Languedoc Roussillon has in the past couple of years become a home of sorts for me. It is after all where my mother lives… and I do believe there is some truth in the quote ‘home is where your mother is’. In addition, the wide-spread vineyards (some 70,000 acres!), the chimes of the village bell tower and the aromas of the Boulangerie …feel welcoming.
Family ties aside, I have spent time exploring this southernmost region of France and thoroughly recommend visiting it. It is not quite as expensive or as elitist as its neighbouring region of Provence (nor has it historically been as affluent) but it doesn’t disappoint in its hospitality, landscape and cultural magnificence. Languedoc-Roussillon is divided into 5 departments, namely the Hérault, Gard, Aude, Lozère and Pyrénées-Orientales. I have spent majority of my time in the department of Gard which in chunks borders the breath-taking Cevennes National Park. For me, the beauty of its location lies in the fact that it isn’t a million miles neither from the coast nor from the highest peaks in the region. I like that a comfortable 2 hours’ drive in the direction of one’s choice can take you to either the glistening blue Mediterranean or towards striking green mountains.
Looking briefly at the political history of this region, Languedoc-Roussillon was once two separate provinces (predominantly Occitan Languedoc and a Catalan Roussillon) that in recent years have united to show solidarity and improve cultural diversity. This blend of unique southern European culture creates a thriving fusion; from the flavours of the food to the appearance of the locals! It really all adds to the charismatic personality of this splendid region.
It is a region that is evolving and yet retains its unchanging old world charm. I still have much to discover and much to learn about the region but I share with you my fondest experiences and the top places I would recommend from my last three trips there.
Capital of The Gard department, it is a city with a rich history dating back to the Roman era. Fondly titled the Rome of France, it boasts a stunning Colosseum -esque arena (Arènes de Nîmes) and the Maison Carrée, an ancient, well persevered Roman temple. Interestingly, Nîmes plays host to the main French bullfighting event, the Feria, with as much pomp as its neighbouring country of Spain! It is easy to wander in awe the streets of this intriguing city…
Amusingly, much like Nîmes, Sète shares a similar title, referred to by many as the Venice of France. You can find this harbour city in the Hérault department of the region. It is known for some exceptional cuisine and the fresh seafood is definitely worth sampling! It also has a strong cultural and literary presence with many beloved authors, poets and artists hailing from this city. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering the steep back streets and observing locals going about their everyday lives. I even had the pleasure of meeting a 94 year old local man named Yves Didier. He offered to take a photo of my friend and I when he saw us precariously balancing a camera on a window ledge. He was such a character, inviting us in for tea and chatting away with great expression. Conversation continued (mainly from him as he hadn't had 'visitors' in a while) and he asked if he could have his photo taken with me to remember our meeting. Photo taken, looking around his little flat with tell-tale signs of inefficiency, I felt melancholic. I thought about the stages of life and the loneliness (for some) of old age. He requested me to send him the photo. I kept my promise. Writing this triggered the memory of this gentleman so I’d like to dedicate this post to him.
This quintessential French town lies at the source of the Eure-Gard River about 25 km north of Nîmes. The Duché Palace is an architectural and historic masterpiece and it really is the heart of the town. Uzès has a lovely selection of eateries in the picturesque square of the Place Aux Herbes where one can while away an afternoon or two. The Saturday market is a delight to the sense with incredible sights and smells from fresh produce to locally sourced goods. Uzès is a little gem; it is both quiet enough yet bustling enough.
A tiny medieval town in Gard, with parts of it perched high enough to take in breath-taking views of its surrounding areas. In the summer it teems with expats and holiday makers but that is more out of convenience (owning holiday homes in the surrounding areas) than deliberation. Take advantage of the views over the townscape at the Chapel of Dugas. There is also a market every Tuesday that adds something leisurely to an itinerary. Saint- Ambroix remains a favourite of mine so far…
La Roque- sur -Ceze
Classified as one of the most beautiful French villages, it is French village life as it is imagined and portrayed in brochures. It stands tall above the Ceze River, which offers one a chance to engage in various water sports and activities…and plenty of hiking. It is a postcard worthy village and is frequented by visitors even if for a simple amble through its cobbled streets. The sleepy village streets pave the outsides of some exquisite properties, some of the finest in the region. This village inspires and I recall writing a poem about it…
Pont Du Gard
Its name suggests its location. This impressive Roman aqueduct, in Gard, has served the region for many moons. Its fine masonry and operational genius has for centuries made it a tourist attraction with visitors flocking to its arches especially during the summer. There is something regal in its presence and a calm in its dominance. I found my experience of the Pont du Gard both educational and rather humbling. Whether that was because of the 1000 year old olive trees that grew around it or its centuries old history, I felt in complete awe of its existence. It is a great day out with the family!
That concludes my list of locations in Languedoc- Roussillon but I hope to continue my journey around the region once again this summer. Next time hoping to add locations such as Montpellier, Perpignan, Carcassonne, Sommières, Narbonne, The Ardèche Gorge and Anduze to my list of places to discover. Let’s just say there will be a part two on exploring this wonderful region of Southern France…