Although ever-popular Provence gets all the attention, the neighbouring French region of Languedoc-Roussillon is where the smart money goes to avoid the crowds but still get the French countryside charm. We first discovered the Languedoc accidentally when my husband won a charity auction for a luxury stay at Maison Laurent near Carcassone. We loved it so much we have returned several times including with the kids. We weren’t surprised when Lonely Planet named it among the top 10 regions to visit in the world for 2018, along with Alaska in the USA, the Julian Alps in Slovenia and Bahia in Brasil. It was only a matter of time before everyone discovered the cheaper and less-touristy part of the South of France.
Things To do in the Languedoc | Montepellier Attractions | Things to Do in Perpignan | What To Do in Carcassone

The Languedoc region has a great mix of history, culture, nature and food and wine.

Like the rest of the South of France, summers in the Languedoc Rouissillon are extremely hot and the winters are mild and comfortable. It’s an easy weekend break from the rest of Europe because French airline manufacturer Airbus is headquartered near Toulouse airport. When our daughter spent a few months studying French in the area, we would visit her on the weekends. We got to know the area just enough to realise that if we were ever to live in France, we would want to live in this region.

Where is the Languedoc-Rouissillon?

 The Languedoc Roussillon is located in the Southwest of France. The region extends from France to the Pyrenees (and borders with Spain and the Mediterranean).
Things To do in the Languedoc | Montepellier Attractions | Things to Do in Perpignan | What To Do in Carcassone

A map of the Languedoc Roussillon region. Together with the Midi-Pyrenees next door, the area is now known as Occitanie.

The Languedoc-Roussillon region has been an important area since Roman times.
The Languedoc was its own important kingdom until it got annexed by the kingdom of France after the defeat of the Cathars in the 13th century. The Roussillon section was actually part of Catalonia until it was given to the French in the mid-17th century as part of a larger treaty between Spain and France.

The Cathars

Catharism is a form of Christianity that grew alongside Roman Catholicism during the early years of Christianity. It deviated from Catholicism in several important ways, such as for example, stating that men and women were equal.
In the tolerant and liberal Languedoc kingdom, Catharism flourished. Worse, Cathars called out the Catholics for being corrupt (which they were) and refused to pay the Catholic church any taxes.
The Roman Catholics couldn’t have that. Pope Innocent III declared them heretics and ordered a crusade against the Cathars. The French saw the opportunity for a land grab as well as bonus points to get into heaven. After two generations of fighting, the Cathars were decimated and the land annexed by France.
Next thing, the Catholics started the Inquisition in the Languedoc to root out any remaining vestiges of Cathar heresy. The once powerful language of Occitan was reduced to a regional patois, and the area went into economic decline.
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The walled city of Carcassone was a Cathar stronghold.

Occitanie

In 2016, the Languedoc-Rouissillon was merged with the midi-Pyrenees region to form Occitanie, a massive region that is the largest in all of France. The people in this area had all spoken Occitan in the past (which is related to the Catalan language).

Getting To the Languedoc-Roussillon

There are several airports in the area including Carcassone, Perpignan and Montpellier. We have always flown into Toulouse though because it is a main regional airport with a choice of flights and airlines.

Things To Do in the Languedoc- Roussillon

What To Do in Carcassone

The historic center of Carcassone is a UNESCO world heritage site. The walled city retains its medieval charm with the world’s largest medieval castle and 54 towers. Carcassone is the second most visited tourist attraction in France (the top spot is the Eiffel Tower). You will find plenty to occupy you in the narrow streets of historic Carcassone.
Check out two ways to explore Carcassone – Take a 1.5 hour Guided Segway City Tour and/or Explore the Castle and Ramparts with fast entry tickets.
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The medieval walls of the city of Carcassone

Canal du Midi

The UNESCO world heritage listed Canal du Midi connects Toulouse to the Mediterranean over 264 kilometres (164 miles). The advent of the railroads made the canal obsolete and now it is primarily used for recreational purposes.

Other Places to Visit in Languedoc Roussillon

Montpellier is the fastest growing city in France and the regional capitol. Some of the Montpellier attractions include the Cathedral St. Pierre, Roman-era aqueducts, the Montpellier Zoo and the Musee Fabre (containing European Old Master paintings).
Nimes is famous for its well-preserved Roman archeological remains including the UNESCO world heritage listed Roman aqueduct, Le Pont du Gard.
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Le Pont du Guard, a well-preserved Roman aqueduct, is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Fun Fact – Denim gets its name because it’s fabric that comes from Nimes (serge de Nîmes).
Beziers was where the ill-fated Cathars (and any unfortunate Catholics with them) were slaughtered wholesale. Nowadays it is known for its wine and bullfighting.
Narbonne is a laid-back seaside town famous for its Gothic cathedral and its wine industry. During Roman times, it was the capital of Gaul and a crossroads between the rest of France, Spain and Italy.
Things To do in the Languedoc | Montepellier Attractions | Things to Do in Perpignan | What To Do in Carcassone

The Cathedral of Saint-Just and Saint-Pasteur in Narbonne.

Perpignan is the last city in France before the Spanish border and so it has an interesting mix of cultures. Things to do in Perpignan include visiting the Palace of the Kings of Majorca, the Basilica Cathedral of St. Jean the Baptist and the Arab and Gypsy quarter.

Food and Drink

The Languedoc region produces 1/3 of all French wine – thats approximately 2 billion bottles a year. It is also fertile farmland with a number of excellent local products – oysters, anchovies, beef, lamb, cheeses and foie gras to name a few.
Why not take a Montpellier Food Tour with a local expert?  – Visit a local market, and sample products straight from the producers.
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Vineyard near Montpellier

Nature

 You can find Europe’s biggest river delta at the Camargue which borders Provence. These 900 square kilometres (approximately 350 square miles) of wetlands are famous for their pink flamingoes, wild horses and bulls.
Take a Guided Tour! – You can take a full-day guided minibus tour to the Camargue to explore its wildlife as well as learn about how salt is harvested from the salt marshes.
Things To do in the Languedoc | Montepellier Attractions | Things to Do in Perpignan | What To Do in Carcassone

Two white horses in the Camargue

When we went skiing in the Spanish Pyrenees resort of Bequeira-Beret, we flew into Toulouse and drove through the Languedob-Roussillon. There is, of course, skiing in the French Pyrenees too.
The Cévennes is a national park of almost 800,000 acres with its main entrance by the pretty little town of Florac. With mountains, gorges and plateaus, this area is a nature-lovers paradise of wild, unspoiled countryside.

Beaches

There are miles of beautiful sand beaches sprinkled with little towns edging the Mediterranean. The Espiguette is the Languedoc’s largest sand beach and backed by sand dunes. Cap D’Agde has Europe’s largest nudist beach. The beaches near Beziers are also excellent (Portiragnes and Serignan). La Franqui is popular with windsurfers. Argeles is said to be one of the best beaches in all of France – it’s wide, sandy and has stunning views of the Pyrenees.
Right before you hit the Spanish border, you have the Cote Vermeille, the undisputed star of which is the pretty little artsy town of Collioure. Note that the beaches here are pebbly.
Things To do in the Languedoc | Montepellier Attractions | Things to Do in Perpignan | What To Do in Carcassone

The Cote Vermeille or the Vermillion Coast is so-called because of its red rocky coastline.

Tips for Visiting the Languedoc-Roussillon

Although we have explored Carcassone, undertaken a pilgrimage to Lourdes, visited the beaches in the summer, this region of France is vast with plenty of things to do.
Things To do in the Languedoc | Montepellier Attractions | Things to Do in Perpignan | What To Do in Carcassone

Isn’t this perfect for an evening stroll after indulging in a fantastic dinner and wine?

Who better to ask for advice on visiting the Languedoc-Roussillon than travel bloggers who have been there?  Below are the recommendations and travel tips for this region of France from five fellow travel bloggers.
The medieval walled city of Carcassone

The medieval walled city of Carcassone Image credit: Thomas Dowson

– by Corinne Vail from ReflectionsEnroute and on social media at
Montady in the Languedoc-Rousillon

The Town of Montady (Photo credit: Corinne Vail)

The Languedoc-Rouissillon

Collioure in the French Vermeille

Much less touristy than the neighbouring region of Provence, the Languedoc-Rouissilon region of France has an incredibly rich historical heritage.  The towns and villages are filled with Roman architecture – who can forget about the amphitheatre in Nimes – beautiful cathedrals and precious castles, like the world-famous Carcassone.
It’s also a place where cultures meet. Perpignan for example is the capital of French Catalonia, and although people speak in French, you can also see many signs of the Catalan identity.
One of the most beautiful places to visit in this region is the charming village of Collioure, situated in the French Vermeille, very close tot he Spanish-French border. It’s one of the most romantic villages in the Languedoc-Rouissilon region with cozy cobbled streets, artisan shops, local seafood restaurants and magical atmosphere.
Many French and Catalan artists – Picasso or Henri Matisse for instance – chose to live here for some time and found the atmosphere very inspiring. The two main landmarks of this picture perfect village to visit are the Notre-Dame-Des-Angles Church and the Chateau Royale de Collioure, a fortress that was held by several different royal families throughout history.
– by Gabor Kovacs from Surfing the Planet and on social media at
collioure in the Languedoc Rouissilon

The village of Collioure in the Languedoc-Rouissilon (Photo credit: Gabor Kovacs)

Minerve 

Walking through the narrow streets of Minerve is like stepping into the pages of a children’s storybook but today’s beauty disguises a gruesome past.

The quiet village, around 50 kilometres from Carcassone, came under attack during the Albigensian Crusade in 1210 when a number of Cathars (non-Catholics) from Beziers took refuge in Minerve. After a six week siege, the village was forced to surrender and 140 Cathars were burnt at the stake.

To learn more about the bloody events of the past, a visit to the Hurepel Museum is a must. Here, the story of the siege is told in sixteen clay dioramas made by local artisans.

Today Minerve is classified as one of France’s most beautiful villages and it’s easy to see why. Perched on a rocky peninsula at the meeting of two rivers and alongside deep gorges, Minerve’s setting is picturesque.

A tall, narrow tower and a small section of wall is all that’s left of the medieval fortifications, whilst the 12th century church and the impressive double-arched bridge that spans the River Cesse are the other major sites in the village.

But for me, the real attraction of Minerve are the cobbled streets lined with centuries-old stone buildings some now serving as shops, boutiques and cafes.

Sitting on a shady terrace sipping a drink and admiring the views you can’t help but be thankful you’re visiting today and not back in 1210.

– by Carolyn Schonafinger who  writes at Holidays To Europe and on  

The Town of Minerve near Carcassone

The town of Minerve in the Languedoc Roussillon (Photo credit: Carolyn Schonafinger)

 

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