-old temple and a magnificent amphitheatre, where you can still see bullfights and gladiator battles to this day. Just to the north east of the city meanwhile, you’ll find Le Pont du Gard, an impressive Roman aqueduct.
Further west you can visit the fortified city of Carcassone. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, perched on a rocky hilltop like something from a children’s fairy-tale, is one of Languedoc’s biggest tourist attractions.
Balancing Languedoc’s quintessential Frenchness, the region of Roussillon boasts strong Catalan influences thanks to it proximity to the Spanish border.
Here you’re likely to hear the locals speaking Catalan while you explore places like Collioure, which was pretty enough to draw the eyes of Picasso and Matisse, and Pic de Canigou, symbol of Catalan identity and the highest summit in the eastern Pyrenees.
As with all the best people in the world, the Languedoc-Roussillon locals take their food seriously, often taking a couple of hours off to lunch with friends and colleagues. That’s our kind of people.
Throughout the region you’ll find nearly every town boasts its own speciality dish, often based on local produce. Perhaps the best known of these is cassoulet, a hearty stew made from beans, pork, sausages, mutton and goose. And you’re sure to come across wild boar on many a menu across the region.
As for fish, you’ll find plenty of sea bass, sardines and tuna to sate your seafood appetite. And the town of Sète is famous for its bourride, a fish stew with garlic mayonnaise.
Wine in Languedoc-Roussillon
With over 3700 wine makers across the region, many of them small independent producers, there’s a huge amount of variety to be found.
Languedoc-Roussillon is best known for its reds, with most made using Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre grapes. But that’s not to say there are no whites to enjoy. In fact, in terms of variety if not quantity, the whites leave the red for dust!
And let’s not forget some of the region’s more outré wines, like Banyuls sweet reds, the creamy sparkling Blanquette de Limoux from Mauzac, and the delicious rosés of Côtes du Roussillon.
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