Today’s wine takes us back to France, but this time further south to the Languedoc area. The Languedoc wine area is the largest in the world — where more than one in three French wines is produced! The region extends from the Rhone Delta and popular Provence along the Mediterranean, down to the Pyrenees at the Spanish border. Unspoiled and sometimes referred to as the “real south of France”, Languedoc is for those who love history, scenery, hearty gastronomy, wine and a slower pace.
For those who seek a relaxed pace and an authentic, less touristy experience, Languadoc will allow you to enjoy a slice of authentic French rural life at its best. The pace of life there is slow, and the people are friendly. Although it is popular with tourists who have discovered it, Languedoc has kept away mass tourism which has helped preserve a very strong cultural identity.
The variety of landscapes makes it a great place to visit, offering everything from coastal resort towns to regional parks, the Pyrénées mountains and its ski areas, hilltop castle ruins, scenic waterways, as well as vibrant cities. The region’s capital, Montpellier, and other cities (Toulouse, Nîmes, Perpignan, Carcassonne and Béziers) located in this region should you like to mix things up a little. This region lends itself easily to being part of a regional trip that could include Provence, Bordeaux (see Day 4 and Day 6) or Barcelona and northern Spain.
There are many iconic French sites in this region you will likely recognize – one being the magnificent fortified city of Carcassonne (pictured above), the largest medieval European town with city walls still intact. The town is located on the Canal du Midi, the oldest working canal in the world. The beautiful waterway, considered a marvel of seventeenth century engineering, was built to connect and shorten the travel distance between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic for commerce. It is now used for leisure, where you can travel along its 150 miles by barge, or by walking or cycling alongside on the tow paths – stopping at your leisure to enjoy the dining and drinking spots along it, of course.
photos courtesy of France 24, Béziers Tourism and Regional Committee for Tourism and Leisure of Occitania
Another significant Languedoc thruway, the ancient Via Domitia, is the oldest Roman road in Gaul, and one of the oldest Roman roads anywhere. It was constructed around the time the first Roman colony was established (118 BC), which is today’s city of Narbonne. The Via Domitia was built to link Spain’s Pyrenees to the Alps in Italy, as part of a 70,000+ miles road network built by the Romans over six centuries. It is believed to have been built on the same route taken by Hannibal and his elephants in 218 BC on his way to the Alps! In the Languedoc region, the road is roughly 15 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, making it an easy route to explore the region. In some places sections of the foundations and engineering works can still be seen.
Along the route not far from the Provence border is the city of Nîmes, sometimes called the “French Rome”. It was an important outpost of the Roman Empire and is known for the well-preserved Roman monuments and Arena of Nîmes, a double-tiered circa-70 A.D. amphitheater still in use today for concerts and bullfights.
Nearby is one of France’s top five most visited sites, the iconic Pont du Gard, the highest and one of the best preserved ancient Roman aqueducts. In addition to the aqueduct and some surrounding ruins, there are interior and open-air areas to visit to learn about Roman aqueducts and the history of the area. The national monument also hosts special events, educational activities and festivals.
The region has a Mediterranean climate, with very hot summers and mild springs and falls. Keep in mind that climate can vary greatly depending on whether you are in the mountains, on the coast, or in the southern and inland areas. Everything comes to life in the spring, beginning in March, including village and town festivals, activities and special events. September is still warm, enough to swim, but sudden rain storms happen more.
WHEN TO GO: March/April/May or September. Allow at least 3 to 4 days, or a full week for a more immersive experience.
POPULAR TRAVEL STYLES: Small Private Groups, Independent Travel, Canal Barge Cruises, Wine & History Themed Travel
IDEAL FOR: Culinary/Wine, Nature Vacation, Romantic Travel, Family Travel, Hiking/Biking/Boating, History Buffs, Regional/Multi-Regional Vacation